Mountain View players knew their defense was their Achilles' heel at the start of the season.
Saturday afternoon at McKenzie Stadium, the Thunder showed their defensive moxie in shutting down Sam Kopf and Seattle Prep.
A week after Kopf ran for 300 yards in a district playoff win, Mountain View kept the Panthers' star junior in check and rolled to a 55-0 first-round 3A state playoff win.
The Thunder (9-2) held Kopf to 132 hard-earned yards on 32 carries, with no run longer than 12 yards, and linebacker Eddie Richardson's 32-yard interception return for a touchdown midway through the first quarter got Mountain View started on its first state playoff win in 11 years.
"Our defense was lacking at the beginning of the season," said Richardson, who also had five tackles. "But the last couple of weeks, our defense has really stepped it up. Our defensive line brought pressure all night."
The Thunder held Seattle Prep to 155 yards of offense and nine first downs. The Panthers never got closer to the MV 29-yard line all game.
Thunder coach Adam Mathieson credited the defense with keeping his team in the game when his offense sputtered early, fumbling the ball on its first two possessions to allow Seattle Prep (5-6) to hang around.
"Our defense early on did a real nice job," Mathieson said. "The key was winning on first down. (Seattle Prep) is so patient, and they have no issue with going down the field 3, 4 yards at a time. But it's hard to do that when you're always in second-and-long."
Next week's quarterfinal opponent figures to be more of a test for the Thunder's improved defense. Metro League champion O'Dea (11-0), which routed Mount Si 49-7 in its first-round game and has outscored opponents 516-126 this season, comes to McKenzie Stadium for a showdown, tentatively set for Friday at 7 p.m.
"We've just got to keep playing like we've been playing," said senior Nicholas Wright, who ran for 140 yards and two touchdowns. "We'll get prepared for them this week, and come out ready to play them Friday night."
Mathieson knows all about O'Dea's pedigree from his years as Ferndale's coach in the early 2000s.
"O'Dea is a three-time state champion, a perennial power in this state," he said. "They do things the right way. They're a big, physical team up front, and obviously they run the ball really well."
Mathieson also knows his team can't afford early-game turnover woes against O'Dea.
"We've got to take care of the ball," he said, "and we need to limit them on first down as well."
The Thunder blew Saturday's game open in the third quarter, scoring three times to balloon a 21-0 halftime lead to 41-0 with 50 seconds left in the period.
"We had a few problems with the wet ball," Wright said. "But we were able to get into a rhythm offensively, and once we did that, we were able to get some points."
Mountain View attempted two passes all game, completing neither, but the Thunder didn't need to air things out because of their dominance up front. They finished with 495 rushing yards, averaging nine yards on each of their 55 carries.
Preston Jones added a game-high 181 yards and two TDs on the ground, ending the first-stringers' night with his 2-yard scoring run with 8:23 to play.
"We felt like against their scheme, it wouldn't be easy to find open windows to pass," Mathieson said. "But if we went with two tight ends, we could get 5, 6 yards at a time running the ball."
MOUNTAIN VIEW 55, SEATTLE PREP 0
Seattle Prep 0 0 0 0-- 0
Mountain View 14 7 20 14--55
MV -- Eddie Richardson 32 interception return (Will Warne kick)
MV -- Preston Jones 2 run (Warne kick)
MV -- Nicholas Wright 15 run (Warne kick)
MV -- Carl Falls 1 run (kick blocked)
MV -- Wright 37 run (Warne kick)
MV -- Falls 19 run (Warne kick)
MV -- Jones 2 run (Warne kick)
MV -- Corey Davis 2 run (Warne kick)
RUSHING -- Seattle Prep, Sam Kopf 32-132, Clayton Comiskey 9-28, Peter Cormier 2-(minus 6), Jackson Hazzard 2-(minus 16). Mountain View, Jones 22-181, Austin Mace 11-71, Wright 9-140, Falls 5-36, Lex Reese 2-18, Kimball Elliott 2-32, Davis 3-10, Garrett Jones 1-7.
PASSING -- Seattle Prep, Hazzard 2-8-1-17. Mountain View, Reese 0-2-0-0.
RECEIVING -- Seattle Prep, Kopf 1-17, Maricco Allen 1-0. Mountain View, none.