There were plenty of big-time, big-play guys putting up big numbers for the Chiawana Riverhawks during their 40-7 state semifinal blowout of the Federal Way Eagles on Saturday afternoon.
But without question, the start of the day was the Riverhawks defense.
It wasn’t enough that they pitched a shutout — Federal Way’s only points came on a pick-six late in the first quarter. But Chiawana plain dismantled the Eagles, holding them in negative yardage for nearly all the first half and limiting an athletic and talented team to just 80 yards on the ground and 83 through the air.
“When you shut out a team that has that many big weapons, it’s a big accomplishment for the kids,” said defensive coordinator Don Hogue. “It’s hard not to feel good about what we do defensively. But at the same time, you have in the back of your head that on any play, (Nos.) 5 and 2 can make you hurt.”
Nos. 5 and 2 are Chico McClatcher and Kennan Curran, who between them rolled up more than 3,000 rushing yards and 36 touchdowns coming into Saturday’s game.
They left the field with just 76 yards rushing and another 27 receiving. Curran, the Eagles quarterback, was particularly limited with just 11 yards on eight carries, giving away late in the first half to throwing QB D’Jimon Jones.
“We tried to contain them, not let them bounce outside,” said versatile linebacker Blake Bishop, who made an impact rushing off the end, crashing down on runs and defending passes in the secondary.
Time and again, Chiawana’s defense turned in the big plays, whether it was a three-and-out following a turnover or getting a turnover of their own (four fumbles and an interception). But mostly it was steady play, covering all backs against Federal Way’s read-option spread and stringing plays out sideline to sideline.
In the end, the Eagles mustered just three first downs.
It was business as usual for Chiawana this season, but it was a far cry from the final game for the Riverhawks in 2012, a 55-28 loss to Gonzaga Prep that turned into the genesis of this Riverhawks defense.
“It all started last year — 602 yards by Gonzaga Prep,” head coach Steve Graff said. “We got the ball run up our rear end, and this year that was not going to happen.”
It hasn’t happened this year, not because Chiawana bulked up in the box, but because they got faster across the board.
It wasn’t just defensive backs like Dre Dorton or Deion Singleton chasing down Federal Way’s speed merchants. It was linebackers like Bishop and Grady Graff and deceptively fast Alex Weber. It’s defensive ends like Christian Penny, or wave after wave of linemen like Mark De Ruyter or Juan Noyola swarming to the ball.
“Coach Hogue is a genius,” De Ruyter said. “We play more aggressively, not waiting for things to happen but attacking stuff.”
The first guy may not always make the tackle, but he rarely arrives at the ball alone.
“With what we do defensively,” Hogue said, “it’s important to have those hybrid-type players.
“You have to bring speed to the field, get extra guys to the point of attack.”
The next point of attack will be on the turf at the Tacoma Dome next Saturday in the championship game. De Ruyter, like so many of his teammates, said playing in the Dome on the final weekend of the season has always been a dream.
“It’s great to get there,” he said, “but we still want to make our mark.”