The Class 3A state football championship trophy has a couple of dents and some tarnish, but to the Kamiakin High School football coaches, it’s the most beautiful thing they have ever seen.
The Braves (12-2) defeated top-ranked and previously undefeated O’Dea 14-7 in overtime to win their first state title last Friday night at the Tacoma Dome.
“It’s phenomenal. It’s an unbelievable feeling,” longtime Kamiakin defensive coordinator Tim Maher said. “I have been here 39 years. The last two games were the most exciting games I have ever seen, coached or played. The kids played so well and were so determined to make that happen. I am so proud of them. It’s so cool. There have been a lot of tears. I just keep glowing inside.”
Running backs coach Kevin McAfee, 61, who will retire from teaching and coaching at the end of the school year, had knee replacement surgery the Monday of championship week. Don’t think that kept him home.
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“I was able to go to the game, and I was in a wheelchair on the sidelines,” said McAfee, who has been on the Braves’ coaching staff for 34 years. “That last play in overtime, I was standing up. That was the best therapy I have ever had.”
Kamiakin coach Scott Biglin was a young pup of 27 when he took over the helm eight years ago after Craig Beverlin retired. Biglin said the title means a lot to the school and the community, but even more to Maher and McAfee.
“Kevin and Tim built this program up,” Biglin said. “There have been a lot of great (head) coaches — Craig Beverlin, Keith Paine and Dan Purple. To coach at Kamiakin is a great honor. To bring home the first state title is great. I’m happy for those guys. I teared up — we all did. For Tim, he could see the light at the end of the tunnel. You never know when you will get another chance at a state title. Now, he can just have fun.”
The final play
O’Dea, trailing 14-7, faced fourth-and-1 in overtime and needed a first down to continue its drive. Kamiakin knew the Irish would run the ball. The Braves were ready.
The defensive play was 3-Go. The linebackers were on the move right behind the defensive front, and O’Dea running back Mark Tafia never had a chance. He was tackled behind the line of scrimmage to end the game.
“That last play, typical Maher,” Biglin said. “Our defense was phenomenal. Dillon (Crawford) did a good job on the block and making a bit of a hit, Brock (McCue), he’s got a guy hanging on his back and he’s there to make a stop, and Hayden Larson gets enough of the guy to slow him down just a tad, and we were able to stop him. It’s a really cool play. It was cool to see those guys and their reactions when it was over.”
Maher said he hasn’t watched the entire game yet, but he did get a look at the final play.
“That snap alone, that was impressive,” Maher said. “Our kids played a great football team and dominated them. We owned those guys. They just kept getting better and better as the season went along.”
Oh, so close
The Braves played for a state title in 1995 under Beverlin and in 2010 under Biglin, but their reward both times was a second-place trophy.
Kamiakin lost to Curtis 49-7 in 1995, and powerhouse Bellevue shut out the Braves 38-0 in 2010.
“Being there twice and not to do well is as bad as it gets,” Maher said. “When we came home after the Bellevue game, we pulled into the Applebee’s parking lot and got the paper. There it was, on the front page. That was so embarrassing. It was a wound that lasted for six months. This is the opposite. This will feel good for a long time.”
“As long as it has been a struggle, it was all worth it on Friday,” he said. “For us to do what we have done is quite an accomplishment.”
The old guard
Maher, 65, grew up in Royal City, where he played football, and later coached current Knights coach Wiley Allred when he was a freshman in high school.
A linebacker, Maher had a brief playing career at Washington State, but coaching seemed to be his calling. He also coached at Ephrata before Paine hired him at Kamiakin in 1978.
Maher, who teaches history at Kamiakin, has coached a long list of top-notch players. Several reached out to him after last Friday’s win.
“I had 150 calls and texts from former players,” Maher said. “I got a call from Keith Paine’s son, Brent. He said his dad would be happy for us. It was unbelievable. I’ve never been touched by anything this powerful, this strong. This flame will not burn quickly. It will burn long, slow and beautiful for a long time.”
There was talk that Biglin would have a tough time with Maher when he took over the Kamiakin program, but it was quite the opposite.
“When I first got hired here, everyone asked: ‘How are you going to handle Tim? He is a big presence here. What if he undermines you or says this is the way we do it?’ ” Biglin said. “The first time I met with Tim, we sat down, and the first thing he said to me was: ‘This is your team. Whatever you decide, I’ve got your back.’ He’s had my back. He’s never questioned me. Some guys in a program for a long time may question a young guy, but he has been really great to me. He has been a mentor to me.”
Mentor, father figure, right-hand man. Maher willingly filled every role.
“Biglin has done a great job,” Maher said. “He is a great coach. The assistant coaches I get to work with are unbelievable, as well. They are a huge piece of this. The list is long to make all of this work.”
With McAfee retiring, there was talk of Maher doing the same, but he said he hasn’t thought that far ahead yet. Biglin, for one, hopes he’s back on the sideline come fall.
“I know he is enjoying this (title) at the moment,” Biglin said. “He has the right to take his time. I hope he’s back.”
Meanwhile, McAfee and his wife, Stephanie, who has taught at Southgate Elementary in Kennewick for 37 years, are looking forward to traveling and spending time with family once the school year is over.
“I will miss the players and the coaches,” he said. “I believe we have the best coaching staff in the state, if not the Northwest. It’s time to start our golden years, but I will keep my eye on the Braves.”
McAfee, who teaches physical education at Desert Hills Middle School in Kennewick, wanted to be a part of the Kennewick Lions program years ago, but there never seemed to be an opening on Ed Troxel’s staff.
“I was a running back for Ed when he was the coach at Idaho,” McAfee said. “I thought I might have a chance. Tim is the one that brought me on board here. He is a tough guy to say no to.”
Biglin said McAfee will be missed.
“Mac does a good job in believing in all the kids who play running back for us,” Biglin said. “Even if we don’t think a kid has something, he will get everything out of them. He is definitely someone we are going to miss. The kids love being around him.”
Biglin will savor the title until it’s time to begin again. Not only will he be without McAfee come spring, but he loses 17 seniors.
“I still want another week with them,” he said. “It will be hard to go out there without them next year. To end their careers the way they did, it says a lot about them. I am so happy for those guys. But it’s high school ball. Guys move on, and you move on and find new ones. But this is a group I will never forget.”