When the Hockinson football team convened for a film session Monday, there was a question to be answered.
When the Hawks take the field at the Tacoma Dome on Saturday for its first try at state championship in program history, how will they stop powerhouse Tumwater’s vaunted run game?
Hockinson coach Rick Steele pointed out the obvious.
“Make them punt,” he said. “Not very many teams can make them punt.”
It’ll take patience from the Hockinson defensive front, patience and stops for loss to chip away at the Tumwater wing-T offense — Hockinson’s most daunting test of the season.
The Thunderbirds use every down to wear down defenses through steady doses of positive gains. They’ve averaged 341 yards rushing per game going into the semifinals, where the T-Birds gained 176 yards on the ground in the 10-6 win over Archbishop Murphy.
On average, Tumwater hands the ball of 50 times a game, and hardly throws. It was 2 for 3 for 14 yards passing as a team in the semis.
“You only have to get three yards every play and you’ll never punt,” Steele said. “They’re happy with that three yards. … If you can get them to third-and-six, now you know you’re playing good defense.”
Tumwater’s four-pronged run game is led by sophomore Dylan Paine, who has emerged as their leading rusher this season with 24 touchdowns and well over 1,500 yards. Behind him are 5-foot-11, 190-pound senior Connor Clark, last year’s leading rusher Jakob Holbrook and junior Zane Murphy.
“They’ve got people going every which way, and they want to want your kids to watch what’s going on in the backfield, hide the ball and send it somewhere else,” Steele said.
The Hawks rush defense was keen to get a look at their opponent when game film was uploaded Sunday.
Defensive lineman Ryan Sleasman wasn’t concerned who the opponent would be. He is just excited to get to the dome, he says. But he is confident that if the Hawks focus on where the ball is going in Tumwater’s backfield game of “misdirection,” they’ll win the battle at the line of scrimmage.
“I think we match up well,” Sleasman said. “We’re a very physical team. We have been all year. We haven’t had a problem stopping the run all year. Obviously we have to adjust to a run-heavy team. … These guys really want to grind it out, and it’s just going to come down to who’s physical, who wants it more and who’s going to get down in the trenches.”
In comparing playoff experience, Tumwater has the upper hand.
It has appeared in 10 state title games and won five. It beat reigning 2A champs Archbishop Murphy in the semifinals, stifling the highest scoring offense in the classification in a defensive chess match.
The program, led by former Olympia High School coach Bill Beattie, hasn’t skipped a beat following the retirement of legendary coach Sid Otton last season after 43 years.
When the T-Birds (10-2) have won close games, they’ve held opponents to low scoring totals.
But Hockinson is undefeated on the season at 13-0, and hasn’t won a game by less than two touchdowns.
The Hawks also average 46 points a contest, and haven’t scored less than the 34 points it put up on Liberty in the state quarterfinals.
Hockinson has seen the wing-T this season, Steele says, though not often. Mark Morris and Ridgefield run versions of it. But not quite at the level, or extent as the five-time state champions.
“Tumwater is just very good at it,” Steele said. “You have to be very disciplined when you play them. If you don’t see it every week, it takes a lot of time, a lot of effort to make your kids disciplined, follow your reads, stay home and play defense.”