Alex Weber remembers sitting in a cold locker room at Fran Rish Stadium following Chiawana’s 21-14 mid-September loss to Richland over 14 months ago, a defeat that dropped the Riverhawks to 0-3 to start the 2012 season.
That loss may have seemed like the end for many Chiawana players.
Weber, however, saw it as a beginning.
“That losing streak we had actually brought us together as a team,” he said. “After we got over that, we became more of a unit. We pride ourselves as a team, and we play for each other.”
Next Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Chiawana will be playing for the first state title in school history.
The Riverhawks were a shining example of a team victory during Saturday’s 40-7 Class 4A semifinal win over Federal Way at Edgar Brown Stadium, excelling in every phase of the game.
From the opening kickoff, Chiawana got the better of Federal Way, recovering a pooch kick by Matt Winn at the Eagles’ 33-yard line.
“That wasn’t the plan. Our plan was to keep it away from (Chico McClatcher), but we’ll take it,” Graff said. “Sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than good.”
Just 2 1/2 minutes later, quarterback Joey Zamora gave the Riverhawks a 7-0 lead with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Deion Singleton.
It was the first of three touchdown receptions by Singleton, a senior transfer from Tallahassee, Fla., who will be playing in his second state championship game in two years. He was a big part of the Godby High School squad that won the Class 5A Florida State title last season.
“I was only a junior last year, so I didn’t feel it that much,” said Singleton, who finished with 140 yards on five catches. “Now that it’s my senior year, I would like to win it again.”
He said the cornerback matchups were key to his big numbers on the day.
“(Joey and I) talked about if they’re in man (defense), he’ll give me a little took to the sideline. That was our stop and go,” Singleton said. “We had a good connection throughout the game.”
Singleton’s second touchdown catch was his most impressive. He caught the ball on a 10-yard curl before breaking one tackle, then he juked his way around safety Kennan Curran — the South Puget Sound defensive back of the year — and ran 44 more yards for a score to put Chiawana up 20-7.
While Singleton showed his playmaking ability, the Riverhawks offensive line was making lots of room in the trenches for running backs Clifton Lozano and Weber. Behind tackles Wesley Henderson and Kayden Maughen, guards Jake Martin and Kameron Silvers, and center Chandler Newell, the two senior backs combined for 268 yards and two touchdowns.
“Every yard I get goes to my offensive line. Without them, I wouldn’t be anywhere,” Lozano said after finishing with 140 yards on 29 carries. “They work so hard for me. I think everything of them.”
Zamora was protected better than a reigning president in the White House, throwing for 204 yards and four touchdowns.
“I tell them, ‘Just give me time and I’ll make plays for you,’ and that’s what happened,” Zamora said. “Federal Way’s defensive line is big. (My line) did an amazing job of keeping them off me all day.”
Chiawana gave up one touchdown, but that was a credit to McClatchy, who intercepted a ball at midfield and returned it 57 yards for a score to cut the lead to 14-7 with 2:54 left in the first quarter.
“The game’s not over until the fat lady sings. When they got up, I felt like we would come back,” Curran said. “We came back (in playoff wins over) Richland, Skyline and Edmonds-Woodway. We started the season coming back. There was no doubt in my mind we could come back. It was just a matter of making plays. They just stopped us from doing that.”
So good was the Chiawana defense that a high-scoring Federal Way offense that averaged 38.3 points a game this year was held scoreless for the first time this season.
Curran and McClatcher, who averaged over 260 rushing yards a game between them coming into the game, were held to just 72 yards. The Eagles completed just four of 17 passes for 72 yards.
“We knew this was our last game as seniors on this field. Another thing was coach (Don) Hogue’s game plan,” Weber said. “We had to make everything go inside. We had to make them bounce back or they were going to to outrun us all day.
“It all started with our defensive line. When they contained (Curran and McClatcher), it made our jobs easy.” Graff credited his seniors with helping set the tone for his first state title game since he coached Pasco to the Class 4A title in 2003.
“(It’s about) senior leadership and senior work ethic,” Graff said. “All teams that far, it’s because they put in the time and work at it in the offseason. You don’t just show up in the playoffs playing good teams without that.” Chiawana (12-1) will face Camas (13-0) for the state title. Federal Way is familiar with Camas after losing to the Papermakers in last year’s state quarterfinals.
“It’s going to be a battle of the big guys. We saw (Camas) last year, and they were all juniors. Chiawana had guys that looked like a bunch of bodybuilders,” Curran said. “It will be ground and pound game.”
Federal Way 7 0 0 0 — 7
Chiawana 20 6 7 7 — 40
C—Deion Singleton 10 pass from Joey Zamora (Matt Winn kick)
C—Clifton Lozano 8 run (kick failed)
FW—Chico McClatcher 57 interception return (Sam Han kick)
C—Singleton 54 pass from Zamora (Winn kick)
C—Lozano 25 pass from Zamora (kick failed)
C—Singleton 41 pass from Zamora (Winn kick)
C—Alex Weber 11 run (Winn kick)
RUSHING—FW, McClatcher 8-58, Keenan Curran 8-14, Eric Ah Fua 3-13, D’Jimon Jones 1-(minus 7), Eric Auelua 1-6. C, Lozano 29-140, Weber 16-128, Zamora 2-5, Danny Dacanay 1-4, Nate Murrillo 2-27.
PASSING—FW, Curran 0-2-0-0, Jones 4-15-0-72. C, Zamora 11-20-2-204.
RECEIVING—FW, McClatcher 3-24, Tyson Penn 1-48. C, Singleton 5-140, Lozano 2-40, Dre Dorton 2-11, Christian Penny 2-13.
FIRST DOWNS—FW 5, C 23. FUMBLES-LOST—FW 3-3, C 2-1. PENALTIES-YARDS—FW 7-50, C 11-105.