After a regular season that saw Tumwater run through every 2A opponent, take two losses to much-larger programs (6A Central Catholic and 4A Camas) and a four-straight playoff victories, the Thunderbirds are right where they hoped to be at the end of the season: in the 2A state title game.
After clipping No. 4 Squalicum, 14-3, last weekend in the state semifinals, top-seeded Thunderbirds (10-2) will face a familiar foe in perennial power Lynden for the championship.
The No. 2 Lions (11-1) are the last 2A team to defeat Tumwater, a 28-27 slugfest in Bellingham during the 2018 state quarterfinals.
“The one thing you can say about them is their program has been a model of consistency over the last 10, 20 years of high school football at the 2A level,” Tumwater coach Bill Beattie said. “They’re used to being in these situations. They’re a solid program, from bottom to top.”
Lynde has won eight state championships, six since 2006, and are looking to nab their first one since 2013. Tumwater, meanwhile, has won six (1987, 1989, 1990,1993, 2010 and 2019) and is the defending 2A state champion.
Now, the Thunderbirds are led by dual Division-I tight ends in University of Washington-commit Ryan Otton (6-foot-6) and Boise State-commit Austin Terry (6-foot-5).
The pass receiving threat of those two, along with a physical offensive line, have paved the way for a punishing, two-pronged rushing attack with Payton Hoyt (1,113 yards and 26 total touchdowns) and Carlos Matheney (1,050 yards and 15 TDs).
“The recipe for us doesn’t change,” Beattie said. “We have to be really good up front on both sides of the ball. We have to play great defense and run the ball and control the ball.”
On the defensive side, Otton (51 tackles, 15 TFL, 6.5 sacks) and Terry (40 tackles, three sacks) wreak havoc from their defensive end positions. Senior middle linebacker Caleb Sadlemyer cleans up everything that gets past them and has tallied 79 total tackles, 11 tackles for loss and six sacks.
Tumwater is also sound on the back end, with senior cornerback Ashton Paine, who recently accepted a preferred walk-on offer from Washington State University, locking down the opposing team’s best defenders. Paine has three picks, five pass breakups and 23 tackles. Fellow corner TeJay Parker (35 tackles, five pass breakups) is 6-foot-3 and over-matches most of his opposing receivers as well.
The Thunderbirds will need everything to come together to stop a Lynden team also coming off a defensive battle in its semifinal match, a 15-10 victory over previously-unbeaten North Kitsap.
The Lions and T-Birds have played each other in the state championship twice in the past. The Lions came out on top in both during back-to-back seasons: 41-7 in 2012 and 38-28 in 2013.
This year, Lynden is led by dual-threat quarterback Kaden Hermanutz, who has passed for 1,272 yards and 19 touchdowns while adding 517 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. Tailback Lane Heeringa has 1,013 rushing yards and eight TDs. Hermanutz favorite target is Kaleo Jandoc, who has 585 receiving yards and 10 TDs on just 22 receptions.
The Lions run a lot of multiple sets on offense, one-back, two-back, they’ll spread out, they’ll line up in the wildcat.
“I don’t think they have the superstars like Squalicum did but, overall, as a team, they’re more solid,” Beattie said. “They’ll do a number of things that make you have to prepare for a lot of situations.”
Defensively, Taivin VanDalen (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) is a workhorse middle linebacker, totalling 66 tackles and 56 assists. VanDalen had 17 total tackles, a sack, a blocked kick and four pass breakups against North Kitsap last week.
“They’re very, very disciplined on defense,” Beattie said. “They’re what you’d expect when you get to this game.”
Tumwater and Lynden will face off at 4 p.m., Saturday at Sparks Stadium in Puyallup.