ARLINGTON — Greg Dailer has won some big games in his 14 seasons as Arlington’s head coach.
There was the upset of Kentwood in a 2012 winner-to-state contest. There was the non-league rout of perennial powerhouse Lake Stevens in 2017.
But after Friday night, there may be a new one at the top of the list.
The Eagles shut down Marysville Pilchuck’s high-powered rushing attack and stunned the Class 3A third-ranked Tomahawks with a 28-14 victory in a pivotal Wesco 3A North showdown at Arlington High School.
“This is probably number one now,” Dailer said amid a boisterous postgame celebration from his players.
Marysville Pilchuck came in looking like world-beaters, having cruised to running-clock routs in each of its first six games. The Tomahawks had outscored opponents by an eye-popping 276-13 margin in the first three quarters of their contests, including blowouts of 4A No. 10 Glacier Peak and 3A No. 8 Ferndale.
But on Friday night, the Eagles made Marysville Pilchuck look rather ordinary.
Arlington controlled the rain-soaked game on both sides of the ball and shook up the Wesco 3A North race, spoiling the Tomahawks’ chance to clinch their second consecutive league title.
“Nobody expected us to win,” Eagles senior quarterback Trent Nobach said. “Our home crowd did, but everybody else in the state didn’t. … Everybody went out and did their job. And that’s what happens when we do our job. We win.”
The biggest key for Arlington (6-1, 5-1 Wesco 3A North) was its ability to stymie Marysville Pilchuck’s explosive Slot-T ground attack.
The Tomahawks came in averaging 383 yards rushing per game and a whopping 11.8 yards per carry. But the Eagles matched the physicality of Marysville Pilchuck’s big offensive line. They weren’t fooled by all the deception and fakes of the Tomahawks’ offense, which often left previous opponents struggling to decipher who had the ball. And they made every yard difficult for Marysville Pilchuck’s talented stable of backs.
Arlington limited the Tomahawks to 233 yards rushing and an average of just 4.2 yards per attempt. And perhaps most impressive: Marysville Pilchuck (6-1, 4-1) mustered just two gains of 10-plus yards on its 56 carries.
It was quite the contrast from the teams’ past two matchups, when the Tomahawks ran wild for a combined 84 points.
“Unbelievable,” Dailer said of his team’s defense. “They were so disciplined. And we’ve been harping that for years with this group. Two years ago when they were all sophomores and Marysville kicked the piss out of us, we just weren’t making any of our reads. We just weren’t doing what we were supposed to do.
“Now they’ve grown and matured and they see it and they fly to the football. And it’s just so much fun to watch.”
And on offense, Nobach and his array of playmakers gave Arlington four first-half touchdowns and a 28-7 halftime lead.
Nobach shook off two early interceptions and expertly orchestrated the Eagles’ fast-paced aerial attack, completing 20 of 29 passes for 245 yards and two TDs. His top target was senior receiver Elijah Jackson, who had three catches for 93 yards and a score.
And though Arlington doesn’t run the ball much in its pass-heavy offense, senior tailback RJ Gese was a difference-maker Friday night. Gese broke TD runs of 16 and 74 yards and also caught five passes for 54 yards, finishing with 138 yards from scrimmage.
“He hadn’t had his breakout games like our passing offense has, but he didn’t complain,” Nobach said. “He just put his head down and he kept working.”
Gese provided the game’s first score, powering into the end zone for a 16-yard TD in the final minutes of the opening quarter.
Marysville Pilchuck responded on its next possession, tying the game with a 19-yard TD run by star senior running back Dylan Carson.
But the Eagles answered right back. Jackson returned the ensuing kickoff across midfield, giving Arlington prime field position. Then on the very next play, Nobach rolled right, threw on the run and lofted a spectacular deep ball over two defenders and into the arms of Jackson for a 41-yard TD and a 14-7 lead.
“No. 12’s pretty special,” Dailer said of his star quarterback. “… He makes it all happen.”
Later in the second quarter, Nobach led a scoring drive that included two fourth-down completions. The latter was a 13-yard TD pass to senior Levi Younger on a fourth-and-6 wheel route, which stretched the margin to 21-7.
Then after its defense forced a three-and-out, Arlington struck again. On the first play of its next possession, Gese took a shotgun handoff up the middle, cut left and raced down the sideline for a 74-yard TD that sent the home fans into pandemonium and ultimately gave the Eagles a 21-point halftime lead.
Dailer said that was one of several instances that they subbed in some of their bigger defensive linemen to play offensive line. He said they sometimes do that in running situations to give them more size up front.
“It’s a little bit of a tell we might run it, but we’ve got these big, strong, senior (defensive linemen),” Dailer said. “… When we put ‘em in on O-line, we’re able to run the ball a whole lot better.”
Carson scored on a 4-yard TD run late in the third quarter, which trimmed the deficit to 28-14. But that was as close as Marysville Pilchuck would get.
Carson led the Tomahawks with 146 yards and two scores on 32 carries. He entered the night averaging an absurd 14.1 yards per carry, but was held to just 4.6 yards per attempt against Arlington’s smothering defense.
Dailer praised his defensive front, especially junior nose guard Wyatt Tilton. He said the 6-foot-1, 275-pound Tilton held his own against three-star Ferndale lineman Landen Hatchett earlier this season and had a similar performance against Marysville Pilchuck two-star lineman Nate Elwood on Friday night.
“I think Wyatt Tilton might be the best nose guard in the state,” Dailer said. “He is unbelievable. He handled Hatchett when we played them. He handled Elwood and those guys tonight. He’s a phenomenal player.”
Arlington’s victory created a three-way tie for first place between the Eagles, Marysville Pilchuck and Ferndale in the loss column of the Wesco 3A North standings. All three teams split their matchups against one another.
This was Arlington’s league finale. Marysville Pilchuck and Ferndale both wrap up league play next week, with the Tomahawks hosting Oak Harbor and the Golden Eagles hosting Marysville Getchell. Marysville Pilchuck and Ferndale both will be heavily favored.
In the likely event of a three-way tie for first place, Wesco 3A North’s postseason seeding will be determined by the league’s preseason numerical draw. According to Dailer, Ferndale would be the No. 1 seed, followed by Arlington as the No. 2 seed and Marysville Pilchuck as the No. 3 seed.
“Just so overwhelmed,” Dailer said of the victory. “Just so happy for these kids. Our defense played unbelievable. … Just a great win for us.”