State 2B Football: Senior Tigers Search for Perspective Following Final Game

Images from the 2B Football State Championships between Napavine and Kalama Friday, November 30, at the Tacoma Dome.

Class of the Town: Four Year Napavine Players a Part of Sustained Run of Success

By Jordan Nailon

jnailon@chronline.com

TACOMA — For Napavine’s senior class Friday night marked the end of a long and decorated ride wearing the orange and black on the gridiron. And although the Tiger’s dropped their penultimate game by a score of 34-25 to Kalama in the 2B state championship game there is no doubt that Napavine’s most veteran players were able to squeeze as much pulp as possible out of their collective experience.

To wit — During their four years prowling the fields of Southwest Washington and beyond Napavine’s senior class was able to compile an altogether impressive cumulative record of 47-8. All of that winning gave the Tigers three league titles and four straight trips to at least the semifinal round of the state playoffs. Moreover, this season’s eldest Tigers made it to the state title game in all but one of their four seasons, capturing a state championship in 2016 when they downed Liberty in the Tacoma Dome.

All told, the Tigers’ senior class played in just one game shy of their maximum allotment and their accomplishments have served to put Napavine’s name in indelible ink on the football map of Washington.

“Guys bought in from day one. We had a great example set by some of the seniors that came before us and we just kind of took it and ran with it,” noted Dawson Stanley, Napavine’s do-it-all quarterback and hard-hitting member of the defensive corps.

Stanley, whose brother was the quarterback on that 2016 title team, admitted that in the fresh  shadow of defeat it was hard to find a silver lining but he was hopeful that time would help to add perspective to his team’s relatively rare shortcomings.

“Right now it’s kind of hard and it will be hard for a little while but at the end of the day this class has played for three state titles and made the semifinals four straight years,” noted Stanley, who threw for four touchdowns in his final prep game.

After the title game Napavine coach Josh Fay was well aware of the caliber of talent on his sideline that he’d watched play for the final time. He insisted that the senior class had nothing to hang their heads about while simultaneously admitting that a teamwide morose was likely unavoidable after coming up just short of their ultimate goal.

“I thought Dawson left everything on the field tonight and so did a lot of these guys. You certainly can’t fault his effort and what he tried to do,” said Fay.

In the immediate aftermath of his prep career ending loss Stanley was looking around the locker room for a silver lining to his collective experience on the gridiron for Napavine.

“When you work that hard with somebody for that long you grow a natural connection with the coaches and players,” said Stanley. “I mean, me and Jared McCollum growing up we went to school every year together and we didn’t really have a friendship or anything until we got to high school football. He’s become my best friend. That’s from just working our butts off together.”

Senior lineman Hayden Lester echoed the sentiment of his signal caller.

“I think that with just the sheer number of games that we’ve played together as a senior class and knowing how well we’ve gotten to know each other and how well we’ve played and just how good our chemistry is as an entire team it makes it a lot more fun when we get those big wins like we did over Adna and it keeps us even closer when we lose heartbreakers like tonight,” said Lester.

Lester, whose brother Hunter handled game film duties all season long for Napavine, said that the Tigers expected to win on Friday. Even as they fell further and further behind Kalama, Lester said that panic never set in on their sideline.

“We’ve been playing half of our games down a touchdown or down two touchdowns or what have you and we were certain that we’d get to work and grind one out and force a stop and grind another one out,” Lester said.

The Tigers’ scramble to catch up was aided in part by senior Ben Woodrum who caught a touchdown pass and hauled in two interception on the night.

That comeback came up just short though after the Chinooks recovered an onside kick following a touchdown pass from Stanley to Cade Evander with less than a minute remaining in the game. However, as the sting of defeat washed over him outside the locker room Lester did not cast around looking for somebody else to blame. Instead, he extolled the virtues of his teammates for finding the will to battle back from a staggering 34-13 deficit late in the third quarter.

“We wanted to come out there and execute the game plan well enough that we could have been on the right side of that one score game. But just knowing that we kept it within a touchdown, or nine points, it feels a lot better than getting blown out,” said Lester, with a caveat. “Losing doesn’t feel good no matter what place you end up taking.”

As his teammates filed past him with their gear bags slung over their shoulders and their heads hung low Lester grappled with the reality that he will never again get to strap on pads to represent Napavine.

“I don’t think it’s set in yet that this is going to be my last football game. I’m sure it will sink in over time but right now it’s just so surreal,” Lester said.

He added that any temporary discomfort, risk of injury, or occasional jarring pain of defeat was well worth the positive experiences and relationships he was able to develop over the years.

“Without a doubt. I’ve made a whole lot of family members just by playing the sport and then made a lot of memories that hopefully I’ll be able to keep for a lifetime,” said Lester.

As he made his way off the Tacoma Dome turf for the third time in four seasons Fay also tried his best to find a positive light to shine on his players during the dark hour. As experience has taught him though, those sorts of heartwarming takeaways can be slow to come into focus without the soothing elixir of a win on the state’s biggest stage.

“You know, this was a great season. 11-3 is pretty doggone good and to have a shot to play in the state title game is pretty darn good and someday hopefully we’ll be able to put it all in perspective,” said Fay. “All in all though, it was a pretty good year.”

Napavine seniors include Stanley, Lester, Woodrum, Tristen Ellison, Jared McCollum, Brett Bradshaw, James Hollinger, Gabe Duncan, Frank Medina-Becerill, and Seth Butler.

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