Just two years ago, the Marysville Pilchuck High School football team struggled through a youth-filled two-win campaign.
Now, the older and more experienced Tomahawks are taking a perfect record into the state quarterfinals.
It’s been a massive turnaround for No. 6 seed Marysville Pilchuck, which travels to face No. 3 seed Lincoln in a Class 3A state quarterfinal Saturday afternoon at the Lincoln Bowl in Tacoma.
“In that 2017 season, we had a lot of young guys, but that just means that we have a lot of experience now,” Tomahawks senior Dillon Kuk said. “A lot of our seniors now started as sophomores, … and I think that’s just given us a lot of experience.”
With a slew of sophomores getting their first taste of varsity action in 2017, Marysville Pilchuck took its lumps during a 2-8 campaign. The Tomahawks then made considerable strides last season while improving to 7-3, but were plagued by inconsistency at times and ultimately fell just short of a Week 10 playoff berth.
This year, it has all come together for Marysville Pilchuck.
The Tomahawks (11-0) steamrolled their way to the Wesco 3A title, fended off Ballard in a winner-to-state contest, then beat Prairie in a wild overtime game last week to reach the state quarterfinals for the fourth time in program history.
“They know what it takes now to win big games,” Marysville Pilchuck coach Brandon Carson said earlier this season. “When they were sophomores, we weren’t real good. And then when they became juniors, we got a little bit better, (but) they weren’t quite sure how to win the big games or the close games. And I think they get a better sense of that this year. … That experience, you can’t put a value on that.”
That experience undoubtedly helped the Tomahawks weather the wild momentum swings in last week’s first-round state-playoff clash, which featured four lead changes during a seesaw fourth quarter and overtime.
Prairie scored a go-ahead touchdown and 2-point conversion to take a three-point lead with 25 seconds to play in regulation, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Falcons’ touchdown celebration and a short ensuing squib kick gave Marysville Pilchuck excellent field position. That helped set the stage for senior kicker Edgar Martinez, who calmly booted a 39-yard game-tying field goal as time expired to force overtime and keep the Tomahawks’ dream season alive.
Dylan Carson then ran for a go-ahead touchdown in the extra period and Marysville Pilchuck’s defense came up with a game-ending stop, sealing a dramatic 37-30 victory to send the Tomahawks to the state quarterfinals for the first time since 2014.
“That means a lot,” Marysville Pilchuck senior Jordan Justice said of reaching the quarterfinals. “We’ve worked hard for this.”
Next up for the Tomahawks is a talent-laden Lincoln team loaded with high-level college prospects.
Among the Abes’ many stars is nationally ranked junior recruit Julien Simon, who has 807 yards receiving, 16 offensive touchdowns and two interception returns for scores. Lincoln also has four of the state’s top 55 senior recruits, according to 247Sports.
In addition, the Abes feature playmakers at quarterback and tailback. While spreading the ball to his elite receiving corps, Caden Filer has completed 72.4% of his passes for 2,937 yards, 34 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. Abner Sio-Fetaui complements Lincoln’s aerial attack with 1,167 yards rushing and 16 touchdown runs, averaging a whopping 11.1 yards per carry.
With their vast array of talent, the Abes (9-2) have outscored opponents by 30.3 points per game. Lincoln’s two losses were a 10-point defeat to 4A No. 2 seed Camas and a nine-point defeat to 4A No. 3 seed Lake Stevens.
“They’ve got a bunch of D-I guys down there, they’ve got a really good team and they’re playing really good football right now,” Brandon Carson said. “Watching them on film, it’s hard to find a weakness. They’ve got good guys at every spot, but I like our game plan and we’re excited to go down there and play these guys.”
Marysville Pilchuck figures once again to lean on its deceptive Slot-T rushing attack and strong defense. Led by the backfield duo of Justice and Dylan Carson, the Tomahawks churn out 7.6 yards per carry and 320 yards rushing per game. Marysville Pilchuck’s defense, meanwhile, allows just 13.6 points per contest.
“It starts with defense,” Brandon Carson said. “We’ve gotta play good defense. They score a lot and really fast, so we’ve gotta make them earn everything they’ve got. And offensively, we’ve gotta take care of the football, have long, sustained drives and punch the ball in when we can.”
The Tomahawks enter as underdogs against star-studded Lincoln. But as Kuk said, they’ve been proving others wrong all season.
Marysville Pilchuck was picked fourth out of seven teams in the preseason Wesco 3A North coaches’ poll, yet cruised to the league title and steamrolled Snohomish 52-3 in the Wesco 3A championship game.
“I feel like we’re always the underdog,” Kuk said. “We’ve always had to play that way the whole season, but that just motivates us to go out and play hard.
“We’re not afraid of anyone,” he added. “We know Lincoln is a big team, but we believe that we can win and beat anybody.”