TUMWATER — For the third time in five years, the Archbishop Murphy High School football team’s season ended with a state-playoff loss to Tumwater.
This time, the Wildcats simply ran into a buzzsaw.
The top-seeded Thunderbirds scored in all three phases of the game and compiled yet another suffocating defensive performance, rolling to a 48-0 win over eighth-seeded Archbishop Murphy in a Class 2A state quarterfinal Saturday afternoon at Tumwater District Stadium.
“Tumwater is as good as advertised,” Wildcats coach Mark Leone said. “They’re a really good football team.”
Tumwater’s physical and swarming defense smothered Archbishop Murphy all afternoon, limiting the Wildcats to just 119 total yards and 2.4 yards per play.
The Thunderbirds (12-0) forced and recovered two first-half fumbles and converted both takeaways into touchdowns, including a scoop-and-score late in the half that gave Tumwater a commanding 20-0 lead at the break.
With the victory, the Thunderbirds advanced to the state semifinals for the sixth time in eight years. Tumwater hosts fourth-seeded Hockinson next Saturday for a spot in the 2A state title game.
“They have a very talented and very effective front seven, and it showed here tonight,” Leone said. “All 11 guys on defense played really well. … That’s a tough defense.”
Saturday was the latest beatdown in what’s been a dominant season for the undefeated Thunderbirds.
Tumwater has outscored opponents by an average of 42.9 points per game and has routed 2A opponents by 50.4 points per contest.
The Thunderbirds beat three higher-classification teams in non-league play, including a 27-point win over 3A state qualifier Yelm. Tumwater also earned a 16-point victory over Clackamas, which won Oregon’s 6A state title in 2017 and reached its classification’s state semifinals last year.
“They’ve been playing tough all year,” Leone said.
This marked the fourth time in five years and the seventh time in the past 10 seasons that Tumwater and Archbishop Murphy squared off in the state playoffs. The Thunderbirds have won five of the seven state-playoff matchups between these perennial powers, including a 10-6 defensive slugfest in the 2017 state semifinals.
And just like two years ago, Tumwater’s defense stole the show Saturday.
Tumwater recovered an Archbishop Murphy fumble on the game’s second play from scrimmage, then scored on the very next play with a 35-yard touchdown run by Turner Allen that made it 6-0 just 33 seconds into the contest.
The Wildcats (8-3) forced and recovered a fumble on Tumwater’s next possession and took over at the Thunderbirds’ 20-yard line. But after driving inside the Tumwater 10, two penalties and a sack pushed Archbishop Murphy out of field-goal range and led to a punt.
The Wildcats then came up with another fumble recovery later in the opening quarter, which set up their offense just inside the Tumwater half of the field. But once again, Archbishop Murphy couldn’t capitalize. Another penalty moved the Wildcats backward, and Tumwater’s stifling defense did the rest.
Archbishop Murphy never reached Thunderbirds territory again until the final minute of the game.
“The defense played lights-out,” Tumwater coach Bill Beattie said.
Midway through the second quarter, Cody Whalen rolled left and connected with Austin Terry for a 4-yard touchdown pass that extended the Thunderbirds’ lead to 13-0.
Later in the half, Tumwater strip-sacked Archbishop Murphy quarterback Victor Gabalis and Ty Gilliland returned the fumble 13 yards for a touchdown to make it 20-0.
“You can’t have turnovers in big games in the playoffs,” Leone said. “And good teams, they get points off turnovers. That’s exactly what Tumwater did.”
Gabalis, who appeared to suffer a leg injury on the possession prior, had to be helped off the field following the strip-sack score. Sophomore backup Colton Johnson replaced Gabalis and finished the game at quarterback for the Wildcats.
“Any time you lose a senior quarterback, it’s tough,” Leone said.
Tumwater leading rusher Dylan Paine capped the opening drive of the second half with a 5-yard touchdown run, pushing the lead to 27-0. The Thunderbirds later added three second-half touchdowns — including a punt-return score — en route to their eighth running-clock victory of the season.
After falling short of the state playoffs last year, Archbishop Murphy made it back to the state quarterfinals for the 14th time in 18 seasons.
“Our seniors have led us all year, and it’s a great group of seniors,” Leone said. “They give everything they have to our team and to our school. … I’m very proud of this team and what they accomplished this year, and they’ve allowed us to establish building blocks for the future.”