Tumwater defense, Kooper Clark lead T-Birds back to state title game


TUMWATER — If someone was wondering what style of football the Tumwater Thunderbirds played, they’d need to look no further than the final seven minutes of their 2A semifinal against North Kitsap.

Down two, the Vikings were driving, but a late sack forced a long field goal attempt. The T-Birds pressure on the kick forced the holder to scramble, and the T-Birds got the ball back with the chance to go up two scores.

They didn’t need to score, however, as they methodically marched the ball down the field, draining the final six and a half minutes off the clock to seal a 19-17 win.

“That’s a pretty good example of what our kids and our coaches do pretty regularly,” Tumwater head coach William Garrow said. “They play extremely hard, play great defense, and when it comes down to it, we try to run the football. Control the clock, get first downs, and take care of business.”

The win puts the T-Birds back in the state title game for the sixth time in the last decade, and they’ll look to win their first state title since 2019 next Saturday at Husky Stadium in Seattle.

“I’m so excited for our kids and for our assistant coaches,” Garrow said. “We ask a ton of them … I’m excited for them to see the fruits of their labor.”

Among the sea of green on the field post game was an emotional Kooper Clark, who led the offense with 250 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.

“I’ve been working for this since I was a little kid,” Clark said. “I can’t even believe it. It’s so surreal.”

Whenever the T-Birds needed a big play, they turned to Clark, and he delivered. Seven of his rushes went for 15 or more yards, and on the final drive, he ran for 46 of the team’s 67 yards.

Clark was quick to credit his offensive line, saying that it was their best performance of the season.

“I’m gonna have to get them breakfast or something,” Clark said with a laugh.

Garrow said that while he wasn’t surprised that Clark came through, he was happy that the senior got to experience it in his final home game.

“He bleeds green,” Garrow said. “He bleeds Tumwater football. I’m happy for him to be able to have done this. I totally believed that he would … For him to have a moment like this in front of the fans in his last game, it’s really special. I’m happy for him.”

While Clark’s first touchdown opened the scoring, his second and third came immediately after the Vikings had taken the lead two separate times.

It took North Kitsap a while to respond to the opening drive touchdown, but Cole Edwards found Logan Sloman open on a 40-yard touchdown to tie the game before the half.

The Vikings opened the second half with a long field goal drive, and just two plays after Clark had given the Thunderbirds the lead back, Edwards fired a pass by a diving T-Bird defensive back to Lelond Anderson, who took the pass 58 yards to re-give the Vikings a 17-13 lead.

Coming into the game, Garrow was concerned about the Vikings’ big-play ability, and those two plays had the entire coaching staff shaking their heads.

But, outside of those two big plays, the Thunderbirds were able to limit the Vikings offense, holding them to just 64 passing yards on the other 13 pass attempts.

“We knew that that was a really good team we were going against and that they might get one or two,” Garrow said. “But thankfully, the defense got the stop when we needed it.”