The Archbishop Murphy football team heads into this week’s playoff with some significant momentum.
The Wildcats easily dispatched King’s 37-12 in a Cascade Conference season final Oct. 30 at Terry Ennis Stadium.
Archbishop Murphy outscored the Knights 30-6 in the first half, a trend that the Wildcats started early in the season and have kept up.
“We’ve been a good first half team,” said first-year coach Dave Ward. “Our defense has set a nice tone being physical and gang tackling. We’re fairly healthy going into the playoffs.”
Archbishop Murphy takes on Bellingham at 7 p.m., Friday, Nov. 7 at Goddard Stadium.
The Wildcats led King’s 14-6 in the first quarter but might have had a bigger lead had the early breaks gone their way.
Running back Brad Clark scored on an 18-yard touchdown run to give Archbishop Murphy a 7-0 lead. King’s quarterback Thomas Vincent threw a 65-yard scoring strike to Nick Swanson to cut the lead to 7-6. The extra point was blocked.
The Wildcats almost intercepted the ball.
“We had a chance for an interception,” Ward said. “Instead of catching the ball it went through our hands, tips to the receiver. It’s one of those unlucky bounces.”
Archbishop Murphy quarterback Austin VanderWel connected on a 8-yard pass to wide receiver JD Melton to give the Wildcats a 14-6 advantage. Archbishop Murphy then scored 23 unanswered points in the second and third quarters to seal the victory.
The big lead gave the Wildcats the opportunity to fine-tune their passing game.
“We felt like we run efficiently,” Ward said. “We wanted to sharpen our timing. It gave us a chance. Our quarterbacks, they weren’t as sharp as they wanted. It was good work for us.”
Ward plans to continue to play both VanderWel and senior Jake Downs, both of whom have been effective in leading the Wildcats’ offense.
“I think that’s worked well for us,” Ward said. “You look at their stats and they’re really similar in percentages, touchdowns and interceptions. One thing Austin brings is the running game. He takes off and gets yards running. That’s something we may want to employ in the playoffs.”
Melton has consistently made significant yards after catching the ball. Wide receiver Jake Robinett and slot back Kelso Wilkins along with tight end JJ Quinlan give the Archbishop Murphy quarterback plenty of options.
One tradition Ward has retained from his predecessor Terry Ennis is the running by committee philosophy. CJ Milburn and Randy Gordon have been effective, Ward said.
“Both guys are really important on defense,” he added. “We give them time to rest on offense.”
Quinlan, also a defensive lineman, had been having a major impact on defense. He’s been consistently putting pressure on the quarterback.
“We’ve been pretty much getting a team effort,” Ward said.
The defense will need to continue that effort against a Bellingham team that has good size up front and used three running backs.
“They’re tough, strong and physical,” Ward said. “It’s going to be a battle.”