STANWOOD — For most of the past quarter-century, the Stanwood High School football team was an afterthought.
What a difference a year makes.
After breaking through last fall for their first state playoff appearance in 25 seasons, the senior-laden Spartans find themselves in a new and exciting position.
For the first time in forever, they’re entering a season with legitimate hopes of contending for a league title and making a deep playoff run.
“In the past, it’s been like, ‘Let’s get a winning record. Let’s try to make the playoffs,’” two-way standout senior lineman Jeremiah Johnson said.
“But now we all have our eyes on trying to go far into the playoffs. It’s definitely a huge change. … The expectation is very high.”
Stanwood is coming off a milestone 6-5 campaign last fall under new head coach Jeff Scoma, who guided the program to its first winning season in 15 years.
The Spartans hit their stride down the stretch and delivered a stunning 40-35 upset of Lincoln-Tacoma in the Class 3A Week 10 playoffs, which gave them their first state berth since 1996 and just their third state trip in program history.
And with 18 starters returning from last year’s breakthrough team — nine on each side of the ball — there’s more buzz and anticipation surrounding Stanwood football than any time in recent memory.
“We’ve got a lot of energy and a lot of big goals,” star senior fullback and safety Ryder Bumgarner said.
This time last year, the Spartans were adjusting to a series of major changes under their new coach.
Scoma, who was hired last summer to replace former coach Eric Keizer, brought an entirely new coaching staff to Stanwood. He also installed a brand-new offense and defense.
The biggest shift was on offense, where the Spartans transitioned from a spread system to Scoma’s run-centered Wing-T attack.
Scoma has vast experience in the Wing-T from his days as a coach in Bellevue High School’s perennial powerhouse program, which has been the state’s gold standard for Wing-T success.
But with Scoma hired late in the offseason, there wasn’t much time for the Spartans to acclimate to a new offense — especially one as detailed-oriented as the Wing-T.
Inevitably, there were growing pains.
“Looking back at last year’s (preseason) jamboree, it was terrible,” Johnson said. “We were struggling to get off the ball (and) we were struggling to know the blocks and everything.”
Stanwood got off to a 1-3 start, with losses to a trio of eventual playoff teams in Kamiak, Marysville Pilchuck and Arlington.
But around midseason, things began to click for the Spartans. They went on to win five of their next six games, averaging 40.5 points per contest over that stretch.
“The secret sauce is not the Wing-T (itself),” Scoma said. “The secret sauce is all the precision that I’ve learned from other Bellevue coaches. And you don’t get that precision in a month or two.
“So it took us a lot of the year to get more detailed and more precise, and for the kids to understand what was expected.”
Grasping all the intricacies of the Wing-T — the line calls, the fakes, the correct angles — was key.
“Once we figured those out, that’s when we started rolling,” Bumgarner said.
After finishing 3-3 in the tough Wesco 3A North, Stanwood steamrolled Lynnwood in a league crossover game to reach the winner-to-state Week 10 round. It was just the program’s second Week 10 playoff appearance in the past 11 full-length seasons.
Then came the stunner.
The Spartans were heavy underdogs against Lincoln, which had made six consecutive state appearances. The Pierce County League champions featured both a four-star quarterback and a four-star defensive lineman, the latter of whom held offers from college football juggernauts Alabama and Georgia.
But Stanwood wasn’t intimidated.
The Spartans ran all over Lincoln’s defense, scoring touchdowns on each of their first six possessions before running out the clock with a game-sealing drive on their seventh. They finished with 496 total yards, including 428 yards on the ground.
Bumgarner led the way with a massive performance, rushing for a school-record 279 yards and three TDs. He also had one of two Stanwood interceptions off Lincoln star quarterback Gabarri Johnson, who previously hadn’t thrown a pick all season.
The Spartans’ historic state-clinching victory ended up being one of the most shocking results in Washington high school football last fall.
“When we got on the bus, I got my cellphone and the kids got their cellphones, and we all have 30, 40, 50 messages,” Scoma said. “And then we kind of realized the gravity of it.”
Stanwood ran into a buzzsaw the following week, falling 41-6 to perennial power Eastside Catholic in the 3A state round of 16.
But after their late-season surge — and with so much talent returning — the Spartans are looking to take another step forward this fall.
“We are miles ahead of where we were last year at this time,” Bumgarner said.
It all starts with Bumgarner, an elusive and hard-running senior who rushed for a school-record 1,516 yards and 19 TDs last season after moving from slot receiver to fullback. The 5-foot-9 two-way standout also had five interceptions on defense.
“I don’t think I’ve seen anyone that works as hard as he does and has the intensity that he has, day in and day out,” Scoma said.
“He’s very difficult to tackle,” Scoma added. “He just is not easy to take down, and he keeps his legs moving. He’s got incredible balance. And he might be a little bit undersized, but you would never know it when you see him on the field.”
Bumgarner once again will be the focal point of Stanwood’s Wing-T attack. But the Spartans also have a pair of returning senior ball carriers in halfback Carson Beckt and wing back Otto Wiedmann, who rushed for a combined 704 yards and eight TDs last year.
“Both of those guys are really talented,” Scoma said. “We’re kind of a triple-threat offense. … If teams try to stop Ryder, I think you’ll see some really big games out of one or both of those guys.”
At quarterback, Stanwood has a pair of experienced seniors in Michael Mascotti and Wyatt Custer. Mascotti started for the Spartans last fall, while Custer started the previous two seasons. Custer moved to Texas last year, but is back in Stanwood for his senior season.
The Spartans also return their entire starting offensive line, led by an all-league pick in Johnson.
And they bring back plenty of experience on defense, including Bumgarner and returning all-league senior linebacker Noah Grina. They also feature a defensive line that Scoma said is both bigger and deeper than last year’s unit.
“We have a ton of depth and a ton of talent,” Scoma said. “We feel really, really good about where we are.”
This fall, the Spartans are taking aim at more milestones. They hope to end their 12-game Stilly Cup losing streak to rival Arlington, compete for the Wesco 3A North title and make another state playoff run.
“The next step is practicing like a champion every day and putting in the work and doing all the little things that championship teams do,” Scoma said.
“We feel a certain way, but now we have to believe it, act it and do it.”