Every practice, every drill, every snap, every down has been leading to this one game for Onalaska and Kalama.
The Loggers and Chinooks are getting ready to rumble on Saturday at 4 p.m. at Harry E. Lang Stadium in Lakewood for the State 2B Championship.
Coach Mazen Saade is ecstatic for Saturday’s game and said that it’s exciting for the town of Onalaska.
“The kids are excited, how great is this? It’s great for the town of Onalaska. It’s awesome. It is awesome for the kids at the school, the old timers, alumni. I got an email from a guy from the class of ‘86, the old principal, that stuff is crazy to me,” Saade said. “This opportunity is so great for us and this community. It’s amazing and it’s fun. They’re the two time state champion. These kids want to work for this town. I know it’s cliche, but this is Gritville, USA. They’re gritty, they’re workers and they embody the logging mentality.”
It will be a battle of two contrasting styles. On one side you have the Loggers, who will pound the ball with the running game and force their opponent to try and stop it. So far this season, no one has been able to slow it down enough to defeat Onalaska.
The Loggers have been ranked No. 1 or No. 2 all season, and entered the state tournament as the top seed. Still, Saade said it’s been business as usual for the team this week as it has been every week so far.
“Our schedule is similar, we’ve played on Saturdays this month. We just talked to them, we have to worry about us as we have all year,” Saade explained. “It’s been interesting, we’ve been highly ranked this year. In the journalism field, they’ve been saying ‘How will Ony handle not being the underdog?’ Now we are the underdog. We’re going against the two time state champions. I’ll tell you what, there’s not a lot of people outside of this town that are going to give us a shot.”
Senior running back Ashton Haight has collected 2,503 yards and 33 touchdowns on 303 carries, which is an 8.26 yards per carry average. Quarterback Lucas Kreger has 1,042 yards on the ground and 16 touchdowns, and has completed 12 of 21 passes for 230 yards and six touchdowns. Cade Lawrence has 547 yards and 11 touchdowns as well for the Onalaska run attack.
Saade said his offense is going to do their thing on Saturday.
“Every week, you don’t know what that is. I think they do, they think we’re going to hand the ball to Ashton (Haight),” Saade said. “We run the triple option offense where you have to make reads. We make decisions based on what the defense gives us, what reads they’re going to give us.”
It won’t necessarily be all about the run, as the Loggers have shown throughout the season that they can throw the football when they need to. Against Adna in the semifinals Onalaska quarterback Lucas Kreger was 2 of 4 for 39 yards and a touchdown.
Saade noted that Kalama linebacker Sutton Moon will be important to block with his 135 tackles this season, right along with defensive linemen Ryan Cooney and Logan Warren.
On the other side of the offensive coin, Kalama likes to air raid it out like a Mike Leach offense with their variety of wide receiver targets.
Quarterback Jackson Esary is just a sophomore, but he has played like a seasoned senior in the playoffs and has 2,553 yards and 36 touchdowns passing this season and has filled the void left by two time state champion quarterback Alex Dyer.
“I think they’re both athletically gifted and can extend plays with their legs,” Kalama coach Sean McDonald said. “Jackson has a stronger arm than Alex so our deep ball game is better than the past because he can throw it 60 yards down the field. Extending those plays, they do a lot similar things and he’s only a sophomore so he’s only getting started.”
Brennon Vance is the featured receiver, a guy you want to draft in the first round of a prep football fantasy draft with 1,104 yards and 22 touchdowns. McDonald said that Vance is a dynamic player and the Chinooks will try to get the ball in his hands as much as possible.
Sophomore wide receiver Jack Doerty had a big game against the Tigers, with six catches for 152 yards and a touchdown catch in the closing seconds of the first half.
