With the Archbishop Murphy and Tumwater football teams set to meet Saturday in a Class 2A state semifinal, Herald reporter Cameron Van Til asked Lauren Smith of The Olympian some questions to get her perspective on the upcoming matchup:
Q: Tumwater played Archbishop Murphy tougher than any other team last season, trailing by just seven points midway through the third quarter. How does this year’s Thunderbirds team compare to last year’s squad?
A: That game definitely left a sour taste for the T-Birds. The score was lopsided by the end, but the two programs seemed pretty well-matched until Noah Andrews, Tumwater’s starting quarterback, left the game with a bicep injury. Then, of course, the Wildcats scored five times in the second half to end Tumwater’s season.
This year’s Tumwater team is similar — the T-Birds have a longstanding reputation for their ability to reload each season — but lost its two biggest playmakers. Andrews and two-way star Cade Otton (now a tight end at Washington) graduated. That talent is obviously missed, but Tumwater’s stable of running backs is as explosive as usual.
Q: Tumwater has been pretty dominant against 2A competition this season. What is this team’s greatest strength? Do the T-Birds have a weakness?
A: Like every other year, Tumwater’s biggest weapon is its very refined, very deceptive Wing-T offense. Future Tumwater players start to learn it when they first begin youth league play, so by the time they reach high school, it’s nearly impossible to stop. Averaging 341 rushing yards and 41 points per game seems like a lot, but that’s about what Tumwater averages every year.
Tumwater hasn’t slipped up much this season, but has given up a few big plays for scores — which I know Archbishop Murphy tends to produce a lot of. Connor Clark leads a solid secondary, but Tumwater doesn’t face a lot of teams in its league that frequently pass the ball. Steilacoom scored twice through the air — including a 78-yard touchdown — in the quarterfinals. Archbishop Murphy’s success through the air could give it an edge.
Q: Murphy and Tumwater have a common opponent in Bellevue, which beat both teams by double digits in consecutive weeks back in September. How did Tumwater stack up against the Wolverines?
A: Tumwater actually controlled possession for much of that game, but a few untimely mistakes cost a lot. The T-Birds fumbled twice in the first half — including once in the red zone — and didn’t score until the second half.
Defensively, the big play hurt Tumwater a handful of times. All four of Bellevue’s touchdowns were for 48 or more yards. Quinn Sullivan scored on the Wolverines’ opening play with a 56-yard run. And, like he’s done to everyone else, Bellevue running back Isaiah Ifanse ripped up Tumwater’s defense, finishing with 244 yards on 18 carries. His three rushing touchdowns were for 76, 65 and 48 yards.
Q: Tumwater ended Murphy’s season two years ago in the state semifinals. Murphy returned the favor in last year’s quarterfinals. What’s your prediction for Saturday’s rubber match?
A: Archbishop Murphy 30-17.