BATTLE GROUND — You could see it in how the Hockinson football players bounded off the sideline in the game’s final seconds, as if springs had replaced their cleats.
You could see it in the extra vigor of hugs between players, coaches and parents.
And you could hear it in the fiery postgame victory speech by head coach Rick Steele, the first time in team history a coach had hailed his players as winners after a state quarterfinal.
Hockinson’s 34-20 win over Liberty of Issaquah isn’t the be-all and end-all of the Hawks’ season. “Two more to go” was said repeatedly after Saturday’s game at District Stadium.
But the signs were everywhere – This win meant more.
“It’s amazing because it has never happened at our school before,” senior lineman Ryan Sleasman said. “It’s really going to accelerate the team.”
Hockinson (12-0) will face West Valley of Spokane in the 2A semifinals next Saturday, likely in Spokane. The time and location will be announced Sunday.
Hockinson had reached the state quarterfinals twice before, in 2014 and 2015. In both cases, the Hawks’ saw undefeated seasons come to an end.
That wasn’t going to happen Saturday. Hockinson scored touchdowns on its first two drives of the second half, taking control a game it led at halftime 21-17.
“I told our kids at halftime that the team that wants it the most is going to get it,” Steele said. “We got fired up at halftime, came out and finished this game off. I’m so proud of them.”
Canon Racanelli entered Saturday with 3,194 passing yards and 47 touchdowns, the most by any quarterback in Southwest Washington.
The senior rose to the occasion Saturday. He completed 19 of 28 passes for 311 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for two touchdowns and intercepted a pass while playing defense.
“I told him at halftime, ‘put this football team on your shoulders. Lead us to the win,’” Steele said. “That’s what he has been doing all year. He’s the best quarterback in Clark County.”
In the first half, Racanelli threw touchdown passes of 12 and 16 yards to younger brother Sawyer Racanelli. Both times, the 6-foot-3 receiver leapt over his defender to catch lofted fade routes in the end zone.
But Hockinson couldn’t shake the Liberty (9-2), which reached last year’s state title game. The Hawks didn’t have a double-digit lead until after its first drive of the third quarter. Racanelli’s 10-yard touchdown run on a quarterback keeper set the tone for the second half.
After Sleasman’s second sack of the game forced a Liberty punt, Hockinson began what turned into an unlikely 80-yard scoring drive. The Hawks converted on third and 29 when Racanelli found tight end Jake Beslannowitch for a 38-yard completion up the seam.
Three plays later, Racanelli threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to Matt Henry. That gave Hockinson a 34-17 lead midway through the third quarter.
Hockinson’s defense did the rest. The Hawks allowed 275 yards of offense, including just 124 rushing yards to a Liberty offense that emphasized the run all season.
“In that second quarter, we kind of figured them out,” Steele said. “We knew they wanted to run the football, so we focused on stopping the run all week. Our defense just stepped up big-time.”
Liberty also lost its main offensive and defensive weapon to a foot injury in the second quarter. Jacob Thoresen entered Saturday leading the team in touchdowns (20) and tackles. He scored Liberty’s first two touchdowns Saturday, an 18-yard run and 51-yard catch.
But whether Thoresen had stayed in the game or not, Racanelli and the Hawks weren’t going to be denied.
“He doesn’t take losing as an answer,” Sleasman said of his quarterback. “Everything we do is about winning and gaining yards. He keeps the team focused.”
Racanelli, while relishing the program’s history-making win, quickly turned his focus to next Saturday’s game.
“It’s a pretty cool point in our school’s history,” he said. “But we’re looking past that. We’ve still got two more games left.
“We’re not done until we can slide a ring on our finger.”
HOCKINSON 34, LIBERTY 20
Liberty 7 10 3 0—20
Hockinson 7 14 13 0—34
L – Jacob Thoresen 18 run (Holden Kooiker kick)
H – Sawyer Racanelli 12 pass from Canon Racanelli (Nick Charles kick)
H – Canon Racanelli 1 run (Charles kick)
L – Thoresen 51 pass from Jake Wright (Kooiker kick)
H – Sawyer Racanelli 16 pass from Canon Racanelli (Charles kick)
L – Kooiker 42 field goal
H – Canon Racanelli 10 run (Charles kick)
H – Matt Henry 24 pass from Canon Racanelli (kick failed)
L – Kooiker 37 field goal.
Rushing – Liberty: Jacob Thoresen 5-39, Reilly Larson 7-28, San Coulton 5-19, Mason Vold 1-4, Samuel Brown 8-25, Jake Wright 7-14. Hockinson: Colton Wheeler 11-59, Canon Racanelli 14-54, Sawyer Racanelli 1-4, Bailey Jones 2-4.
Passing – Liberty: Samuel Brown 4-9-1-100; Jake Wright 1-51. Hockinson: Canon Racanelli 19-28-0-311.
Receiving – Liberty: Thoresen 1-51, Sam Coulton 1-19, Tyler Suttles 1-5, Noah Wright 2-49, Cameron McLaren 1-27. Hockinson: Sawyer Racanelli 7-85, Peyton Brammer 4-96, Matt Henry 4-42, Nicholas Frichtl 3-50, Jake Beslanowitch 1-38.