Few people outside of Tenino saw the season the Beavers’ football team had this year coming. But senior halfback and defensive end Takari Hickle and his fellow seniors did.
The Beavers had finished dead last in the 1A Evergreen League all three of Hickle’s years in high school leading up to his senior year (2021-22). Him and his fellow seniors suffered through a 1-9 year as freshman, a 3-7 campaign as sophomores and a 2-4 finish as juniors.
Hickle, a 6-foot-4, 260-pound, 3-star prospect who signed with Oregon State University on Dec. 15, remembers the tough, early years well. He remembers having to forfeit to Montesano his freshman year because the Beavers only had 10 players.
‘It’s been a long time coming, you know, with me and a couple seniors, Shawn (Nicholson), Gavin (Watson) and (Marshall) Butcher,” Hickle said. “We’ve been there since we were 14. Our energy going into it, we needed this one. We wanted it and it was nice to have the class under us be skilled and be able to fill spots and make the impact they did.”
This season was the year they would finally make some noise, though few would have guessed how loud it would be.
The Beavers ripped off four-straight victories to start the season, the fourth being a 20-14 drag-down battle with defending 2B state champion Onalaska, a team that would go on to advance to the 2B state semifinals.
That’s when Tenino finally got its first bit of recognition, earning their first state Associated Press top-10 ranking in eight years.
The Beavers used a devastating rushing attack, spearheaded by Hickle, Watson and junior Dylan Spicer, to light up opposing defenses all year.
Their lone regular-season loss came at the hands of 1A Evergreen League champion Eatonville, a team that had recently joined the league after recent success at the 2A level. The Cruisers would go on to play in the 1A state title game against Royal.
Tenino would then reel off four more regular-season victories before entering the postseason. They demolished Castle Rock, 56-0, in the district crossover, before earning the No. 6 seed in the state tournament.
The Beavers then hosted Freeman in their state opener and put on a firework show, taking down the Scotties in an adrenaline-fueled, 80-55, shootout in front of their home crowd. Hickle ran for 270 yards and a touchdown on 36 carries.
It was Tenino’s first state playoff game in eight years (2013), and its first state playoff victory in 35 years (1986).
The Beavers’ historic run finally came to an end in a 49-18 loss to perennial power Lynden Christian in the state quarterfinals on Nov. 20.
“We definitely wanted to go all the way, but that’s not what happened,” Hickle said. “And that’s OK. After the Onalaska game, we earned it, you know? Like, we earned our respect now.”
Though it ended earlier than he and his teammates had hoped, it was a season to remember — and one he won’t ever forget. The Beavers finished with 5,362 total rushing yards, for an average of 446.8 per game, which is ranked No. 5 in the nation, according to MaxPreps.
“I’ve put my blood, sweat and tears into this football program for the past four years,” Hickle said. “The recognition that we got was super, super nice.”
Hickle finished with the second-most individual rushing yards in the state, racking up 2,091 yards on 226 carries to go with 24 touchdowns. He was equally impressive on defense, tallying 54 tackles, 16 tackles for loss and nine sacks.
Now, Hickle is currently in the midst of his final season of basketball, where he is the team’s leading scorer and rebounder. After that, he’ll head back to the black turf for one final time — soccer season; a sport he joined last season, where he helped the Beavers finish fourth at districts.
For now, he’ll enjoy his final year at Tenino before heading to Corvallis to make his mark in the Division-I football. He’s already looking forward to the competition.
“Everybody there will be bigger, faster, stronger, but at the same time, I don’t fold,” Hickle said. “I’m excited because, at the end of the day, it’s only going to make me get better, you know?
“It’s only going to make me the best player I can be. And I’m grateful for that opportunity to go play. And it’ll be different, and I know that, but I’m just excited.”
The Chronicle’s All-Area Football Team
- Gavin Fugate, W.F. West, jr. — Fugate was the best blend of passing and rushing in the area. He connected on 97 of 177 passes (55%) for 1,313 yards and 16 TDs, while rushing 79 times for 535 yards and nine TDs in just _ games
- Wyatt Nef, Toledo, sr.: Nef was the top rushing QB in our coverage area, piling up 1,547 rushing yards and scoring 29 total TDs. He added 629 yards through the air. He also tied for the most INTs in the area (7) as a defensive back and added 56 tackles and three forced fumbles.
- Dylan Spicer, Tenino, jr. — Often overlooked, Spicer had a terrific rushing season for the Beavers, toting the rock 133 times for 1,174 yards and 13 touchdowns, while also coming up huge in big moments as a linebacker.
- Nolan Swofford, Winlock, sr. — With 10 touchdowns in a single game, Swofford broke the all-time WIAA record for points in a single game, and finished with 198 carries, 1,927 yards and 32 touchdowns on the ground. Swofford also caught four more touchdowns and had 62 tackles, 12 for loss, four sacks and three interceptions as a linebacker.
- Marshall Haight, Onalaska, sr. — Haight was the Loggers’ workhorse all season long, rushing 242 times for 1,916 yards, 27 touchdowns, with a 7.9 yard per carry average. The senior was also a defender on Ony’s stout defensive front seven.
- Gavin Parker, Napavine, sr. — One of many weapons in the Tigers’ arsenal this season, Parker averaged almost 11 yards per carry, with 1,457 total rushing yards and 24 total touchdowns for Napavine.
- Keegan Kolb, Mossyrock, jr. — Missing state by just a game, the Vikings often looked for Kolb to get the offense going, as the junior finished with 18 total touchdowns, 1,181 receiving yards and 532 total rushing yards in a standout year.
