The Marysville Pilchuck High School football team lost a handful of its most important pieces from last year’s proficient rushing attack.
And yet, the Tomahawks haven’t missed a stride this season. In fact, they’ve been even more dynamic.
Marysville Pilchuck has piled up 1,981 yards rushing during its first 6-0 start since 2013, averaging a whopping 8.2 yards per carry and 330 yards per game on the ground.
The ninth-ranked Tomahawks’ high-powered Slot-T rushing attack is a big reason why they sit atop the Wesco 3A North entering a decisive two-game closing stretch against fellow league-title contenders Ferndale and Arlington.
“Our offense has been blowing up lately,” Marysville Pilchuck standout senior running back Jordan Justice said. “Our backs are doing a great job blocking and our linemen are getting off the ball. We’re all working pretty hard and everything’s clicking right now.”
The Tomahawks (6-0, 4-0 Wesco 3A North) graduated their top two ball-carriers from last year in Trenton Hurst and Bryan Sanders, as well as standout offensive linemen Cade Tucker and Ashton Whitney-Bajema. And in their third game this season, they lost 305-pound lineman and senior captain Lukas Ramos to a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
However, others have stepped in and filled the void to keep Marysville Pilchuck’s ground game churning along.
In the backfield, the one-two punch of Justice and sophomore Dylan Carson leads the way. Both players often are on the field simultaneously in Marysville Pilchuck’s deceptive, run-heavy Slot-T offense — a close cousin of the Wing-T system that uses a bevy of fakes and misdirections to keep defenses off-balance.
“Sometimes I’ll get the ball, and it looks like (Jordan) is going to get it,” Carson said. “And sometimes he’s going to get it, and (it looks like) I’m going to get the ball. It sets up every single play very nicely.”
“It’s great because you know the defense isn’t just keying on you,” Justice added. “They have to worry about multiple people.”
Justice has rushed for a team-high 787 yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging 10.9 yards per carry and 131 yards per game. The 6-foot, 195-pound back is a constant big-play threat, having rattled off four scoring runs of more than 55 yards.
“He does a great job of setting up his blocks,” Tomahawks coach Brandon Carson said. “He stays behind his blockers and then he’s really quick — way faster than I think people think he is. He’s really hit some home runs for us. He’s had a lot of long carries and he’s a really good cut-back runner. He knows how to cut back against the grain and get to the open field. He’s having a fantastic year.”
Dylan Carson has provided a nice complement, rushing for 666 yards and seven touchdowns. The sophomore averages 7.1 yards per carry and 111 yards per game.
“He’s relentless,” Justice said. “He runs hard. He’s not going to let one guy take him down. He’s getting yards no matter what the cost is, and he’s not afraid to hit someone.”
Paving the way for Marysville Pilchuck’s backfield is a powerful offensive line, led by 275-pound senior center Justin Albee, 320-pound senior tackle Corbyn Leifer and 250-pound sophomore guard Nate Elwood. Senior tight end Terren Pablo also is a key force up front.
“They’ve been very important,” Justice said. “… They’re getting pushes, they’re getting pull blocks, they’re making giant holes for us to see and making our lives easy.”
Yet in the Slot-T offense, receivers and running backs such as third-leading rusher Jay Gray also are integral to the blocking schemes.
“A lot of our success has to do with our backs’ willingness to block and fake,” Brandon Carson said. “I think that sets up a lot of stuff. Even though you’re not getting the ball, if you’re doing your job, good things happen when you get the ball, because you want the guy opposite of you doing his job when you get (it). So I think they’ve bought into that.”
The Tomahawks don’t pass the ball often, but they air it out just enough to keep defenses off-balance with big-play receiver Dillon Kuk. The talented senior has posted 278 yards receiving and caught three touchdown passes from quarterback Jake Elwood.
“It’s nice to have a guy like Dillon Kuk on the perimeter, where he’s a pass threat each and every down,” Brandon Carson said.
Marysville Pilchuck’s high-powered ground attack is complemented by a stingy and experienced defense. After allowing 24.3 points per game during last year’s 7-3 campaign, the Tomahawks are yielding just 10.7 points per contest this season and have held all six opponents to 22 points or less. Those numbers would be even lower if not for some late scores by opposing teams long after the outcomes were decided.
“It’s a really smart group,” Brandon Carson said. “They’re pretty football-savvy and they can put a game plan together really, really fast. … I can put more on their plate when it comes to checks and calls and coverages, and so that’s kind of fun as a football coach to be able to do that.”
The Tomahawks’ swarming defense is anchored by a physical group up front.
“Our D-line is very strong, which opens it up for our linebackers to fill gaps,” Justice said. “Our middle linebackers have done a great job this year reading plays, attacking the ball (and) not sitting back. … They have competitions on who gets the most tackles a game, which obviously helps, because then they’re always flying to the ball.”
Brandon Carson said his team’s defensive front has played so well that safeties like Justice simply haven’t had to make many tackles.
“Those guys are getting there before he is, and he’s a pretty good safety,” Brandon Carson said. “In years past, he might be leading us in tackles.”
After cruising to blowout victories in five of its first six games, Marysville Pilchuck closes the regular season with likely its two toughest league tests. With a win over visiting Ferndale on Friday night, the Tomahawks would set up a de facto Wesco 3A North title game against Arlington in next week’s regular-season finale.
“Now we’re in the stretch run of the season,” Brandon Carson said, “and we’re going to see what we’re made of.”