Eastside Catholic is the two-time defending Class 3A state football champion.
The Kamiakin Braves are aware of this fact, and they have a great deal of respect for their opponent, but they too have put together an impressive season entering Saturday’s 1 p.m. state semifinal matchup at Pop Keeney Stadium in Bothell.
“They won the state title the last two years for a reason,” Kamiakin coach Scott Biglin said. “They do a lot of good things offensively. We have some skill guys ourselves. I like our team. I like the makeup of what we’ve got. We’ve got a good shot to do some good things. We are up for the challenge.”
The Braves (10-2) will go up against a pass-happy Eastside Catholic team that defeated Timberline and Lakes to reach the semifinals for the fifth consecutive season. The Crusaders (11-1) rely heavily on quarterback Ze’Shaun Lewis, who has thrown for 2,833 yards and 30 touchdowns this season.
A good portion of those yards (877) have connected with 6-foot-3, 240-pound tight end Hunter Bryant for 10 touchdowns. Bryant, who has committed to the University of Washington, is one of three prime targets for Lewis, with the others being Marcus Stoebner (751 yards, 6 TDs) and Chris Lefau (576, 4).
Biglin also pointed out that the Crusaders have a dangerous ground game, with Tyler Folkes eating up 875 yards for 18 touchdowns.
“Not only do they throw the ball, but they run it really well too,” Biglin said. “They’ve got a D-I recruit (Bryant) that does really well. We will have our hands full with him. We have to make sure we limit what he does. It will be tough to stop him from what he does. Hopefully we can limit the damage he does.”
While Eastside Catholic has plenty to brag about, so do the Braves, who knocked off Gig Harbor and Bonney Lake by a combined score of 82-10 to reach the semis for the first time since 2011.
“Anytime you score points, you take pressure off your defense, but when you are playing a team like this, you need more than a few points to get your defense to relax a bit,” Biglin said. “They can score at any time. We know that. We know they are going to score. We need to slow them down and score more points than them. That’s the goal.”
Kamiakin placed second in 1995 and 2010, but the state championship hardware has never come to roost in the Braves’ trophy case.
“We are calm about it,” said Darreon Moore, an all-Mid-Columbia Conference first-team selection at receiver and defensive back. “We are trying not to psych ourselves out. We just have to do what we do — it has gotten us this far.”
Moore will draw some time against Bryant, but with a solid group of defensive backs including Benson Smith, Drew Sanderson and Colten Chelin, the workload will be spread out. Smith has five interceptions to his credit this season, while Chelin has two. The Braves have 11 as a team.
“I’ll get that matchup some, but we have other DBs that match up better with him,” said the 5-10 Moore, who has one pick this year. “Defense is where you make your money. When you look at us, we aren’t the biggest, but we use our speed. Me and Benson aren’t the biggest corners, but we are good one-on-one.”
Smith said the Braves’ two playoff wins have given them confidence moving forward.
“We have held good teams to few points and put a fair amount on the board,” Smith said. “But we have to stay humble and play our best. We feel good about what we have done. We have done a good job preparing. Now we have to match up with them and exploit their weaknesses. We have a chance of doing something special this year.”
A strong pass rush will be key to keeping Lewis in check and limiting his options downfield.
“We have to get a good pass rush going,” said Hayden Larson, an all-MCC second-team defensive lineman. “(Lewis) is a little jumpy. I think he might make some mistakes, and that will help our secondary.
“They are the two-time defending state champions, but they haven’t won this year. They still have to play us.”
Biglin is excited to see it all come together Saturday.
“(Defensive coach Tim) Maher does a good job game-planning for the guys,” Biglin said. “This is the semifinals. We know they are a good football team, but we think we have a pretty good team too. It should be a fun week.”