Tim Martinez: Hockinson is really good, but just how good?

Hawks look to answer that question with elusive quarterfinal win

By Tim Martinez, Columbian Assistant Sports Editor

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So I got my first look of the season at the Hockinson football team on Friday, and this statement likely won’t stop the presses, but the Hawks are pretty darn good.

The unbeaten Hawks piled up 531 yards of offense, including 142 yards rushing. Three different receivers had multiple touchdown catches. The defense came up with three interceptions and held Pullman to 113 total yards.

It was all part of a 53-18 rout in the first round of the Class 2A state playoffs that ended with a running clock for the final 10 minutes.

Oh, and then there was that quarterback.

In a season in which Canon Racanelli has put up some very impressive numbers, the senior outdid even himself, throwing for a season-high 389 yards and seven touchdowns.

He’s thrown for an eye-popping 3,194 yards and 47 touchdowns this season.

Sometimes stats can be deceiving. Often they tell us as much about the deficiencies of the opponent than the strength of a team.

But after watching Racanelli in person, it’s easy to see he’s earned those numbers. The Pullman coaching staff can verify that.

The coaches were sitting next to me along press row at District Stadium on Friday. After one Racanelli completion, the coaches barked into their headsets: “How did we not defend that pass?!? We were in perfect position. How did we not knock that down?!?”

A Hockinson fan seated in front of the coaches had an answer when he turned around and said, almost apologetically, “Our quarterback is really good. … We’ve been pretty spoiled these last few years.”

Actually, the entire team is really good. But now the question is ‘how good?’

We really don’t know that answer. And that’s not a knock on the Hawks, or even an expression of doubt.

It’s just the truth.

The Hawks have done their part. They’ve won every game on their schedule in dominating fashion. But they have not yet played an elite level 2A program.

And that’s the problem with RPI, computer rankings or human rankings in high school football.

Most high school teams don’t play teams from outside their own region of the state. So often it’s hard to get a good read on the true strength of some teams or some leagues

Consider this: In its 11 games this season, Hockinson has only had to leave the county once … and that game was in Woodland, barely across the county line.

Hockinson isn’t the only team with a schedule like this. Liberty of Renton, the Hawks’ opponent Saturday at Battle Ground’s District Stadium, has played a similar schedule en route to a 9-1 record.

Liberty’s lone loss came to Bishop Blanchet, a Class 3A playoff team. The Patriots also have a win over Mercer Island, which beat Kelso to advance to the 3A state playoffs.

Hockinson’s non-league wins came over a 3A team that finished 3-6 and two 1A teams, one (La Center) is a 1A state quarterfinalist.

Does that mean Liberty is better than Hockinson? Not necessarily, but we really won’t know for certain until they play on the field.

That’s why Hawks need to keep working, Hockinson coach Rick Steele said.

“What is this? Week 11?” Steele said. “And there are still so many things we need to get better at.”

There were mistakes on Friday. Twice a Pullman defender came unblocked to sack Racanelli, once resulting in a safety. There were bad snaps, and the Hawks misfired on four PAT kick attempts.

Such details may seem like nitpicking in a 53-18 rout. But against a good team, they could prove the difference between winning and losing.

“And the farther we advance, we are going to meet some very good teams, powers that advance deep into the playoffs every year,” Steele said. “These are teams (like) we don’t see often in the 2A Greater St. Helens League.”

In 2014, Hockinson was 11-0, pounding opponents in dominating fashion – just like this year. But then the Hawks were routed by Lynden 52-28 in the 2A state quarterfinals.

The next year, Hockinson was again 11-0, an even better team with more dominating defense. And the Hawks lost a 31-28 heartbreaker to Sedro-Woolley in the quarterfinals.

A team’s win-loss record or its ranking never put a point on the scoreboard. Those are earned only on the field.

That’s the message Steele is sharing with his players, and it’s starting to sink in.

“Right now,” sophomore receiver/linebacker Sawyer Racanelli said, “we’re 0-0 again.”

 Tim Martinez is the assistant sports editor/prep editor for The Columbian. He can be reached at (360) 735-4538, tim.martinez@columbian.com or follow his Twitter handle @360TMart.