I’m not one for clichés. Most journalists aren’t. Not all, but most.
A few weeks back, I was talking to Hockinson’s Sawyer Racanelli about the Hawks’ defensive play, which often got overlooked because of the team’s explosive offense.
Racanelli said that after last season’s struggles, the Hockinson defense was determined to get better this year. “You know what they say,” Racanelli said, “defense wins championships.”
I cringed a little. It was an age-old, often-overused cliché.
And not entirely true.
Almira-Coulee-Hartline gave up 60 points Friday and won the 1B state championship.
OK, OK, it was eight-man football, and goofy things can happen in eight-man football.
But Woodinville had the state’s top scoring defense in Class 4A by a long shot. The Falcons even had the catchy nickname of the Dark Side Defense.
Yet, Woodinville lost the 4A title game to Richland in part because the Falcons allowed 28 first-half points.
Royal had a dominating defense in 1A, shutting out two opponents and giving up just seven points in the playoffs before Saturday’s title game against Meridian.
But the Knights needed just about all of their 33 points scored to beat Meridian 33-27.
To put it more succinctly, defense doesn’t win championships. Teams win championships.
Hockinson put that statement on display Saturday at the Tacoma Dome.
We all knew the Hawks had the offense. But we’ve often seen many high-powered offenses become slightly less high-powered in the postseason as they come up against stronger and stronger defenses.
But not the Hawks.
Hockinson quarterback Canon Racanelli had five 300-yard passing games in nine regular-season games.
In the postseason, the senior passed for 318, 389, 311 and 307 yards to reach the title game.
Against Tumwater’s defense, which held a potent Archbishop Murphy team to 80 total yards a week before, Racanelli threw for 316 yards.
But the Hockinson offense couldn’t do its thing if it didn’t have the ball. And that’s where the defense stepped up.
Coach Rick Steele admitted the Hawks didn’t have a shutdown defense. The Hawks were a more like a bend-not-break defense.
But Tumwater’s potent running game can really test a defense’s elasticity. But on Saturday, the Hawks stiffened up.
After an early turnover put Hockinson in danger of falling two touchdowns behind early — which would have really played into Tumwater’s hands — the Hawks held the Thunderbirds to a field goal.
Sparked by that victory, the defense kept giving the ball back to the offense, which started to click in the second quarter.
Hockinson didn’t allow Tumwater to score again until the fourth quarter, when the Hawks had built a two-score lead, which played into Hockinson’s hands.
I said on a podcast back in October that I was concerned about Hockinson’s lack of a consistent running game. I said that at some point the Hawks would need a ground attack to move the chains and eat some clock to seal a win.
That’s where the Hawks were Saturday, leading 21-16 with 5:56 left in the game.
And on Saturday, Hockinson moved the ball on the ground, rushing for 121 yards.
It wasn’t your typical hand-it-to-the-running-back-for-three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust kind of rushing attack. Canon Racanelli, as he has been all season, was the Hawks’ top ground gainer with 65 yards.
Sawyer Racanelli became the team’s No. 2 rusher in the game on a 48-yard touchdown run on a reverse that put Hockinson up 28-16.
So 113 of the Hawks’ 121 rushing yards came from the Racanelli brothers, but it worked.
Then up 28-16 with less than three minutes left forced Tumwater to abandon its ground game and take to the air.
That’s when the defense came up big. Aidan Mallory intercepted a pass and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown that sealed the deal for the Hawks.
The offense did its job. The line did its job. The defense did its job. Even special teams, as the Hawks were a perfect on conversion tries (5-for-5) for the first time since a Week 7 win over Columbia River.
So you see, teams win championships. And Hockinson’s win Saturday was a complete team effort.
Wait, was that a cliché? Oh well, it fits.
Tim Martinez is the assistant sports editor/prep coordinator for The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4538, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow his Twitter handle @360TMart.