PUYALLUP — When Lynden took its final knee in the red zone at Spark Stadium in Puyallup during the 2A state football championship Saturday, Tumwater players meandered back toward their sideline. They had battled four quarters with Lynden and came short in a 21-7 defeat.
The Thunderbirds’ players were met by teammates and assistants, who hugged them in consolation. Senior Ryan Otton was one of those receiving a hug.
It was a disappointing end to a whirlwind of a season that saw the T-Birds take on a Class 6A Oregon team (Central Catholic), Washington’s Class 4A powerhouse Camas and blowout victories over every league opponent they faced.
And though the T-Birds took their first defeat to a Class 2A team since 2018 which, coincidentally, was also to Lynden, Sunday’s game was not what Otton will remember when he looks back on this season.
“When we look back, it’s not gonna be about the games,” Otton said. “It’s about the times we made, the memories we made and the friendships. That’s what I’m going to look back on the most.”
Tumwater and Lynden entered the 2A state title match after each conquered their respective opponents in semifinal slugfests. Tumwater had come out on top 14-3 over Squalicum, while Lynden had edged North Kitsap 15-10.
And Sunday’s game was more of the same: a smashmouth affair between the two most physical 2A squads in the state. And for just the first time this season, Tumwater was out-physicaled by a 2A opponent.
The Thunderbirds landed the first blow, a 21-yard touchdown romp by senior tailback Payton Hoyt down the near sideline that gave the T-Birds a 7-0 lead with 6:48 left in the first. Tumwater didn't know it at the time but it would be their final points of the day.
But a botched punt snap on the T-Birds’ next possession allowed the Lions to tackle a Tumwater player in the endzone for a safety to cut Tumwater’s lead to 7-2.
Lynden’s tight end and backup quarterback Cade Slayton then scored on a pair of 2-yard touchdown runs in the span of nine minutes in the second quarter to give the Lions a 15-7 lead heading into the locker room.
Slayton would score on a 1-yard plunge with six minutes left in the third quarter in what would be the final score of the game.
Tumwater, which normally has an explosive run game, was held to just 61 total yards of offense in the second half, including only three yards in the third quarter. The Thunderbirds would finish with 110 rushing yards and 141 total yards, compared to Lynden’s 281 total.
“Lynden played great defense tonight,” Tumwater coach Bill Beattie said. “We had a great drive the first series but couldn’t just seem to get it going and made some mistakes. But, hey, Lynden is a great football team.”
It’s been a long trip to this point for the Thunderbirds, who began having team zoom meetings in 2020 during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Then the 2020 season was pushed back to February 2021, and ended with no state tournament.
The Thunderbirds, the 2019 and defending state champions, then had to deal with multiple cancellations by opponents this season, having to schedule a 6A and a 4A team to get games in.
“And these kids kept battling and battling, didn’t let all the stuff that got in the way bother them and kept working,” Beattie said. “Here, they got to play in the state championship game. These kids have worked their tails off. I’m just so proud of the work they’ve done to be in this situation.”
Tumwater ends its season with a 10-3 overall record. Lynden won its ninth state championship; its seventh title since 2006 and first since 2013.
“I love (Tumwater’s) program and we have so much respect for them,” Lynden coach Blake VanDalen said. “We look at them like a brother.”