Everything’s a little different this year — from the small number of fans in the stands, to the game being played in the early spring, to the tiny paper mask adorning the Swamp Man trophy.
What hasn’t changed, though, is the heightened sense of emotion around the annual Battle of the Swamp football game and the Bearcats’ winning streak over the rival Tigers.
Gavin Fugate accounted for four touchdowns and the defense tossed another shutout as W.F. West routed Centralia, 48-0, at Tiger Stadium on Saturday in what’s surely the first Swamp Cup game to be played in March.
And afterwards, as they do every year, the winners hoisted the trophy over a background of raucous cheers from their teammates. It was the 12th-straight Swamp Cup win for the Bearcats.
“Every game’s important, but this one’s definitely the one,” W.F. West senior tight end Brit Lusk said. “You want to take pictures with the trophy and you get bragging rights over the crosstown rivals and everything’s just really special — the buildup for it and everything.”
There was plenty of buildup for the Bearcats on Saturday, with no notable letdowns. The defense gave up just 56 total yards and didn’t let Centralia out of its own territory until the third quarter, running its Evergreen 2A Conference shutout streak to three games.
“I thought we played great,” Bearcat coach Dan Hill said. “Our DBs covered guys phenomenally. We maintained our gap integrity, our defensive ends kept guys inside, and our two inside backers — they make a lot of tackles every game. It was a whole defensive effort today.”
The offense, meanwhile, was balanced. The Bearcats ran for 174 yards and Fugate hit 13 of 20 pass attempts for 185 yards.
“He’s coming along,” Hill said of his sophomore quarterback. “He keeps getting better every game, and he’s getting quicker in his reads. He’s getting rid of the ball. We put a lot on his plate this year, and he’s coming along really well for us.”
Fugate scored the game’s first two touchdowns with his legs, darting in from 37 yards out just two minutes into the game and running around the right side for a 3-yard score later in the first quarter. He then found Lusk open in the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown in the second quarter, which put the Bearcats up 21-0 at halftime.
“Gavin’s a stud,” Lusk said. “He’s really working and he’s going to be a good one for years to come.”
Max Taylor, the Cats’ speedy back, took care of the third-quarter scoring. The Tigers punted from their own end zone and Taylor packed it back 37 yards for a score, then broke free for a 24-yard touchdown run near the end of the third frame to put Chehalis up 34-0.
Taylor, who finished with 69 yards on seven carries, was happy to finish his prep career with a 4-0 record against Centralia. He added that, for the seniors, the game was particularly important.
“We think about it all year,” Taylor said. “This is our game that we need to win, so we focus on it a lot.”
Fugate added a 15-yard touchdown pass to Drayson Hilkemeier early in the fourth quarter that enabled the 40-point running clock, and Luke Wichert added a 17-yard touchdown run late in the fourth.
W.F. West’s Cade Haller added four catches for 74 yards and Carter McCoy caught four balls for 68 yards.
“I thought we played really well. I thought we executed pretty well offensively,” Hill said, adding that the Bearcats were able to work in an ace run package on offense and run four- and five-receiver sets. “I’m really happy with where our offense is right now.”
Centralia got 62 rushing yards on 16 carries from Brady Hoyt, but managed just five first downs and saw its best shot at a touchdown end when Haller intercepted a pass in the end zone.
“I thought our defense played pretty well. We just didn’t make some tackles, and they’re pretty stinking athletic,” Centralia coach Jeremy Thibault said. “Our offensive couldn’t find a rhythm and we couldn’t get anything going.”
Rex Akins, who moved from linebacker to cornerback earlier in the week, played well, Thibault noted. Sophomores Gabe Seymour and Mikey Hoyt also had strong games in starting roles.
Centralia (1-2) plays at Aberdeen on Saturday.
The Bearcats (3-1) host undefeated Tumwater on Saturday. The Thunderbirds have outscored their three opponents 169-10 this season. Hill thought his team’s tight loss to 4A Skyview the previous week was good preparation for Tumwater.
“We’ve got to get some things cleaned up still,” he added. “It’s going to be probably the toughest game we ever play, but our guys are up for the challenge.”