Marysville Pilchuck running back Bryan Sanders (right) carries the ball during practice on Sept. 6, 2018, at Quil Ceda Stadium in Marysville. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Marysville Pilchuck running back Bryan Sanders (right) carries the ball during practice on Sept. 6, 2018, at Quil Ceda Stadium in Marysville. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Marysville Pilchuck football out to earn respect

Coming off a two-win season, the Tommies and their powerful rushing attack are ready to be a factor.

MARYSVILLE — Riddled with youth and inexperience last year, the Marysville Pilchuck football team took its lumps during a two-win campaign.

But now, after a full season of experience and an offseason of hard work and improved team chemistry, the Tomahawks are eager to prove they’re a much different squad this fall.

“We think we’re a lot better than we were last season,” Marysville Pilchuck senior Cade Tucker said. “And we want to earn the respect of people around the league and the state.”

Though it’s only one game, the Tomahawks certainly took a big step toward doing so with a 63-34 non-league rout of Snohomish in last week’s season opener.

“That was a big game,” senior Trenton Hurst said. “People may not think it was, but we had something to prove. And we did.”

Marysville Pilchuck (1-0) made an emphatic opening statement against the Panthers, rushing for more than 500 yards in its Wing-T attack and gashing Snohomish’s defense with three touchdown runs of 60 yards or longer.

“It was the best (rushing performance) we’ve had in quite some time,” 12th-year Marysville Pilchuck coach Brandon Carson said after Wednesday’s practice. “That was a good way to start the season.”

It was a massive contrast from last year’s season opener, when the Tomahawks lost 38-22 to Snohomish and didn’t manage an offensive score until the game’s final minute. Marysville Pilchuck averaged just 23 points per game last year and reached 30 points just twice all season, with its eight losses coming by an average of 26.5 points per contest.

Marysville Pilchuck offensive lineman Cade Tucker blocks during practice on Sept. 6, 2018, at Quil Ceda Stadium in Marysville. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Marysville Pilchuck offensive lineman Cade Tucker blocks during practice on Sept. 6, 2018, at Quil Ceda Stadium in Marysville. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

“We started a ton of sophomores last year,” Carson said. “I remember our first Friday night, their eyes were big, the game’s a little bit faster and the ball comes at you a little bit harder. But now they’re settled in. They got nine, 10 games under their belt and they’re ready to play.”

Carson and multiple running backs said last week’s rushing success began up front with an offensive line anchored by the 6-foot-5, 300-pound Tucker and 6-foot, 270-pound senior Ashton Whitney-Bajema. Tucker and Whitney-Bajema are both third-year starters, and 290-pound junior Lukas Ramos provides added experience as a returning starter.

Tucker said the offensive line has made significant stides from last year, thanks to offseason training and better chemistry.

“We definitely got a lot stronger (and) a lot bigger,” he said. “And we’re just working as one offensive line — not individuals. So it’s a whole line (working) together.”

Hurst echoed that sentiment.

“We’re just playing as a team now,” he said. “Last year, chemistry wasn’t really there. Now we all play together, all for each other. It pays off.”

Hurst leads an array of talented backs running behind the Tomahawks’ big offensive line. After being hampered by injury for much of last season, the 5-foot-10, 200-pound Hurst rushed for 205 yards and four touchdowns last week on just 16 carries. He showcased his big-play ability with long scoring runs of 65 and 61 yards.

“He’s a bigger back, but he has great feet and he always finishes going forward,” Carson said. “And he hits a hole pretty hard. He’s a load to bring down, and he also has good enough speed to break away and score 60-yard touchdown runs. He had a phenomenal game. I expect him to have a great year for us.”

Also starring in last week’s offensive outburst were senior backs Bryan Sanders and Ryan Benneman. Sanders rushed for 84 yards and two touchdowns on just five carries, and also returned the opening kickoff for a score. Benneman added 92 yards rushing on eight carries and a 31-yard reception.

“We’re pretty deep at back,” Carson said. “… It’s nice to have that depth back there. We can rotate guys in and keep them fresh. And some of them have different skill sets, so that poses a problem to defenses.”

Marysville Pilchuck’s rushing attack will face a big test in Friday night’s Wesco 3A North opener at Oak Harbor (1-0), which reached the state playoffs last season while allowing just 15.5 points per game.

“Defensively, they’re just going to come at you and they’re going to play hard, fast, physical and violent,” Carson said. “… They’re a really, really good team. … We have our work cut out for us.”

And after a 47-23 loss to Oak Harbor last year, the Tomahawks will have plenty of motivation.

“Losing is not fun, especially winning just two games,” Hurst said of last season’s struggles. “It gave us way more motivation (for) this season. … Everyone doubting us this year, it gives us way more motivation.

“We just want to win and be known and have respect.”

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