Remembering the best from 2003

  • <br>Enterprise staff
  • Friday, February 29, 2008 11:32am

The fall of 2003 produced some incredible memories for prep athletes and teams.

The Jackson football team, behind record-setting running back Johnie Kirton, advanced to the postseason for the first time in school history. Two Archbishop Murphy teams — football and boys soccer — won state championships.

Here is part two of a look at some of the most memorable personalities and teams that made 2003 special:

Kirton not surprised by the success of team or himself

Some people were surprised to see the Jackson football team atop the Western Conference 4A South Division standings.

Wolfpack senior running back Johnie Kirton wasn’t one of them. Before the season started, he had a feeling Jackson had the makings of a winning team.

“I saw it,” Kirton said of Timberwolves’ success. “The team saw it.”

Some people, though they probably wouldn’t want to admit it, also are a little bit surprised by Kirton’s breakthrough season.

A year ago, Kirton, whose nickname Bubba was bestowed on him by a cousin, spent most of his time as the blocking back for fullback C.J. Marsh. His stats for the season (360 yards on 53 carries and three touchdowns) gave little indication of what was to come.

As the focal point of the offense, Kirton rewrote the Jackson record books and firmly established himself as the premier running back in the state.

For the season, Kirton rushed for 2,675 yards in 12 games, one yard shy of the state record, which is held by Matthias Wilson of Ferndale, who had 2,676 yards in 13 games. Kirton, the first Jackson running back to eclipse 1,000 yards, broke Marsh’s single-season rushing record of 983 yards at the halfway point of the regular season.

While others marvel at his feats week after week, the soft-spoken Kirton isn’t really surprised by what has transpired this season.

“I knew what I was capable of,” said Kirton. “I knew that since I’d have my chance this year, I’d be able to do it.”

Jackson coach Joel Vincent said that Kirton’s natural size and speed are among his biggest assets but something that gets overlooked is Kirton’s ability to navigate the field.

“He has great vision and he has good change of direction,” Vincent said. “He’s got good feet.”

Spending last season as the lead blocker taught Kirton about patience and when to make his cuts.

“As a blocker you’re the one who is first to the hole,” Kirton said. “Having that vision first before becoming a tailback is helpful. A little hole can open up within seconds. A big hole can close within a few seconds.”

What Kirton does is something that can’t be taught by any coach.

“Watching him cut back across the grain, pick up blockers and be able to set up guys the way he does when he’s got guys to beat, those are things that guys just do,” Vincent said. “You can put running backs in drills seven days a week for a month and some kids just won’t ever learn that stuff. I think it’s an innate, instinctual ability that certain guys have.”

Lake Washington upends Jackson in first round game

No record, but more importantly, no victory.

Lake Washington slowed Jackson star tailback Johnie Kirton just enough to escape with a 12-7 victory Nov. 15 in the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs.

Kirton, who finished the game with 114 yards on 26 carries, fell just 1 yard shy of tying state’s single-season rushing record.

When asked if he cared at all about the record, Kirton quietly said, “No.”

“I never envisioned a loss,” said Kirton, who finished his senior season with 2,675 yards and 34 rushing touchdowns in 12 games. “It’s shocking. I’m sure it will hit me tonight when I’m going to bed.”

The Kangaroos routinely put 10 men near the line of scrimmage in hopes of containing Kirton. In the end, it was just enough for Lake Washington’s first-ever state playoff victory. Jackson’s season ended with a 10-2 record.

Though none of the Timberwolves were thoroughly interested in Kirton reaching the record, Kirton’s rushing and Jackson’s success have gone hand-in-hand all season.

Matthias Wilson’s record of 2,678 yards — set in 13 games for Ferndale in 1997 — appeared broken when Kirton broke lose for an apparent 51-yard TD run early in the fourth quarter. The Timberwolves were called for holding, however, and eventually punted.

Leading 7-6, Richie Tri’s punt rolled out of bounds at the Lake Washington 6. Quarterback Ryan Staudacher and Fritchman went to work, connecting five times for 61 yards during a 94-yard TD drive.

Fritchman’s final reception — a 14-yarder to the Jackson 1 — set up Mason Siddick’s 1-yard plunge for the final score with 2:03 remaining.

Though disappointed with the loss in Jackson’s first trip to state, Timberwolves coach Joel Vincent liked what he saw from his team this season.

“I thank my seniors for teaching us how to win at this school in football,” Vincent said. “Nobody can take away that they are (Western Conference South Division) champions.”

