Marysville Pilchuck’s offensive line quietly takes care of business

MARYSVILLE — Once the final whistle sounded and Marysville Pilchuck High School’s 63-6 state quarterfinal victory over Columbia River was complete, Keenan Darby’s thoughts didn’t shift to the Tacoma Dome.

He didn’t think about how bad the Tomahawks had just crushed Columbia River.

No, the senior offensive lineman’s thoughts went to the Vancouver HomeTown Buffet, where Marysville Pilchuck headed soon after clinching its second-ever berth in the state semifinals.

“My first thought was the buffet we were going to after,” Darby said. “Then the Tacoma Dome. Food first. It was definitely just such a gratifying feeling of four years of hard work, being in the weight room and speed training and all that — just it’s cool to do it with this group of guys.”

While star running backs Austin Joyner and Killian Page get most of the attention, Marysville Pilchuck’s offensive line quietly takes care of business. Joyner’s and Page’s statistics — a combined 3,409 yards and 56 touchdowns — underscores the line’s effectiveness this season.

“It’s pretty rewarding when you see all these headlines of Austin and Killian because we know that we help with that,” junior center Sam Watson said. “They’re amazing athletes but we’re the ones that help them with all their success. It’s kind of heartening to me to realize I helped them get all those stats.”

“It’s hard work but at the end of the day we love doing it,” fellow lineman Bryce Vitcovich, a senior, added. “Opening up those big (lanes) for Austin and Killian to run through.”

The starting offensive line is comprised of Darby, Watson, Vitcovich and seniors Corbin Ferry and Kain Davis. Senior Alex Lafave also plays occasionally on the line. Ferry and Darby were both first team all-Wesco 3A North offensive lineman. Vitcovich was a second-team selection.

They all take intense pride in their work and love to show it after Joyner or Page score.

“I love it. I’ll run down there as fast as I can to celebrate,” Ferry said. “I can’t get down there as fast as they can. But I want to get down there and say, ‘Good job.’”

Head coach Brandon Carson praises his team’s offensive line and said it’s been crucial to Marysville Pilchuck’s success this season. The Tomahawks wouldn’t be 10-1 without that line.

“They’re really good. We’ve got some good guys,” Carson said. “They play hard and they play well together. It’s a good group of kids. They’re one of the secrets behind our success.”

Along with Carson, Marysville Pilchuck mainstay Scott Stokes coaches the lineman. Stokes was the Tomahawks head coach from 1988-97 — including the last time Marysville Pilchuck made the semifinals in 1989.

The current lineman say Stokes’ knowledge and encouragement has played a large role in their success.

“Stokes is a legend. He’s probably one of the best coaches in the state,” Darby said. “Coach Stokes just puts so much confidence into you and how well you’re doing and I think that kind of eliminates all the pressure.”

“Coach Carson’s our leader. He rallies the troops. And for us, especially, coach Stokes has also been amazing,” Watson said. “I might be a little biased. Like Keenan said, he’s one of the best coaches in the state. He can turn anybody into a lineman. Just look at us.”

Joyner and Page, who were both first-team all-league running backs, are probably the two people who appreciate the hard work the offensive lineman put in more than anybody.

“They open up nice holes for me to run behind and I’m excited to run behind them this week,” Joyner said. “Every time I get a nice hole, where I don’t have to make a move in the backfield, I go back right after I score and pat them on the butt and say, ‘Thanks.’”

There is a definite mutual respect between the lineman and the running backs they’re blocking for.

“The biggest thing is blocking for Austin and Killian and JJ (Valencia) is, I don’t want to say an honor, but it’s fun,” Ferry said. “I know all I have to do for a block is get a piece of (the defender) and, the way they run, I’ll have a chance to get to the second level.”

On the drive home from Vancouver on Saturday — after the HomeTown Buffet trip — the players looked out the window at the lit-up Tacoma Dome as they drove through Tacoma, eager for their semifinal game against undefeated Bellevue.

“We absolutely looked at that Dome. It’s beautiful,” Watson said. “There were some cheers. We knew what we wanted. We knew where we were going.

“Can it be 7:30 on Friday right now? It’s amazing. I can’t wait.”

“We have to be on our A-game, and give it everything we’ve got,” Vitcovich said. “This is the line I want to do it with.”

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