With fierce running attacks, stout defenses and a desire to claim the Wesco 3A North title, the Oak Harbor and Marysville Pilchuck football teams have a lot in common going into Friday’s league finale.
And both teams know it’s not going to be easy to keep their opponent from accomplishing that goal.
Led by Austin Joyner and Sheyenne Sams, the Tomahawks and Wildcats, respectively, hope their strong ground games can get them the league title and berth in the Wesco 3A Championship game that comes with it. The teams meet at 7 p.m. Friday night at Quil Ceda Stadium in Marysville.
“It’s one of the top goals going into the season,” Marysville Pilchuck head coach Brandon Carson said. “That’s our goal going into the season and here we are lucky enough to be in the last weeks of the season and be able to play for the league title. It’s up to us. Our destiny is in our hands.”
For a breakdown of Friday night’s showdown between MP and Oak Harbor, click here.
When developing their game plan for Oak Harbor, the Tomahawks didn’t have to look too far to see what they would have to do to be successful. Stop the rushing attack of Sams, Julian Faralan and Dejon Devroe — who rank second, third and fifth in Wesco North 3A in rushing.
Of course, that’s easier said than done.
“The first thing that stands out is their backs are really good,” Carson said. “They’re quick. They’re fast. And their offensive line is really good up front. The Sams kid is probably the most elusive of them all. But the other two are pretty dynamic as well. They all have great speed. They’re a talented group of backs.”
Sams leads the group with 821 yards this season. Faralan has 686 yards, just ahead of Devroe’s 680. As a team, the Wildcats average 365 rushing yards per game.
“Our defensive line is going to have to play a huge part in stopping those guys,” Carson said. “We can’t allow their offensive line to push us around and give those guys gaps to run through and get into the open field and do their thing.”
The Marysville Pilchuck defense does have one advantage. It goes up against Joyner every day in practice. The junior has 990 yards on just 62 carries — an average of almost 16 yards per carry — and 15 touchdowns. (Oak Harbor’s Sams is the next closest in the conference with eight scores.)
The Tomahawks think the familiarity will help them cage Oak Harbor’s speedy backs.
“Yeah it helps a lot,” Joyner said. “It’s like playing our own offense, pretty much. Just different personnel. We know how to stop our own offense. We know what gets to us and what blows up the offensive plays. We should know how to stop them.”
Meanwhile, the task of stopping Joyner is a daunting one and has forced Oak Harbor head coach Jay Turner to consider alternative methods.
“I’ve petitioned the WIAA to allow us a 12th guy out there but they haven’t gotten back to us,” Turner said with a laugh. “Holy smokes. The guy is probably the best high school football player I’ve ever seen in person. He goes in a different gear.
“We’ll do our best (to stop Joyner).”
The biggest difference between the Tomahawks’ and Oak Harbor’s offense appears to be in the passing game. Marysville Pilchuck, with senior quarterback Jake Luton, throws the ball a bit more than the Wildcats. With opposing teams often bringing everybody they can to try to stop Joyner, the Tomahawks try to exploit play-action passes.
Luton has completed 48 of 91 pass attempts for 786 yards and 10 touchdowns. But while the Tomahawks throw a bit more than the Wildcats, the league’s next highest passing yardage total belongs to Oak Harbor’s Clay Doughty, who is 25-for-56 for 441 yards and nine touchdowns. Doughty averages 7.9 yards per attempt, right behind Luton (8.6).
Joyner isn’t the only Tomahawks running back busting through defenses. Marysville Pilchuck also hands off to JJ Valencia (345 yards, five touchdowns), Killian Page (334 yards, four touchdowns), Deion Stell (283 yards, five touchdowns) and Hunter Trueax (199 yards, one touchdown).
There aren’t really many differences offensively between Marysville Pilchuck and Oak Harbor, “outside of maybe we throw the ball a little bit more,” Carson said. “They’re going to try to pound the ball in between the tackles. That’s kind of what we want to accomplish, too.”
Turner, who said the teams are “kind of eerily similar,” knows his team will have a challenge on its hands Friday night with the Wildcats trying to dethrone the defending 3A North champs. In an exciting, wild game last season at Oak Harbor, the Wildcats took a 39-21 lead going into the fourth quarter, before the Tomahawks scored 26 unanswered points to come from behind and win the league title.
“The game last year at Oak Harbor was the craziest football game I’ve ever been a part of,” Luton said. “We came out on top and we know they’re going to come in looking for revenge and we’re going to try to get out with a ‘W.’”
The Wildcats aren’t fixating on last year’s outcome. This season’s young Oak Harbor team is just enthusiastic about having another opportunity to play for a 3A North title.
“We mention in passing of how it’s history,” Turner said of last year. “It’s not something we dwell on or harp on. It was a pretty exciting game. A lot more exciting for MP than us. It’s exciting to have this opportunity again. We’re just excited to be in this position.
“We’re pretty young this year. The expectations were not really high on us coming in. But the kids are improving each week. We’re fortunate to be where we’re at. It’s going to be fun.”
Marysville Pilchuck isn’t overly focused on last year’s game, either, but the Tomahawks do want to repeat the result.
“We’re looking at this like this is our championship,” Tomahawks’ center Ricky Jacobsen said. “It’s one game at a time and we’ll just do what we have to do.”