State 2B Football: Orange and Black Attack
Gridiron Classic: Napavine and Kalama to Square Off for 2B State Football Title
By Jordan Nailon
In recent years the WIAA has altered the Gridiron Classic so that only one prep football game per classification is played inside the postmodern apocalyptic confines of the Tacoma Dome per season — The state title game.
Despite that decision to shed the semifinal round from the annual slate of games no team has made themselves more at home in the Tacoma Dome over the last four years than Napavine.
Most notably, the Tigers captured the state 2B title in 2016 when Wyatt Stanley led the team to a 34-16 victory over Liberty (Spangle). In both 2015 and 2014 the Tigers were not tamed until the title tilt where they fell short against Okanagan both times.
The only season since 2014 that Napavine didn’t make it to the final round of the Gridiron Classic was last year when they were felled by Kalama 20-13 in the semifinal. The Chinooks went on to defeat Liberty 28-27 to capture the 2B crown.
This year Napavine will have their shot at revenge against Kalama and this time they’ll be slugging it out on the big green stage for all to see.
Napavine coach Josh Fay admitted that it’s nice to know where the bathrooms are in the bowels of Tacoma’s big gray wonder. However, he downplayed any real “home field” advantage his team might be able to squeeze out of past experience. Specifically, he noted that there are only a few players on this year’s team who have actually logged meaningful playing time beneath the squiggly neon light decor inside the cavernous sanctum of The Dome.
“The coaches know but we’re going to have a lot of guys who haven’t been up there too. I think the routine, and the conditions, and the warm up schedule. Yes, there’s definitely a benefit to having been there. Even down to the locker rooms and where everything is at,” said Fay, who was saving his biggest caveat for last. “But Kalama’s going to have the same thing going for them.”
Napavine already had one shot at redemption against the Chinooks this season and it turned out much the same as their unfruitful semifinal affair in 2017. In a non-league contest in Kalama in Week 2, Napavine again fell 20-13 to the Chinooks and left the twilight town feeling like they’d let another one get away.
“The biggest thing is that they showed us that Alex Dyer is the same Alex Dyer he was last year,” said Fay of Kalama’s wunderkind quarterback. “I think other than the fact that Alex Dyer is a Marvel comic superhero, the guys that he’s getting the ball to are all more than serviceable.”
In their meeting back on Sept. 7 Dyer threw for 250 yards on 32 passes including a pair of touchdowns. Compared to the rest of his gaudy season totals those stats are really quite modest as he’s thrown for roughly 2,100 yards and about 35 touchdowns to go with about 500 yards rushing.
Kalama coach Sean McDonald felt like his team didn’t play their best football against Napavine earlier this season.
“I’d say the last time we played them we did not play that well on offense, but I’m pretty biased,” said McDonald, noting that it will likely take a better effort in order to nip Napavine this time around. “We got to play really well defensively and hold them to at least 21 points and then we’ve got to be lights out offensively.”
McDonald added that if he had to explain Napavine’s style of play to someone who’d never seen them play there’d be two points he’d drive home.
“I would just talk about how they are just so aggressive on defense and how well coached they are,” said McDonald. “You can tell they game plan really well. They know where to go and when to be there.”
For his part, Fay says the plan in this time around will be to put pressure on Dyer up front and strategically aligning his best defensive backs based on Kalama’s talented receiver corps. Moreover, Fay says he’d prefer to see Dyer make his throws from inside the pocket rather than letting him scramble and improvise.
“He’s kind of controlled when he’s in the pocket,” said Fay. “I mean that your DB’s are in position to make a play if he completes a pass where if he’s running around and they make a second move that can be very difficult for a high school player to defend.”
Of course Napavine has their own quarterback extraordinaire on their side of the line of scrimmage — Wyatt’s brother Dawson.
This season Dawson Stanley has completed 139 of 267 passes for 2,514 yards and 29 touchdowns. Better yet, he’s only thrown three interceptions and he’s also rushed for 1,247 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Fay says that both signal callers have their strong suits while playing decidedly different styles of quarterback.
“I think the Dyer kid is a really polished quarterback. He would be a much more traditional type of quarterback,” said Fay. “Dawson on the other hand is very athletic and he’s more like a running back playing quarterback.”
Back in Week 2 against Kalama, Stanley was able to connect on 7 of 19 passes for 128 yards and one touchdown. He also ran for a team-high 114 yards and a touchdown.
On Friday he will look to spread the ball around a little bit more than he was able to early in the season so that as many Tigers as possible get their paws on the ball.
This year Napavine has had eight different receivers catch touchdown passes. Ben Woodrum leads the way with eight scoring receptions with Laythan Demarest hot on his heels with seven scores. Jared McCollum, Cade Evander and Seth Butler have also been able to pull in passes for big time plays this year.
Fay says Evander has been getting better all season long as both a wideout and a defensive end.
“I think Cade is doing a really good job. He’s been putting in a lot of extra work and he’s like a sponge,” said Fay, noting that Evander’s technique continues to improve. “Cade’s going to have to be big for us on Saturday.”
McCollum, Woodrum and Butler also earned evaluations from their freshly bearded coach who has been growing out his face fuzz since they lost to Adna earlier this year.
“Jared McCollum is our mainstay at linebacker and Seth Butler has been our spark plug the last few weeks. He had some great hustle plays against Adna and Ben Woodrum has turned into a very good high school football player and he’ll have to help us cover up the back end there,” said Fay.
After avenging that follicle stimulating loss to Adna last week in the semifinals last week Fay says his team has no problem assuming the underdog role again versus a Kalama team that won the River Division and will be seeking to win back-to-back state titles.
“Our program’s been underdogs before. They don’t really think about it. It’s not a big chip on their shoulder. They certainly hear it and people talk about it but our focus has always been just come out and play whether we’re good or bad,” said Fay.
The Tigers coach noted that school officials are planning a big send off for the football bus on Friday at 1 p.m. at Napavine High School as the team hits the road for Tacoma.
“We’re hoping we can get a lot of people from Napavine and even great Lewis County to show up,” said Fay.
No matter who shows up for the send off, though, one thing’s for sure — Napavine won’t need an escort. They’ve memorized the route to the dome.
Napavine (11-2) and Kalama (11-2) will kick off the 2B state title game at 4 p.m. on Friday at the Tacoma Dome.