SHORELINE — There’s always plenty of excitement in the Shoreline community for the annual Rotary Cup football game between Shorecrest and Shorewood high schools.
But there’s certainly an added buzz surrounding this year’s rivalry clash.
The two long-struggling programs each have claimed a signature victory over a perennial league power and are off to strong starts this season heading into Friday night’s contest at Shoreline Stadium.
In fact, this is the first time since at least 2004 that both teams enter the Rotary Cup with winning records.
“There’s an excitement, there’s buzz in the school (and) there’s people in the community obviously talking about it,” Shorecrest coach Brandon Christensen said of his program’s first 3-0 start since 2005. “It’s something we haven’t experienced in quite a while. … (Friday) should be an absolutely electric night.”
For years, these two programs have been entrenched at or near the bottom of the conference standings. Aside from the annual Rotary Cup matchups against each other, Shorecrest and Shorewood entered this season with a combined 3-50 record in Wesco 3A South play since 2012.
“We’re a program that — where Shoreline is — we don’t have a massive feeder program that comes in,” Christensen said. “So a lot of our kids when they come out as freshmen or sophomores, they’re learning football for the first time. And we don’t graduate classes of 25 players (like other progams), so there’s always juniors and sophomores that are seeing the field.”
However, just three weeks into this season, the Shoreline schools already have a combined three conference wins against other Wesco 3A South teams — matching their total from the past six seasons combined.
Shorecrest (3-0 overall, 2-0 Wesco 3A South) began the year with a 28-10 non-league win over Marysville Getchell, followed by a landmark 35-14 victory over defending league champion Edmonds-Woodway and last week’s 27-21 win over Everett.
Shorewood (2-1, 1-1) opened with a 42-0 non-league rout of Granite Falls and a monumental 38-7 victory over Meadowdale before suffering a 49-21 loss to Snohomish last week.
For both teams, the turnarounds began a year ago.
Last season, just three years removed from a winless 2014 campaign, Shorecrest raced to a 4-1 start and finished 5-5. It was just the Scots’ second five-win season since 2006, and the positive momentum carried into an offseason of hard work and increased expectations this fall.
“There was an expectation to come out, compete and win,” Christensen said. “You can see it in their attitude, their demeanor, the way that they handle themselves (and) the way they go through practices.
“There’s not the wide-eyed (mentality of just) trying to compete in a game. We’re going in with an attitude that we expect to win some games, and we’re going to work our tails off to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to do that.”
“Everybody has bought in to what we’re trying to do here,” Shorecrest senior receiver Antonio Stillwell added.
The Scots’ validation came two weeks ago in the 21-point victory over Edmonds-Woodway, which reached the Class 3A state playoffs last year and has been one of Wesco’s more accomplished programs over the past decade or so.
“We needed a win like that within our program,” Christensen said. “I think last year, if we had the mindset that we (could) be a top team in Wesco, we probably (would’ve) had just a little bit more success. It was more about a belief.
“And taking down the perennial powerhouse, it was a big deal. It kind of felt like we had climbed a mountain and were at a pinnacle, and now we’re kind of taking a look around like we belong with some of the bigger names. … So for our kids, I think it was a big turning point.”
Shorewood’s strong start — namely the win over Meadowdale — likely qualifies as an even more dramatic turnaround.
Just two years ago, the Thunderbirds went winless in the Wesco 3A South for the second consecutive season and were outscored by 38.1 points per game in league play. The program had been dismal for more than a decade, having gone 7-74 against conference opponents since 2005.
So, in an effort to build up the program, Shorewood elected to play an independent schedule last season against primarily 2A schools. The Thunderbirds were following the model of other Northwest District football programs such as Bellingham, who have taken a one- or two-year hiatus from their leagues to play more evenly matched competition.
“It gave our kids a little bit of hope last season, which was huge in getting a few players to come back out (this year),” Shorewood coach Brandon Torrey said. “And it just kind of allowed us to re-evaluate things and kind of press pause a little bit and get going in the right direction.”
The Thunderbirds went 3-6 against last year’s independent slate, which senior lineman Tres Zeigler said served as a “building block” for this season.
“Coming off a losing program, we needed to get our confidence back (and) play teams that were similar to us,” he said. “It was just a building block to this year, and it’s really helped us become a better team.”
In the program’s return to Wesco 3A South play two weeks ago, Shorewood rolled to a 31-point win over Meadowdale, a perennial league power that reached the 3A state semifinals in 2016. It snapped a 17-game Wesco 3A South losing streak for the Thunderbirds and marked Shorewood’s first victory over the Mavericks since 2002.
“We’ve got some coaches here that got emotional over that win,” Zeigler said. “Everyone was super hyped (and) super happy.
“(We have) just a different mindset than years before,” he added. “We’re out here to win games, not just play football.”
Along with improved dedication and a winning mentality, both teams pointed to talent level and experience as key factors in their early success.
“We’re just in a flow right now of having really solid sophomore (and) junior classes that have been coming through,” Christensen said. “They get experience at a young age when they’re coming through, and it’s just paying dividends now on the field on Friday nights.
“We’re just seeing some really talented, really good kids come out with the right attitude and the right effort,” he added. “And we’re seeing great results.”
Shorecrest is led by a defense that’s allowed just 15 points per game and intercepted eight passes, returning two for touchdowns. The Scots also feature a big-play passing attack led by junior quarterback Eladio Fountain and Stillwell, who has 17 catches for 382 yards and five touchdowns.
Shorewood is averaging 33.7 points per game, more than double its point total from last season. The Thunderbirds’ offense is highlighted by seniors such as quarterback David Snell, receivers Jaro Rouse and Joseph Williamson and running back Robert Banks, who rushed for 171 yards and three touchdowns on just 12 carries in the win over Meadowdale.
“They are a very electric team right now,” Christensen said. “They’ve got some very talented athletes, and it’s going to be a good battle. I think it’ll be the best team that we have faced so far.”
With two much-improved squads, likely more than bragging rights will be at stake in this year’s Rotary Cup. After early-season statement wins, the Shoreline schools figure to be a factor in the Wesco 3A South playoff race.
“Everyone’s hungry this year,” Zeigler said of his Thunderbirds. “Everyone’s out here to not only play football, but to win games and try to compete for a playoff spot and get in the playoffs. That’s our goal. (It’s) something that hasn’t happened around here (in a long time), but everyone’s ready to take on that task.”