The Mountlake Terrace football team spent the early part of its season looking for its missing link.
It turns out it was a fullback from Texas.
Junior running back Malcolm Johnson, who transferred to Mountlake Terrace from Dallas after moving in late August, has become a solid complementary back to Hawks’ speedster Chance Ragsdale. Together, the two are helping Mountlake Terrace run over opponents and into the playoffs with a three-game winning streak.
“Getting Malcolm up and going here has probably had the biggest impact,” said Hawks’ head coach Tony Umayam. “? Getting a physical power back to make the defense honor the inside run opens things up. Chance can go back to his natural position and do a lot of the outside running.”
With Mountlake Terrace star running back Devante Downs tearing his ACL over the summer, a huge void emerged in the Hawks’ offense. A Pacific-12 commit to Cal, Downs was the focal point of the Mountlake Terrace offense and took a lot of pressure of Ragsdale.
Due to Downs’ injury, Umayam initially had to put Ragsdale at fullback, which isn’t his natural position. Once Johnson was eligible — he missed the first couple games while waiting for his transcript to clear and getting the number of necessary practices under his belt — Ragsdale was able to move back into a tailback role and Johnson quickly became good at clearing space for him.
“We were kind of chomping at the bit for him to be cleared and be able to contribute,” Umayam said. “Not only has he brought a physical style of running, which we missed since Devante went down, but he’s also brought a nice air to the team. He’s taking a vocal, leader role and the players gravitate to him.”
The two running backs bring a nice 1-2 punch to the Mountlake Terrace rushing attack, the staple of the Hawks’ offense.
“Having another running back helps out a lot,” Ragsdale said. “Malcolm’s more of a power back, I think, and I’m more of a quick, speedy back. We both run the ball hard.”
With his dad getting a new job in the Pacific Northwest, Johnson said at first he was “kind of bummed” to leave because of the suddenness of the move. However, now he enjoys being at Mountlake Terrace and sees his team as a contender in the quad-district playoffs.
“I can’t even concentrate half the time. I’m ready to get after it,” Johnson said. “I’m ready to get out there and win.”
Mountlake Terrace earned its playoff berth with a win over Stanwood – the second time the Hawks faced the Spartans this season. In both teams’ season opener, Stanwood came out on top 29-13 on Sept. 6.
On the sideline, Johnson watched the game, wishing he could play and hoping that his team would see the Spartans again. Last Friday, he got his wish and helped the Hawks to a 24-17 win and the sixth and final Wesco 3A playoff seed.
“That first game, I remember that one a lot,” said Johnson, who has a younger brother moving to the Northwest soon who should join the Hawks next season. “As a matter of fact, when we first lost that game I was like, ‘Man, I want to play that team again.’ And then it winded up happening and it was an opportunity to go knock them off and get that playoff spot.”
Johnson had 90 yards in the game, his season-high, and Ragsdale ran for 202 yards and three touchdowns. It capped a three-game stretch for Ragsdale where he ran for 819 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The senior running back currently has 1,420 yards, which Umayam says is a school record. Ragsdale also has 15 touchdowns this season.
“We run the ball a lot more than we throw it,” Ragsdale said. “Our running game’s just really improved since the first game. I just try my best and stuff just happens.”
For his part, Johnson has 55 carries for 291 yards and four touchdowns for the Hawks.
For the first time in school history the Hawks are in the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. Mountlake Terrace’s first playoff berth in school history came in 2009. Umayam, who graduated from Mountlake Terrace in 1990 and is in his 10th year as head coach, said Johnson has been key in the Hawks’ continued rushing success.
The Mountlake Terrace running game was so successful in the Hawks’ Oct. 25 game against Shorewood, they didn’t even have to attempt a pass. Mountlake Terrace carried the ball 34 times for 440 yards – accounting for all of its offense – in a 56-14 win over the Thunderbirds.
“I don’t know what happened there,” Ragsdale said. “Coach’s decision.”
When the coach thought back to the Shorewood game he thought there might have been a pass, before he was informed that Mountlake Terrace did commit entirely to the run.
“I think we had one pass. I think we tried it once. That’s right!” Umayam said. “It was one of those situations where we knew we wanted to establish the running game and since it was working and we were successful with it, we just stayed with it. And there’s no reason to pass once you’re up by that much.”
Establishing the run isn’t all the Hawks will have to do against Mountain View, their opponent in the quad-district playoffs. The Thunder look very similar to the Hawks on film, and Umayam has a defensive strategy that he hopes to employ – and figures it’s very similar to what Mountain View hopes to do on defense.
“They’re kind of a mirror image of what we try to do,” Umayam said. “We look at their previous games, they’re an 85-percent run team themselves. They want to come out and establish the run and get their big o-lineman going. They have a couple electric backs. Their radio guys said they have three guys that can score from anywhere on the field.
“I’d like to go in and force them to throw. Which is probably the same thing they’re saying about us.”
Mountlake Terrace vs. Mountain View
When: Today, 7 p.m.
Where: McKenzie Stadium, Vancouver
Winner receives: State berth and the winner of Seattle Prep/Kennedy
Scoreczar pick: Terrace has rallied lately and has put together some nice games. So has Mountain View. The Thunder beat Columbia River last week to win the GSHL 3A title. Columbia River was ranked by The AP in week 9, so, this is a good team the Hawks will face. Terrace has a certain unknown quality to it, but Mountain View is a proven commodity. 31-10 Thunder.
Swaney pick: MV, 31-13
Lommers pick: MV, 35-28
Krueger pick: MV, 42-28