Aaron VanTuyl Commentary: Napavine vs. Okanogan Arrives Right on Schedule


TUMWATER — The games started an hour apart, but by the time Napavine stepped onto Sid Otton Field Saturday afternoon it was a foregone conclusion.

Okanogan was waiting, just like they had been all season.

The Bulldogs — the preseason, midseason and postseason favorite from the east side of the state — had a three-touchdown lead over Pe Ell-Willapa Valley by the time Napavine kicked off to start its own 2B state football semifinal. And Napavine, which hasn’t missed the semifinals since 2013, took the lead six minutes into their own semifinal matchup with Chewelah and never looked back in a 49-6 win.

It’s finally official: Undefeated Napavine has its great and worthy opponent, similarly undefeated Okanogan, in Saturday’s 5 p.m. state championship game in Lakewood.

“Never heard of them,” Tiger coach Josh Fay deadpanned after the semifinals.

“This is what people thought,” Fay, Napavine’s coach since 2007, added. “I think this was on people’s radar. We certainly had the most guys coming back as a team, so the logical conclusion is that we’d be the two teams. It’s where we want to be.”

Just getting back to the state finals would have been a feat in and of itself, but Napavine got there by keeping its season-long string of running-clock wins intact. Coincidentally, the 31-yard touchdown pass from Ashton Demarest to Max O’Neill that made it a 49-6 game came right as the WIAA tweeted the final score from the semifinal in Wenatchee.

Demarest, a junior and the starting quarterback in last year’s state finals, completed 14 of 26 passes for 299 yards and a whopping five touchdowns.

“Given the situation and the game, that’s probably the best he’s looked,” Fay said. “I thought his receivers made him look pretty good, too. … He did a nice job, but I thought the guys on the other end did a nice job, too. And up front, for the most part, we gave him time to make those throws.”

Those receivers included two of the stars of this semifinal win: Sophomores Karsen Denault and Colin Shields. Both players, as well as fellow receivers Cayle Kelly, have made big strides this season.

Denault, at 6-foot-4, racked up 210 receiving yards on six catches with 61- and 44-yard touchdowns; the only thing he didn’t catch was a second-half interception that slipped out of his fingers.

“We were hoping this is where Karsen was going to be,” Fay said. “He’s a great athlete. People watched him kind of blossom as a basketball player last year, so we were hoping to get this guy.”

Shields, meanwhile, had five catches for 32 yards and two scores. He also menaced Chewelah on the other side of the ball, tipping a big third-down pass in the second quarter and delivering a fourth-quarter sack from his linebacker slot.

“Shields was great defensively,” Fay said. “Those sophomore kids have really grown up. There’s a bright future for those guys.”

The entire defense, really, was solid on Saturday. Take away a 49-yard touchdown run by Kruz Katzer and the Cougars were in the negative both running and passing the ball in the first half. They also never mustered a first down. 

The defense was able to stop Chewelah’s bread-and-butter zone read and the secondary didn’t allow any downfield receptions.

“I expected us to be able to come out and do those things, but I didn’t know it’d be 49-6 or whatever,” he said.

Plenty of pundits, however, would have expected something in that ballpark. Napavine, through 12 games this season, has outscored opponents 677-61. The Tigers have never once found themselves with a pant leg caught in the barbed wire, much less between a rock and a hard place. 

That could be a cause for concern if Okanogan wasn’t in the same boat, with a 12-0 record and a 34-7 win over Chewelah back in September as its closest game of the year.

It’s the game everyone knew was coming, and even the lack of suspense surrounding its arrival can’t dampen the excitement.

“It’s going to be like Rocky 4,” Fay said. “Just a lot of big punches getting exchanged and who can weather them.”