- Lucas Dahl, Napavine, sr. — Dahl was Napavine’s top weapon on the outside, and perhaps its most versatile playmaker, with 849 receiving yards, 509 rushing yards, and 16 total touchdowns.
- Hunter Hazen, Morton-White Pass, jr. — Hazen caught 14 passes for 322 yards and five touchdowns in the Timberwolves offense en route to a first-team all league selection, and also anchored a improved MWP defense as a DB with three picks, four pass breakups and 48 tackles.
- Keith Olson, Napavine, sr. — Olson, a 3-star offensive tackle and University of Utah signee, was by far the best linemen in the area. He paved the way for the Tigers to rack up 6,147 total yards, including over 4,200 on the ground. He was so good he was named the Offensive MVP for the Southwest Washington 2B Football League North Division.
- Marshall Butcher, Tenino, sr. — Butcher, a two-time, all-league center, was the best lineman on a Beavers’ team that finished fifth in the nation in rushing yards per game (446.8). He helped the team rush for 5,362 total rushing yards, including Takari Hickle’s 2,000-yard season.
- Josue Roque, Onalaska, sr. — Roque led the offensive line for a Loggers’ team that faced the toughest 2B schedule in the state and played with its back against the wall all year, and still advanced to the state semifinals.
- Ryan Haenke, Mossyrock, sr. — The 6-foot-5, 295-pound road-grader was a pancake machine for the 1B Vikings, helping the team reach the district playoffs.
- Owen Gillespie, Rochester, jr. — Gillespie was the Warriors’ rock on the offensive line, and helped teammate Talon Betts rush for over 1,100 yards and 17 touchdowns. His run and pass blocking helped the Warriors clinch their first playoff berth in nine years.
- Talon Betts, Rochester, sr. — Perhaps the most dangerous skill position player in the region, Betts took three kickoffs to the house for touchdowns and was only kicked to seven times all year. The Warrior tailback also accumulated 1,142 rushing yards, 307 receiving yards and scored 17 touchdowns in nine games.
- Daniel Matagi, W.F. West, jr. — Matagi was a vicious defensive lineman for the state-qualifying Bearcats, earning 2A Evergreen Conference Defensive MVP honors after piling up 35 tackles, seven tackles for loss and one interception. He also had 13 pancake blocks on the o-line.
- Joshill Tilton, Toledo, sr. — Tilton earned first-team, all-league honors 22 tackles for loss and five sacks. He cleared the way for three Riverhawk ball carriers to eclipse over 1,000 rushing yards on the season.
- Isaiah Vazquez, Centralia, sr. — Vazquez was a beast on the d-line for a Tigers team that had a down year. Vazquez did so on a bum leg after getting hurt at football camp. “We didn’t expect much after that,” former coach Jeremy Thibault said. “Really didn’t think he was going to be able to play.” He did, and went on to become the Tigers’ undisputed top player of the year.
- Kaden Ritzman, Pe Ell-Willapa Valley, sr. — Ritzman helps lead a PWV team that went from just one win last season to a 6-4 overall record this year and a berth to a pigtail game with eventual state quarterfinalist Toledo. He finished with 45 tackles, one sack, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
- William Buzzard, W.F. West, jr. — Buzzard earned first-team, all-league on both the defensive and offensive lines, and helped the Bearcats advance to the opening round of state, even without their starting quarterback. He compiled 39 tackles, 7 seven tackles, one sack and one forced fumble. He added eight pancake blocks on offense.
- Randall Marti, Tenino, jr. — Marti, along with Hickle, was one of the Beavers’ top defenders, tallying a team-high 61 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and adding four sacks.
- Kolby Mozingo, Onalaska, sr. — Mozingo was the SWW 2B Football League South Division’s Defensive MVP as a safety/linebacker hybrid for the Loggers’ physical defense. He added 813 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on offense with 13.5 yards per carry.
- Blake Ely, W.F. West, jr. — Ely led a 10-3 Bearcat team with 73 total tackles to go with five tackles, three sacks, two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble and a defensive touchdown.
- Derek Ruymann, Oakville, sr. — Ruymann, a Pacific Lutheran University football commit, racked up 57 tackles (11.4 per game), four sacks, nine tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in just five games.
- Neal Patching, Winlock, sr. — Patching recorded a team-high 78 tackles, and added 12.5 for loss, 3.5 sacks, four passses defended, two forced fumbles and an interception to earn first-team, all-league defensive back.
- Ashtin Landry, Napavine, sr. — Landry earned first-team, all-league honors at defensive back after helping the Tigers allow just 11 points per game, for a 36.6-plus point differential.
- Gunnar Talley, Onalaska, sr. — The ballhawking senior snatched seven interceptions, tied for the most in the area, and was praised by defensive coordinator Wayne Nelson for being, ‘a big hitter who played multiple spots on defense.” He added 563 rushing yards and 13 TDs on offense with 10.8 yards per carry.
- Garrett Keaton, Pe Ell-Willapa Valley, jr. — The Titan kicker/defensive lineman made two field goals, and was 25 of 30 on PATs throughout the season, earning first-team all league as a specialist. Keaton was also a force on the line, with 44 tackles, seven sacks, two fumble recoveries and a fumble forced.
- Lane Johnson, Adna, so. — Johnson quarterbacked a young Pirates squad, and earned a second-team all league nod, but makes the all-area team as the top punter in the area, boasting a 41.3 yard per punt average and a first-team all league honor as a specialist.