Most of the hype surrounding the Marysville Pilchuck football team this season has come from its dominating offensive performances.
The Tomahawks have ran wild on opponents all season long with their Slot-T rushing attack while scoring 39 or more points in 11 of 12 games. They sport gaudy team rushing totals of 4,556 yards and 77 touchdowns. Two of their running backs have over 1,000 yards on the ground, including one with over 2,500.
With so many eye-popping stats, it’s hard to look away.
As a result, the performance of MP’s defense this season has often been overshadowed.
“I do feel like we’ve been overlooked a little bit because we’ve been stopping these great teams,” senior safety Jordan Velasquez said. “I feel like we probably deserve a little more credit.”
The Tomahawks have allowed an average of just 5.8 points through the first half of games. They’ve held nine of 12 opponents to 15 points or less. And they’ve held a pair of state playoffs teams to their lowest scoring outputs all season.
“We’ve just got some guys that are really good football players,” MP coach Brandon Carson said of his defense. “They’re really good at diagnosing what people are doing, they know how to read keys, they know how to study film, they know how to (adjust to) things in games that we may not have seen on film. So we’ve got some smart, smart football players over there.”
In a 49-14 rout of 4A state qualifier Glacier Peak in Week 4, the Tomahawks held the Grizzlies to minus-2 total yards of offense midway through the third quarter. They forced two turnovers, including a pick-six by junior Gaylan Gray, registered six sacks and held standout running back Trey Leckner to a season-low 10 yards on nine carries. The 14 points was also a season low for Glacier Peak, which scored 27 or more points in its other nine games.
“Their defense gave us problems,” Grizzlies coach Shane Keck told The Herald after the Sept. 24 game. “We weren’t able to run the football. And then when we tried to throw it, they were in our backfield and giving (quarterback) River (Lien) pressure.”
MP bottled up co-Wesco 3A North champion Ferndale the following week, allowing just 15 points to a team that averaged 40 points per game entering the contest.
In a winner-to-state Week 10 playoff game against Bishop Blanchet, the Tomahawks forced five turnovers — including two fumble returns for touchdowns — en route to taking a 62-0 lead in the second quarter.
And in last week’s state quarterfinal win over No. 4 Yelm, fifth-seeded MP held the Tornados to a season-low 21 points and limited South Sound Conference offensive player of the year Kyler Ronquillo to just three yards on four touches.
“We watch a lot of film and we try to really focus on plays that other teams like to get to their playmakers,” linebacker Noah Faber said. “We try to shut those plays down and make them rely on someone else.”
The quarterfinal game included a gutty third-quarter stop on a bizarre drive that helped the Tomahawks secure the win. Yelm started with the ball at midfield trailing 26-14 and moved up to the MP 35 after a pass interference call. Five plays later, the Tomahawks had an interception called back by another penalty.
Yelm then committed two personal fouls inside the red zone and the series came down to fourth-and-goal from the 6. The Tornados swung the ball out to flat and a group of defenders stonewalled Yelm’s receiver well short of the end zone, holding the Tornados scoreless on a 15-play drive that took nearly eight minutes off the clock.
“It just showed how much fight and heart we had in us to just stay in it,” Velasquez said.
MP’s defensive success has been made possible by the versatile array of options Carson has at his disposal.
The Tomahawks use a rotation of 15 players for the 11 spots on the field in their 4-2-5 scheme. A handful of those players are capable of playing multiple positions, which gives the unit the ability to be creative with schemes week to week while possessing the luxury of being able to rotate bodies.
“Depending on what type of offense we see or what the situation is, it will dictate who’s in,” Carson said. “All those guys are pretty interchangeable, and they’re really good.”
The Tomahawks allow 94.0 yards per game on the ground with a stout group up front.
The defensive line includes plenty of size with seniors Nate Elwood (6-foot-3, 270 pounds), Kaleb Potts (6-6, 280), Blake Jones (6-3, 240) and Brayden Rogers (6-3, 220), and junior Marqel Moses (5-9, 300).
Juniors Faber and Christian Van Natta provide the thump from the inside linebacker spots, with Van Natta also playing some on the line. Faber has posted a whopping 119 tackles and 32 tackles for loss this season.
Senior cornerback Jaxon Petermeyer has three interceptions and leads the secondary alongside Velasquez, a three-year starter on defense.
“He might be the best safety we’ve ever had,” Carson said of Velasquez. “… He probably doesn’t have the big tackling numbers because we’ve been so good up front, but he can do it all.”
And just as he does on offense as the team’s lead running back, Dylan Carson provides an x-factor. In a hybrid-like role, he’s lined up at every position but corner while posting 69 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and four sacks to go along with his 2,565 yards and 46 touchdowns on offense.
“He has a good grasp on the game and he understands it really, really well,” Brandon Carson said. “He understands what the other team is trying to accomplish.”
With top-ranked Bellevue (12-0) looming for Saturday’s state semifinal matchup at Memorial Stadium in Seattle, the MP (11-1) defense faces its toughest test with a chance at the program’s first state-title game appearance up for grabs.
The unbeaten Wolverines feature a deceptive run-heavy offense similar to the Tomahawks’. Bellevue’s Wing-T attack averages 49.7 points per game. The Wolverines scored 56 points while rushing for 431 yards in last week’s quarterfinal win over Rainier Beach.
“They get off the ball really well offensively and they’ve got some backs that run hard,” Brandon Carson said. “They’re number one in the state for a reason. We have to play really, really well.”