Timberwolves swim team finishes strong at state meet

In a competition chock-full of highlights, Jackson’s 400-yard freestyle relay team waited until the very end to put an exclamation point on a memorable Class 4A state girls swim meet.

The Timberwolves, who came into the state championships with the fifth fastest time in the event, moved up to fourth place during the Nov. 15 finals at King County Aquatic Center.

Their blazing time of 3:43.16 was almost two seconds faster than their preliminary mark.

Jackson coach Drew Whorley was expecting his squad of Emily Rogers, Lindsay Pagard, Angie Wang and Amber Pleasant to be in the top eight.

“I didn’t think we’d be top five,” Whorley said. “They swam great yesterday (in the prelims) and I think yesterday gave them a lot of confidence … they came in fired up.”

All four members of the relay team are underclassmen and all but one of this year’s state participants will be back.

“It just turned out to be an awesome relay,” Pleasant said. “We did incredible. Last year none of our relays got top eight. This year we got fourth. Everyone was really pumped up and we were just like, ‘Let’s go out and get fourth,’ and that’s what we did.”

The Wolfpack advanced swimmers to three finals and two consolation finals. On the strength of those finishes, Jackson finished 11th overall in the team standings with 74 points.

“The most exciting thing about it all is that they’re all sophomores and juniors,” Whorley said. “They’re going to be back and do it all again, so I feel real good about it now.”

Helmer cracks top six at state cross country finals

In a race dominated by juniors and seniors, Jackson High School sophomore Jeff Helmer gave a glimpse of things to come Nov. 8 at the state cross country meet.

Helmer finished sixth, 27 spots ahead of the next sophomore to cross the finish line at Sun Willows Golf Course in Pasco. Helmer, his Everett School District-rival Matthew Kaftanski of Everett, who placed 34th, and Mount Spokane’s Mike Hartanov (33rd) were the only sophomores to break the top 50.

“He hung in with the lead pack as long as he could,” said Jackson coach Eric Hruschka, whose team finished fifth. “He got beat by some older guys — little bit bigger, stronger kids that are juniors and seniors. His years will come ahead.”

Helmer was a 12th of a mile into the 3.1-mile course and gradually worked his way into the group of front-runners.

“I definitely wanted to do better,” said Helmer, who was admittedly light-headed after the race. “But, what can I say. I tried my hardest. I’ve got to hand it to all those guys. They ran their hearts out.”

Wildcats capture 1A boys soccer crown

On a bitterly cold night at a distant locale, Chris Danford warmed the hearts of his Archbishop Thomas Murphy boys soccer teammates in a way they will never forget.

Danford, who usually scores goals with his feet, instead put his head to good use in the biggest game of his career.

The junior forward headed in the tying and then the winning goal to lead the Wildcats to a 2-1 victory over defending champion Charles Wright in the Class 1A/B state finals Nov. 22 at Curtis High School.

“It feels great. There’s not enough to say,” Danford said, seconds after he and his teammates accepted the first-place trophy. “It’s awesome. It’s the best (feeling) you can know.”

Scoring both goals off headers capped an unbelievable game.

“To score two in one night, especially in the state championship, that’s pretty insane,” said Danford, who was the Wildcats’ second-leading scorer during the regular season.

The win in the state championship game came on the heels of a disappointing first-round exit for Archbishop Murphy in the 2002 tournament, a loss the players remember well.

“It means a lot since last year we had a chance but we didn’t quite win it,” said goalkeeper Alex Ungs. “This year … we knew we were going to win it and all our hard work paid off.”

In addition to being hard workers, another word Wildcats coach Jon Echols used to describe his players is resilient.

Archbishop Murphy needed to call on its resiliency when Charles Wright’s Shane Drew scored on a rebound shot at the 26th minute of the title game to give the Tarriers a 1-0 lead.

Instead of panicking, the Wildcats got even.

Less than 30 seconds later, Danford responded, punching the ball through the back of the net off a free kick by senior forward Alex Ferris.

“We didn’t let down,” Danford said. “We knew that if they scored, we had to come right back and score and that’s what we did.”

Danford’s tying goal was a huge play, Echols said.

“They take the momentum. We come right back,” he said.

ATM girls soccer team places second at state

The Archbishop Thomas Murphy girls soccer team’s tank simply ran out of gas.

Following a physically draining 3-2 semifinal victory over Charles Wright the day before, the Wildcats faced two-time state defending champion Cedar Park Christian in the Class 1A/B finals.

The Eagles cruised to an easy 9-0 rout over Liberty Bell in the other semifinal game.

