Tumwater High School seldom loses a football game, especially not within Class 2A.
If the Thunderbirds do fall, look for the fingerprints of the usual suspect.
Twenty-four straight times before Saturday evening, Tumwater took the field against 2A competition and won. Then, on a rainy night at Sparks Stadium, Lynden overcome an early deficit to beat the T-Birds for the state 2A championship, 21-7.
The Lions (12-1) were also the last 2A team to defeat Tumwater (10-3), in the state 2A quarterfinals in 2018, 28-27. Twice, in 2012 and 2013, they did what they did Saturday, downing the T-Birds in the state championship game.
Lynden won its seventh state championship while Tumwater, which has six titles, lost for the fifth time in the title game.
A surprisingly diverse Lynden offense, combined with a pair of devastating Tumwater mistakes, made the difference. On another night, the top-seeded T-Birds might have reversed their luck against the second-seeded Lions.
This time, though, it was Lynden holding Tumwater’s typically powerful rushing offense in check, just 110 yards, on a night the T-Birds could generate little with the pass. Offensively, the Lions mixed their typical run game with some wild cat direct snaps that never let Tumwater’s defense find a rhythm.
Usual leading rusher Lane Heeringa gained a respectable 75 yards on 16 carries, but speedy senior Cade Slayton, 6-foot-2, 215 pounds and listed as a tight end on the roster, took those wild cat snaps and dashed for 88 yards and all three Lynden touchdowns on 17 carries.
“They beat us up front,” said Tumwater linebacker Caleb Sadlemyer. “They found our weaknesses and took advantage of them.”
T-Birds’ head coach Bill Beattie was disappointed but unsurprised.
“They came out and did what we thought they would do, came out and pounded the ball. They’re a physical team,” he said.
Tumwater began the game as if Lynden would be the latest playoff domino to fall, after Columbia River, East Valley, Enumclaw and Squalicum. The T-Birds received the opening kickoff, then drove 69 yards in 13 plays, scoring when Payton Hoyt found a big hole on the left side and ran 21 yards for a touchdown.
Lukas Stuart’s extra point kick made it 7-0 but was also the last time Tumwater would score.
After forcing a three-and-out that might have solidified their momentum, the T-Birds also stalled and Alex Overbay dropped into punt formation on fourth and 13 on his own 30. The snap soared far over his head, back into the end zone where he recovered for a safety that kept Lynden from recovering for a TD.
Again, Tumwater forced a Lions’ punt on the ensuing possession, but another mistake rose up to bite the T-Birds.
On third and five from his own 22, Overbay tried to connect for first down yardage over the middle to University of Washington-bound tight end Ryan Otton, but Lynden’s Collin Anker intercepted. Five plays later, Slayton scored his first touchdown on a one-yard run.
A minute into the second quarter, the Lions had the lead for good.
“We put ourselves in a hole,” Beattie said. “We just couldn’t quite get things going. We couldn’t get the ball moving, we kind of got in our own way. We didn’t make things happen and put our defense in a bad situation.
“We didn’t play the kind of game we wanted to. That’s on me as a coach, not having them prepared enough.”
Tumwater got 62 yards on 14 carries from Hoyt, 48 yards on 13 carries from Carlos Matheney. They couldn’t get their dangerous outside threat, Ashton Paine, going until late and his best run, a 32-yarder deep into Lynden’s half of the field, was called back by a penalty. Paine finished with a team-best 4.4 yards per carry.
Though they were forced to throw more as Lynden’s lead grew via two more Slayton touchdowns, another in the second quarter and one more in the third, Tumwater couldn’t get its passing game to click.
Junior quarterback Overbay completed just four of 18 passes for 31 yards and was intercepted three times. No Tumwater receiver caught more than one ball.
Defensive back Ryan Orr, who will play baseball at Washington State, led Tumwater’s defense on the night with 10 tackles and an interception. Bennett Ferris, Caleb Sadlemyer, Nick Cairns and Matheney, playing linebacker, all had tackles for loss at key moments.
Looking back over two years of his program’s history, encompassing both the most ominous days of the COVID-19 pandemic and a run to the state title game, Beattie said, “I’m super proud of these guys. We got to a state championship game, battled and just lost a good old-fashioned football game.
“These kids have worked their tails off. It’s been a long one-and-a-half, two years with everything that’s been going on. I know everyone’s gone through this, but we win the championship in 2019, then all of the sudden we’re in zoom meetings, having practices once a month. We went from the longest off-season to the shortest one. It was a long, long trek but these kids didn’t let anything that got in the way bother them.”
With key pieces such as Overbay, Matheney and all-2A EvCo lineman Lokomana-ai Hafoka returning, Beattie looks ahead optimistically.
“We’re going to have a lot of wet eyes in our locker room tonight,” he said. “But there’s always a lot to be excited about with Tumwater football.”