Tradition, passing attack make Spartans a tough foe

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

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The Skyline Spartans went deep on the first play of their Class 4A state semifinals football game.

The ball fell incomplete, but the play sent a message: The Spartans aren’t about to change their style.

Max Browne would end up completing 21 of 31 passes for 292 yards and two touchdowns in Skyline’s 26-21 victory over Woodinville at the Tacoma Dome last week. Browne was recently named the Gatorade state player of the year after throwing for more than 3,800 yards this season.

Browne and the Spartans would like about 300 or more yards this week against Skyview in the Class 4A state championship game.

The Storm are sure to be preparing for the pass-oriented offense, and they could learn a thing or two from Woodinville’s effort.

Browne passed for 181 yards in the first half and hardly saw any pressure, the Skyline offensive line offering plenty of protection. That gave Browne time to scan the field on a few plays, waiting for a receiver to get open.

The passing offense was not as effective in the second half, as Skyline allowed three sacks and was forced to punt twice.

So while the Skyview defensive backs will be under constant fire, it’s quite possible their best defense will be the linemen and linebackers trying to get pressure on Browne.

Skyline did not have a consistent running attack against Woodinville, but that could be more of an indication of just how strong Woodinville is on defense. The Spartans did manage a 30-yard touchdown run to go up by 12 points late in the game.

They also found other ways of getting the ball to their top running back. Damian Greene, who was held to 31 yards on 12 carries with a touchdown, had seven receptions for 102 yards and two more scores.

Browne said he is looking forward to the challenge against Skyview.

“I’ve done a quarterback training with their quarterback,” Browne said, referring to Skyview’s Kieran McDonagh. “He’s a strong arm and a good kid. They faced our cross-town rival (Issaquah), and they whipped ‘em good. That’s about it. That’s all I know about them.”

Browne said that about 20 minutes after Skyline’s semifinal victory. By now, he and his teammates have seen plenty of video featuring Skyview.

“I think they are tremendous,” Skyline coach Mat Taylor said of the Storm. “They’re very big up front. Their quarterback is playing well. And they have that workhorse of a tailback in Parker Henry.”

That creates a dilemma, Taylor said. If a team focuses on taking away Henry, McDonagh and the wide receivers might have free reign of the field. That is how Skyview rolled past Lake Stevens in the semifinals, with McDonagh throwing for more than 300 yards.

“It’s as complete a team as I’ve seen this year,” Taylor said.

Skyview and Skyline share more than a similar name. Both teams also faced tough competition this season.

Skyview’s two losses came against defending state champions in Oregon and Idaho.

Skyline has three losses, including one to Lake Oswego, a 6A semifinalist in Oregon, and nationally ranked Bellevue.

The defeats sent both teams reeling in the state rankings, yet here they are, the lone 4A squads left in Washington.

“It’s been great helping the kids realize that with the media, the internet, and all the superficial rankings, they don’t mean anything,” Taylor said. “All that matters is the 48 minutes you get on a given night.”

Skyline is playing in a state title game for the fifth consecutive year. The Spartans were runners-up last year, after winning 4A titles in 2008 and 2009, and also won the 3A title in 2007.

Just like rankings, Taylor said, those accomplishments do not give an edge this season.

“You gotta rebuild the chemistry every year,” he said.

This is Skyview’s first football championship game.

“They’ve been good every year,” Skyview coach Steve Kizer said of the Spartans. “They haven’t missed a beat. They have a football factory over there. That’s what we’re trying to do.”