Tenino had heard the chatter the past few weeks.
Yeah, the Beavers’ had averaged 66 points per game during a three-game win streak to start the season — against unimpressive squads from King’s Way Christian, Seton Catholic and Class 2B North Beach.
Despite their best start in years, they were still doubted when they hosted defending Class 2B state champion Onalaska last week. All five panelists on The Chronicle’s weekly Grid Picks all chose the Loggers over the Beavers. Tenino simply scored three-straight touchdowns to pull off a 20-14 victory over Ony.
The win earned them a ranking in the weekly AP state football poll, vaulting them to No. 7.
And when the Beavers traveled to Eatonville to face the No. 2 team in the state on Saturday, to take on a Cruisers team that advanced to the round of 16 in the highly-competitive Class 2A regional football tournament two years ago, they were once again doubted.
But after going toe-to-toe with Eatonville, taking the lead twice from the Cruisers and ultimately getting edged, 24-22, Tenino proved the first-half of the season was not a fluke. The Beavers are for real, and Class 1A should take note.
“Our boys did a great job preparing ourselves and keeping their head to the grindstone,” Tenino coach Cary Nagel said afterward.
Nagel’s Beavers rolled into Eatonville and quickly fell behind, 7-0, after QB Kevin Wulff hit Jakob Lucht for a 51-yard touchdown reception on just the second play from scrimmage. Instead of folding, like Beavers teams have in the past, these kids responded.
Driving downfield, Takari Hickle capped the drive off with a 34-yard touchdown jaunt, followed by Dylan Spicer’s two-point conversion and the Beavers retook the lead with 5:43 left in the first quarter.
Being the second-ranked team in the state, Eatonville was not to be discouraged. Job Kralik took a reverse 50 yards for a touchdown and the Cruisers went back up, 14-8, with 3:21 left in the first quarter.
With 43 seconds left before the half and the Beavers threatening, quarterback Kysen Knox found Bryan Budsberg in the corner of the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown, giving Tenino the lead back at 16-14 heading into the locker room.
Eatonville’s Kralik responded with a 35-yard touchdown run with nine minutes left in the third, putting them up 24-16.
Facing a 4th and 20, Knox connected with Max Craig in the back of the end zone, pulling the Beavers within two at 24-22 with 11:54 to play. But a failed 2-point conversion would end up being their demise.
Tenino’s defense held tough the rest of the way and the Beavers got the ball back with one minute to play and were unable to manufacture a game-winning drive.
“They were tough,” Nagel said of Eatonville. “I tell you guys this every week, our league is tough.”
He’s not joking. The 1A Evergreen Conference, along with No. 2 Eatonville and No. 7 Tenino, also has perennial state power and No. 5 Montesano.
Overall, Nagel said he’s pleased with how his team stood up to the Cruisers and responded in the face of adversity.
“Our offensive and defensive lines were extremely physical,” Nagel said.
Tenino (4-1, 0-1 league) gets back into action when it hosts league foe Hoquiam at 7 p.m., Friday, during homecoming night.