SPOKANE — Hockinson football coach Rick Steele, his light-blue cap lined with the ice water quarterback Canon Racanelli and running back/linebacker Colton Wheeler poured seconds before the clock struck zero of the Hawks’ history-making state semifinal victory, kept the postgame speech simple.
And it echoed similar words of the one stated one week earlier.
“We’re 1-0,” the Hawks’ head coach said, then pausing to look at his watch, “now we’re 0-0 again.”
But this one was different. Just how does it feel to be the Hockinson Hawks, being undefeated at 13-0, and playing for the school’s first state title in football next week?
Pretty darn special.
“It means so much; it means the world,” senior lineman Kordell Johnson said. “We’ve never been this far.”
A 53-30 victory over West Valley of Spokane on Saturday afternoon at Gonzaga Prep High School sends the team to a game its never played in and to a place its never been to: next Saturday’s Class 2A state championship game at the Tacoma Dome.
“We’ve preached all week, all year that this is our year,” receiver Sawyer Racanelli said. “Being in this environment, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Next week will be even more overwhelming.”
In the school’s 14-year history, the only state titles are in boys golf, as the program looks to add a fifth banner for the first team sport.
The Hawks might be newbies to this state championship game stuff, but their opponent next Saturday at 10 a.m. — the Tumwater Thunderbirds — are not. Since 1987, Tumwater has won five state titles, most recently in 2010.
And after Saturday’s 10-6 victory over defending state champion Archbishop Murphy in their semifinal, the T-Birds will play for the Class 2A state title game for the fifth time over the past eight seasons.
But the Hawks played like a state championship-caliber squad Saturday in a battle of undefeated teams. Their 53 points scored was the second time in three games, and particularly impressive, too, against a West Valley team that hadn’t allowed more than 20 points in a single game all season.
But it was the defense that shined for the Hawks, particularly in the second half after a back-and-forth second quarter, shutting out the Eagles (12-1) for 23 of the final 24 minutes.
The first half, though? Not so much. The two teams combined for five touchdowns, and four lead changes the final 5 minutes, 33 seconds of the second quarter.
And it was big plays that hurt the Hawks.
Both of West Valley’s second-quarter touchdowns came on just one play apiece. Quarterback Matt Allen hit receivers Connor Whitney and Collin Sather for touchdown receptions of 73 and 51 yards apiece.
The play that eventually gave the Hawks the halftime lead, though, was the play of the half — Sawyer Racanelli’s highlight-reel catch in a game that turned out to be the sophomore’s best of his young career.
He had a game-best 201 yards on six catches and touchdowns of 51 and 40 yards, and his 76-yard catch on a third-and-22 at their own 12 eventually led to Hockinson’s 28-23 halftime lead one play later. On the ensuing play, Canon Racanelli found Peyton Brammer for a 17-yard touchdown.
“We didn’t have a good first half,” Sawyer Racanelli said. “We were giving them big plays. We tried to stay calm and not get overwhelmed what the score was.”
The five-point halftime lead was the closest margin Hockinson’s faced all season. For Steele, as badly as he thought his Hawks played in the second quarter, how they’d respond to begin the second half was even more important.
It started with a defensive shift to four-deep in the secondary, and in a game with so many big-time plays, the tone-setter to kickstart the third was none than Johnson, the senior lineman.
His fumble recovery in the end zone for a touchdown quickly made it an 11-point cushion, and with West Valley knocking on the door of a 13-play drive on third-and-goal a series later, he intercepted a pass batted by a teammate, and ran it back 55 yards to inside West Valley territory.
He said it reminded him of his running-back days as an eighth grader, and eventually knew he wouldn’t make it to the end zone.
“I wish I was a little faster, though,” he said. “I realized I’m not that fast.”
Canon Racanelli, though, did on a 1-yard quarterback keeper to extend the Hawks’ lead to 40-23 with 5:56 left in the quarter. The senior accounted for six of the team’s touchdowns, including four passing touchdowns, and was 16 of 28 passing for 307 yards.
From there, the defense did the rest. It held West Valley to 95 total rushing yards, forced three turnovers, had three sacks while the offense continued to put the game out of reach.
Now, the Dome becomes the Hawks’ new home.
“It’s going to be sweet,” Sawyer Racanelli said.
HOCKINSON 53, WEST VALLEY-SPOKANE 30
Hock 7 21 12 14–53
WV 7 16 0 7–30
H — Sawyer Racanelli 40 pass from Canon Racanelli (Nick Charles kick)
WV — Matt Allen 10 run (Chase Howat kick)
H — Canon Racanelli 29 run (Charles kick)
WV — Safety
WV — Collin Sather 52 pass from Matt Allen (Howat kick)
H — Sawyer Racanelli 51 pass from Canon Racanelli (Charles kick)
WV — Connor Whitney 73 pass from Matt Allen (Howat kick)
H — Peyton Brammer 17 pass from Canon Racanelli (Charles kick)
H — Kordell Johnson fumble recovery in end zone
H — Canon Racanelli 1 run (kick failed)
H — Matt Henry 1 pass from Canon Racanelli (Charles kick)
H — Tony Rodriguez 58 run (Charles kick)
WV — Sather 39 run (Howat kick)
RUSHING — West Valley: Blake Transue 5-47, Connor Whitney 1-(minus-1), Collin Sather 2-4, Matt Allen 11-38, Marshall Meleney 2-6, Tanner Jones 3-1. Hockinson: Sawyer Racanelli 1-6, Canon Racanelli 13-79, Bailey Jones 1-12, Tony Richardson 1-58, Colton Wheeler 6-18.
PASSING — West Valley: Matt Allen 21-30-2-315, Blake Transue 6-9-0-73; Hockinson: Canon Racanelli 16-28-1-307.
RECEIVING — West Valley: Hunter Tiffany 2-48, Alyjouah Rollins 5-40, Connor Whitney 10-163, Collin Sather 7-105, Bryan Andrews 2-18, Tanner Jones 1-14. Hockinson: Sawyer Racanelli 6-201, Peyton Brammer 5-87, Matt Henry 3-12, Jake Beslanowitch 2-4, Colton Wheeler 1-3.