The Loggers defense has been the shining star of the 2B playoffs, allowing just 20 total points in three playoff games. This won’t be the first test for their pass defense, however. Facing Tri-Cities Prep and quarterback Dante Maiuri in the quarterfinals, Onalaska allowed no points and just 204 yards passing with two interceptions. Moreover, Adna quarterback Braden Thomas was 4 of 19 for 39 yards and an interception in the 44-13 loss last Saturday in the semifinals.
“They have some really good D-linemen who can go get the passer. Their D-linemen can get pressure with three guys, something we’ve got to scheme for for sure,” McDonald said. “They have athletic guys in the back. We’re going to mix it up and pound the rock a little bit and get it going that way. If we can run the ball in the first quarter and get it going and see if we don’t need to pass. They look tough offensively and defensively with a large senior group. It’s a great team.”
Alex Frazier and Hazen Inman are the leading tacklers on the Loggers’ defense and Cade Lawrence has 10 interceptions and Gunnar Talley has three interceptions this season.
Kalama will have to tighten up on their run defense after allowing 369 yards to the Tigers in the semifinals. Onalaska collected 364 yards on the ground against Adna and the Chinooks will have to shore that ground front up in order to try and slow down Onalaska’s offense.
The last time these two teams met was in a SWW 2B football crossover game in 2017, a 50-6 Kalama victory en route to a state title for the Chinooks.
The weather is currently projecting for a high of 50 degrees with a 60 percent chance of rain, which is something the Loggers are accustomed to, although Harry E. Lang Stadium won’t have the mud that Onalaska prefers.
“No mud on the field, I don’t know if we’ll be able to play. It will be nice, 50 degrees out, it was cold last Saturday,” Saade said. “Harry E. Lang is a nice facility but it’s not The Dome.”
McDonald echoed the sentiment of his counterpart on Saturday, wishing the game were back in the Tacoma Dome.
“We’re not happy about not playing in The Dome. It is what it is, we’ll get ready for it. I’ve never been there myself but I hear it’s a great stadium,” he explained. “I hope the weather turns out better for us. We’re going to be ready regardless of what happens. We have a couple different game plans in place and we’ll go from there when we get there.”
McDonald said his team has an advantage having played in the last two state championship games. That includes adjustments for shortened warm up times and the overall experience his players have in big game situations.
Overall, McDonald thinks if the team can get work done on the front lines, they’ll have a good chance of defeating the Loggers.
“It’s pretty easy to see that. If our D-linemen can play well, get some breaks, get some stops on defense, it’s all won up front this week and we’ve been preaching that for the last three weeks,” McDonald said. “We knew they (Napavine) were going to pound the rock and it was tough to stop them. Whoever is tougher, if we can win it up front, it’s going to be a W.”
Saade has noted repeatedly that this season has been awesome to be a part of the Logger football family. He added that it isn’t just about the players and coaches on the field.
“Here comes Joyce Taylor, every week she has write ups, pictures, a summary of the game, play-by-play. We had stat girls pushing me out of the way last week so she could count the yardage. This family is not just the team and the coaching staff, it’s the ball boys, stat girls, Joyce, the cheerleaders, that’s what we want to accomplish with family,” Saade said. “Having guys like Travis (McMillion) come back and talk, other guys sending well wishes. The guys who run our chain crew and who played on the ‘86 championship team. All those people are part of our family. It’s been awesome but we’ve got work to do on Saturday.”
Only one team can raise the trophy at the end of the game, and both teams hope that it will be them walking off the field for the final time with a championship in hand. Saade knows that if his team can do the little things to be mentally prepared and tough, as per usual, Onalaska has a good shot at heading home with a state title.
“These kids understand, the rankings don't mean anything. We’re just a bunch of farm kids from Southwest Washington. We graduated three or four kids from last year's squad, they’re a year older and playing for a state championship. There’s nothing fancy about us,” Saade said. “We just got what we earned. These fancy highfalutin offenses, we run the triple option, we’re gritty and we’ll take it. This is all good but we’ve still got to go play a football game on Saturday.”