Neither Archbishop Murphy nor Cedar Park Christian had the advantage in the first half of the championship matchup. Though both teams had plenty of opportunities, the two played to a scoreless tie in the first half.

But in the second half, the Eagles appeared to be the fresher of the two squads and stepped up the pressure on the offensive end.

The Wildcat defense withstood the onslaught for 25 minutes but then broke down when senior forward Sarah Martinez punched in a goal at the 55th minute to enable Cedar Park Christian to claim a 1-0 victory and its third straight title Nov. 22 at Curtis High School.

“We played a lot better in the first half. I think we dominated in the first half,” said Archbishop Murphy junior forward Kat Taylor. “But they came out a lot stronger in the second half and I think we were a little more tired from our game yesterday and they had such an easier game than us. I think they were a little more energized than we were and also I thought they did a lot better in the second half.”

Archbishop Murphy, which finished third at state the last two years, placed second in the Class 1A/B tournament in 1998.

Wildcats successfully defend football crown

Victory was just as sweet if not a tad sweeter the second time around for Archbishop Thomas Murphy.

The Wildcats capped an unforgettable two-year run by becoming the first team in 16 years to win a second straight Class 1A state football championship.

Facing one of the state’s most high-powered offenses, Archbishop Murphy’s defense responded with its most dominating performance of the season, while the Wildcats’ offense surprisingly went to the air with precision and efficiency.

This one-two punch was more than enough to lift Archbishop Murphy to a 20-0 victory over Zillah in the WIAA/Dairy Farmers of Washington Gridiron Classic Dec. 6 at the Tacoma Dome.

Four years ago, Archbishop Murphy didn’t even have a football program. What the Wildcats (14-0 overall) did have was an experienced coach in Terry Ennis and a group of athletes excited about the sport.

Senior running back/defensive end Ben Waiss was one of the players who turned out to hear what Ennis had to say.

State championships were the furthest thing on everyone’s mind.

“My freshman year I came out there and (we were) just a bunch of scroungy guys, players who wanted to learn how to play football,” Waiss said. “Now two years in a row, we won the state championship. I never expected anything like this.”

Neither did Ennis, who came to Archbishop Murphy after an impressive career at Cascade, where he led the Bruins to 10 Western Conference titles in 11 years and won a Class 3A state championship in 1991. The lure of starting up a new program persuaded Ennis to leave his position as Everett School District athletic director.

Rather than compare his team’s 2003 triumph to last year’s, Ennis was content to enjoy the moment.

“This is as good as it gets,” he said. “It was that (way) last year. Why worry about making a comparison? I don’t think it gets any better than a bunch of kids really setting their minds to something and then going out and doing it.”

For running back/defensive back Jevon Butler wrapping up his senior year with a second straight championship is a memory that will forever be etched in his mind.

The Wildcats have won 26 straight games over a two-year time span, with their last defeat coming in a non-conference game against Tacoma Baptist in September 2002.

“Wow. Twenty-six straight games,” Butler said. “Two state (championships). As a senior that’s the biggest thing … I’m going to remember this day. It’s a lasting memory.”

A state title was the way Waiss hoped to close out his high school career.

“It’s our senior year,” Waiss said. “It’s our last football game probably ever and it’s amazing.”

In their four years, Waiss and his fellow seniors compiled a 32-4 overall varsity record.

But Ennis doesn’t think numbers are what his players will remember about their time at Archbishop Murphy.

“It’s really about today,” he said. “We wanted to see what we could do today. I guess when they get to be old they’ll look back on those kind of stats, but I think the moment is probably what they’re going to remember the most.”

What no doubt will stand out to many of the Wildcats about this year’s state final was an inspired defensive effort that no Archbishop Murphy coach or player would have ever envisioned in their wildest dreams.

Zillah (12-1) came into the game averaging a scorching 47.8 points per game. Senior quarterback Louis Santana had thrown for 2,235 yards and 35 touchdowns and completed 71 percent (122 of 169) of his passes.

The Leopards’ running attack was just as impressive, with senior Shane Stonemetz rushing for 1,400 yards and scoring 31 TDs.

Ennis and his players were as surprised as anyone when Archbishop Murphy recorded its second shutout of the season.

“We never shut out anybody all year,” said Ennis, who forgot about his team’s 41-0 non-conference victory over Omak the third week of the regular season. “Why would we think we’d shut these guys out? I told the kids clearly we needed three touchdowns. Clearly we needed three. We wouldn’t have imagined that we’d shut them out.”

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