CAMAS — The four starting defensive backs for the Camas Papermakers all say they thrive under pressure.
Well then, this would be the week to thrive for safeties Jack Beall and Zach Eagle and cornerbacks Connor Maloney and Jorden Payne.
Camas takes on top-ranked Skyline of Sammamish in the Class 4A state semifinals at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Tacoma Dome. The Skyline offense is led by nationally recognized quarterback Max Browne.
“It’s going to be pretty impressive when we walk on that field and we see someone like him,” Beall acknowledged.
Many consider Browne, who is headed to the University of Southern California, the top-ranked high school quarterback in the nation. His numbers are more impressive than the hype. This season, he has 41 touchdown passes against four interceptions and is averaging more than 300 yards per game. Last year, he threw 45 touchdowns against seven picks in leading the Spartans to the state title.
“It’s fun and a great opportunity to play against him,” cornerback Connor Maloney said. “I’m sure he’s going to be a big name for years to come.”
The Papermakers have respect for Browne, as a player, an opponent. But they say they have to focus on the Skyline Spartans, not just the quarterback.
“He’s one person. He doesn’t make up the whole team, and we have a pretty good team, too,” Maloney said.
“It’s not, ‘Oh, we’re playing Max Browne.’ It not just about him,” Beall explained. “We have to focus on every aspect of the game. And we feel really confident we can put up a challenge against them.”
The Papermakers intercepted Federal Way four times in the quarterfinals. They had two in the first round and three more picks in the state preliminary round.
“Kids that know their assignments, know where they are going, can play fast,” Camas coach Jon Eagle said. “People get caught up in ’40 times.’ But it’s all about knowing where you are going.”
His defense understands that notion.
“They’re bright, smart kids,” the coach said.
Smart enough to know that when a player gets an interception or defends a pass, there is often 10 other guys on the field who did their jobs, too.
“The forgotten part of pass defense is the pass rush,” the coach said. “We have to disrupt the passer.”
Still, Browne has thrown for more than 3,700 yards this season against defenses specifically prepared to try to stop that air attack. Even if the rush bothers him, even if the underneath guys are covered by linebackers, Browne is so good he will find an open receiver. That will lead to the defensive backs being the last line of the Camas defense.
“We’re trying to keep it simple,” Payne said. “We’re watching more film and studying their routes. They’re still another team. Any team has strengths and weaknesses. We’re trying to study that and have faith that we’ll do our jobs and come out with the win.
“I’m a little nervous,” Payne acknowledged, “but I’m more excited than nervous.”
“We’re not necessarily worried,” Zach Eagle added. “We know what we have to do to prepare. We approach every day trying to get better. I’m hoping our guys will play with confidence.”
Zach Eagle noted that Camas has only played passing teams a few times this year.
On the other hand, one could say Skyline has not played against a defense like Camas’ all year. The Papermakers are giving up just 16 points per game, with most of the points coming after Camas has led by 30 or more.
Then again, it could turn into an offensive showcase. Skyline has scored 615 points this season in 12 games. Camas has 607. Even if it is a high-scoring affair, there will be some defense played some time during the game.
“We’re going to try to slow them down as much as we can,” Zach Eagle said. “Getting a few big stops could be the difference in the game.”
The Camas DBs agreed that it does not really matter how many yards Browne and the Spartans have Saturday as long as the Papermakers prevail on the scoreboard. They are not going to beat themselves up if one of the best players in the nation has a huge day … provided the Camas team has a better day.
“The dream scenario is getting the win anyway we can,” Beall said. “Getting the win and moving on. That would be the best thing ever.”
Still, it would be cool to intercept a pass, wouldn’t it?
“I’d tell my children about it one day,” Payne said. “‘I picked off a Hall of Famer.'”
Yes, this game is full of a lot of hyperbole.
With Browne’s statistics, and more importantly, the numbers both teams have put up — a combined 24-0 record going into Saturday — all that hype seems justified.