TACOMA — There were no losers in last weekend’s Class 2A state semifinal football game between Archbishop Thomas Murphy and East Valley (Yakima).
Not after the teams battled to a 28-28 tie after regulation. Not after the teams remained tied at 35-35 after the first overtime period.
And not even after East Valley’s Michael Stobie’s 3-yard touchdown run in the second overtime period lifted the top-ranked Red Devils to a 41-35 victory that ended the Wildcats’ hopes for a third straight state championship and halted Archbishop Murphy’s winning streak at 39 games Nov. 27 at the Tacoma Dome.
Wildcats coach Terry Ennis did his best to console his players, some of whom were tasting defeat for the first time in their high school careers.
“They feel real bad right now and if they left it all on the field that’s the way they should feel,” said Ennis, who guided Archbishop Murphy to back-to-back Class 1A championships in 2002 and 2003. “But by tomorrow they’re going to feel OK because I believe they left it all on the field and they’re going to feel like winners tomorrow.”
Ennis told his players to cherish the friendships they’ve made with their teammates and to enjoy the remaining time they have with each other.
“I told them this is the best group of guys they’re going to be around,” Ennis said.
While he came away with a sense of emptiness as a result of the loss, senior co-captain Nick Pettinger also was feeling exhilaration after playing in what everyone agreed was one of the most stirring games in recent memory.
“What more could you ask in your last game? Double overtime, that was great,” Pettinger said. “But it’s really sad it’s the last football game I’ll play here. It’s pretty sad walking off that field knowing that we didn’t get the job done.”
The loss was doubly frustrating for senior quarterback Kyle Wilkins, who ended up watching the game from the sidelines as a result of an injury sustained on the final play of the first half.
Wilkins was knocked out of the game after a hard hit from East Valley defensive back Michael Corral on a bootleg play at the end of the second quarter. The Archbishop Murphy senior standout lay on the artificial turf for about four minutes before getting up and heading to the locker room.
The hard tackle caused Wilkins to experience back spasms but after being treated he returned midway through the fourth quarter for several plays, both on offense and defense, before an official from the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) told him he had to leave the game.
“Even though we lost I would have rather lost on the field than off the field,” Wilkins said. “It’s much harder to lose off the field. You can’t do anything about it.”
The loss was the first one for Wilkins, who joined the No. 2-ranked Wildcats during his sophomore year. The memories of the past three years will always stay with Wilkins.
“I wouldn’t change it for anything,” he said. “I played with a great team, great school, great coaching staff. It’s just an experience that I’ll remember forever.”
Ennis praised the play of East Valley (13-0), which scored on fourth-and-goal plays late in the fourth quarter and in the first overtime period.
But he also noted that turnovers by the Wildcats (13-1) also contributed to the loss. Archbishop Murphy fumbled the ball seven times and lost four of them.
Two late fumbles were especially damaging.
In what appeared to be a key defensive sequence, the Wildcats forced East Valley to turn over the ball on downs at the 50 with 4:36 remaining in the game and Archbishop Murphy ahead 28-21.
On the first play from scrimmage, a faulty exchange between the center and quarterback resulted in a fumble that the Red Devils recovered. East Valley then drove down the field to the Wildcats’ 4 where quarterback Ben Reifel found wide receiver Matt Snell for the tying touchdown on fourth down with 33 seconds to go in regulation.
The other critical turnover took place in the second overtime when Archbishop Murphy fumbled the ball on its offensive possession.
“We had 20 plays that you’re going to relive and regret but take nothing away from East Valley,” Ennis said. “They made their plays in tough situations.”
Pettinger, an offensive and defensive lineman, said that the blame could be spread around.
“It was half the O-line’s fault and half the running backs’ fault,” Pettinger said. “If you let them have a free shot at your running back, no matter how good they are, they are going to drop the ball. I think we had some breakdowns and as you can see that killed us.”
One bright spot for Archbishop Murphy was the play of third-string quarterback Mark Leone, who led his team to 28 points in the second half, three touchdowns in regulation and one in overtime.
The Wildcats’ backup quarterback, John-Paul Blair, was out due to a leg injury.
Leone probably took about five snaps all week during practice but executed the Archbishop Murphy offense flawlessly in the second half.
“I couldn’t be happier with him,” Ennis said of his junior signal caller. “Mark did just a fantastic job.”
Junior running back Stan Smith also was impressed by Leone, who took all but one snap in the second half.
“He didn’t get many reps in practice,” Smith said. “When (it came time) to put up or shut up, he came and did a great job and took control of the huddle.”
While the Archbishop Murphy offense had good success, the Wildcats’ defense struggled to slow East Valley’s potent rushing attack. Stobie finished with 167 yards on 19 carries with one touchdown, while Corral had 97 yards on 16 carries and two TDs. Reifel also had success going to the air, completing 10 of 18 passes for 125 yards and three touchdowns.
“We definitely expected them to come out as fast and as strong as they did,” said Wilkins, whose presence in the secondary was sorely missed in the second half. “I didn’t think we expected them to come out and run as much as they did. As you can see we didn’t stop it very well.”
When they needed a big play, the Red Devils came through time after time.
“They came out and executed their game plan,” Smith said. “We put the ball on the ground seven times and gave up four of them. They executed and we didn’t.”
At least not after the first quarter.
On the opening series of the game, the Archbishop Murphy defense forced East Valley to go three-and-out and then the offense methodically marched down the field on a 12-play, 67-yard scoring drive. Smith scored the first of his three touchdowns on a 28-yard run at the 5:13 mark of the first quarter.
The Red Wolves tied the score at 7 on an 8-yard run by Corral with 20 seconds left in the first quarter. The Wildcats blew a chance to take the lead early in the second quarter when they fumbled away the ball at the East Valley 14-yard line.
Both defenses dominated play in a second quarter that saw the Archbishop Murphy offense turn the ball over one more time but then get it back when defensive back Shiloh Keo intercepted an East Valley pass.
Archbishop Murphy took a 14-7 lead on a 1-yard run by Smith at the 7:28 mark of the third quarter before East Valley tied the score on a 6-yard run by Corral midway through the quarter. The Wildcats retook a 21-14 advantage on Keo’s 12-yard touchdown run with 49 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
The fourth quarter belonged to Reifel, who connected on a pair of 24-yard touchdown passes to Snell, one at the 11:03 mark and the other at the :20 mark. Sandwiched between those two scores was a 24-yard run by Keo.
“This was the kind of game you look forward to playing in and we’ll be better because of it,” Ennis said.
Under the Kansas City overtime tiebreaker rules, both teams take the ball from the opponent’s 25-yard line.
On fourth-and-goal, Reifel found wide receiver Craig Barnes for a 7-yard touchdown in the first overtime period. Archbishop Murphy responded with a 1-yard touchdown run by Smith.
In the second overtime period, the Wildcats took the field first and was at the 16-yard line when they fumbled. East Valley then only took four plays to score the winning touchdown.
Smith finished with 167 yards on 27 carries and three touchdowns. Keo rushed for 144 yards on 20 carries and scored two TDs. Both are juniors who will be back next year.
The loss snapped a 39-game winning streak that spanned three seasons.
Many of this year’s players played key roles in Archbishop Murphy’s undefeated season last year and the team’s success the year before that.
“I really appreciated that each week they really were well-prepared and stayed focused,” Ennis said. “That’s 40 weeks we were well-prepared … I kind of always wondered how these kids would stay at that level for so long. I think it’s been pretty remarkable.
“So we’re pretty proud of this team and the other teams that have played at that level so consistently.”