2B Football: Familiar Foes to Face Off in Football Semifinals
Dominant District: Adna, Napavine, Toledo and Kalama to Play Back-to-Back Games in Tumwater
By Jordan Nailon
Area football fans will want to lay off the leftover turkey Saturday morning in order to ensure they they aren’t left sleepy headed during the biggest gridiron happening in recent memory.
In the afternoon four teams from the 2B Southwest Washington Football League will square off at Tumwater Stadium in a pair of semifinal games in order to determine who will move on to the state championship in the Tacoma Dome next week. In the first affair number six ranked Toledo will take on number two ranked Kalama at 1 p.m. and then number one ranked Adna will face number four ranked Napavine at 4 p.m.
In the first year of the WIAA’s seeding committee setting the tournament bracket the human element helped to create a unique scenario. Namely, it is the first time that the semifinalists have been comprised entirely of teams from District 4. More specifically, all four teams come from just two divisions within the 2B SWW Football League, with Adna and Napavine hailing from the rough and tumble Mountain Division while Kalama and Toledo are the standard bearers from the hard hitting River Division.
The fact that all four teams come out of the same league has created another unique side note to the semifinal action – All four adversaries have already played one another this year. Undefeated Adna came out on top in all of their overlapping contests while Kalama toppled both Toledo and Napavine. Napavine was able to edge Toledo in their match up.
On October 5 the Chinooks were able to dispatch Toledo 32-13 in a River Division game in Kalama. Kalama (10-2 overall) wound up winning the division with a 6-0 record while Toledo (8-4 overall) claimed second in the division with a 5-1 record.
As the division champs and defending state champions Kalama enters the game as the unanimous favorites. That doesn’t mean that the Chinooks are taking Toledo lightly, though.
“They have some big dudes. They have a D-tackle (Hunter Eaton) that we really respect. We always have to gameplan around that guy,” said Kalama coach Sean McDonald.
McDonald added that Toledo’s smash mouth style of play not only shows up on film but left an indelible mark on the minds and bodies of his players following their first meeting.
“We always have very physical teams in this league and when I think of Toledo I think of physicality,” McDonald said. “We always treat that game with them as a league championship game every year.”
While his team was able to topple Toledo by more than two touchdowns in their first go-round McDonald says that game film and the Indians current six game win streak indicates they are a much improved team.
“I think they are starting to click a little bit more on offense. Those running backs are really starting to see the field a lot better. It just seems like they are running the ball a lot better than they were earlier this year,” McDonald said.
The one common refrain around Southwest Washington this week has been a critique of the WIAA decision to host both games at Tumwater which is neither centrally located nor within the typical coverage area of any of the four participating teams. McDonald confirmed that those rumblings have reverberated south of Kalama River Road.
“It is frustrating that we’re supposed to be the team with home field advantage,” admitted McDonald. “We’ve gotten a lot of (fan) backlash from it. A lot of people weren’t happy but we just tell our boys that you can’t worry about that. We’ll play anybody any day.”
As one might expect, Toledo left the real Twilight campus of Cowlitz County with a few takeaways of their own this season.
“They are a really, really talented team. My take is that they are loaded. They are big, strong, fast. They’ve got one of the best quarterbacks that I’ve ever coached against,” said Toledo coach Mike Christensen in reference to Kalama quarterback Alex Dyer and company.
“It’s hard to make them run because they can spread it out and Dyer’s going to figure it out no matter what set you throw out there,” added Christensen. “And they are really really good at running the ball too. Their backs are so big and so good…It’s kind of pick your poison.”
Christensen says that, specifically, Kalama’s run game has looked much improved as the season has worn on. Other than that he believes that the Chinook’s will be presenting much the same look that has led to so much sustained success over the last two seasons.
As for his team, Christensen says that they are healthy as can be. He added that his charges are feeling like a much more veteran team than they did during that loss on Oct. 5 when their record dropped to 2-4.
“Really the only difference for us is experience. We were about halfway through the season when we played them and we hadn’t really found ourselves yet,” Christensen explained. “Our guys have played enough varsity reps now that they know what to do. They believe in themselves now and they aren’t surprised anymore.”
Like McDonald, Christensen was left feeling disappointed by the decision to play their game in Tumwater.
“I think all of us were excited to play in Kelso,” Christensen said, noting that Kelso was announced as the semifinal location on the loudspeaker after they defeated TCP last Saturday.
“The fact that everybody has to travel up to Tumater is kind of a head scratcher. It just doesn’t make a ton of sense as far as a travel standpoint,” Christensen added. “I think Kalama has a legitimate beef there because they should be hosting this game closest to their home field and they have to travel the furthest for this game.”
If there’s one person who isn’t upset with the location of the semifinal festivities it’s Adna coach KC Johnson.
“I love Tumwater. That’s why we’re here. I love this field. The turfs great. The stadiums great. We love playing here,” said Johnson after last week’s 34-12 defeat of Onalaska at Tumwater Stadium.
Perhaps more to the point, Johnson has a not-so-secret aversion to playing at Centralia’s Tiger Stadium, which had been bandied about as a possible quarterfinal and semifinal location. That distaste for the Hub City may have to do with some painful losses in the past, but Johnson points to another reason.
“It’s Fay Field. It’s even orange and black and has a Tiger on it. I don’t want to play him at home. That’s like playing him at home,” Johnson explained last Saturday.
While there may not be an actual Tiger on Centralia’s field the sentiment is certainly understandable. And even though Adna dispatched Napavine 50-13 on Sept. 28 in their Mountain Division matchup Johnson insists his team is going to need every break they can get this week in order to punch their ticket to Tacoma.
“We played outstanding defense and I know they can play a lot better than they played. That’s been my biggest fear ever since then is that I know we are going to play them again and I’m sure that they are going to be a much better team than we saw the first time almost two months ago,” said Johnson.
Johnson noted that Napavine was starting a lot of inexperienced players in the first few weeks of the season and that those players have matured mightily in the interim. Adna (12-0 overall) took the Mountain Division title while Napavine (10-2 overall) claimed second in the division with a 5-1 record.
“Those kids aren’t sophomores and freshman football players anymore. They are varsity football players. Anybody who plays in and survives this league is battle tested,” Johnson said.
Specifically, Johnson believes that the Tigers are more confident figuring out what their opponent will give them on the offensive side of the ball.
“I think just the execution of their offense. Coach Wilson does such a good job of dialing into that offense and figuring out what they do and what they don’t do well and they take advantage of it,” said Johnson. “The thing about it is if you plan to do one thing against them then they are going to do the opposite. It’s really a classic chess match.”
Johnson noted that slowing down Napavine quarterback Dawson Stanley will be key to holding the Tigers by the tail.
“I think the emphasis this year has been Dawson. I mean (his brother) Wyatt (Stanley) was a great high school quarterback but he didn’t have to run and scramble and do everything else that Dawson does,” Johnson said. “Anytime that kid is on the move I’m scared. I mean some of the runs he’s made this year are highlight reel material. I’d probably prefer to see him standing in the pocket.”
Over in the city on the hill Napavine coach Josh Fay had plenty of takeaways of his own from the loss to Adna earlier this season.
“The thing we took way is they are just really physical. If we want to have any chance we are going to have to match them physically,” Fay said.
As for picking which of those big, strong and talented threats to neutralize, that’s a much more complicated equation.
“Schemalitally we’ll do something differently but they have a lot of dudes,” said Fay. “They are a tough team to watch just one guy. You have to look at the strengths of all those guys.”
However, when it comes to what Adna’s playbook will look like on Saturday, Fay is plenty confident that neither his players or coaching staff will be caught off guard. He noted that while Adna has certainly improved over the course of the year they haven’t necessarily changed anything fundamental about their approach.
“I don’t really see anything. I know that KC has done a little bit more with their passing game the last few weeks, which makes sense. But they are still going to do what they’ve always done and what’s gotten them to this point,” said Fay. “I think we have 57 game films on them and they all look the same.”
If there was one last minute change that Fay would have liked to have seen implemented it would have been a change of venue for the big District 4 double header donnybrook.
“I wish we could have all played close to something more central for the four teams involved. I think it’s kinds of a crappy deal for Kalama, and Toledo. I think Kelso would have been nice,” Fay said. “I feel bad for Lewis and Cowlitz county fans. I just think we’re going to go a long way from our coverage area. It’s not your typical Chronicle coverage area it’s not the TDN coverage area so we’re really making it harder on some of the fans. That being said, we’ll play anyone in the parking lot. We don’t care.”
The winners of Saturday’s contests will play in the Gridiron Classic state football championship game at 4 p.m. on Nov. 30 in the Tacoma Dome.