Chiawana High School coach Steve Graff knows what’s important in football.
“Defense wins championships,” Graff said Saturday afternoon.
His Riverhawks put together another solid defensive performance to beat Graham-Kapowsin 28-12 in the Class 4A state semifinals at Edgar Brown Stadium.
With the victory, Chiawana (12-1) will return to the 4A state championship game, set for 7:30 p.m. next Saturday at the Tacoma Dome against Bothell, which beat Newport of Bellevue 37-19 in the other semifinal.
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Last season, the Riverhawks beat Camas 27-26, scoring two touchdowns in the final minute to rally for the victory.
It’s a rare feat to return to the state title game.
“It gave me tears of joy,” said Chiawana defensive lineman Juan Noyola, who led his team with seven tackles, including two quarterback sacks. “I never really thought about returning to the state championship. I just wanted to beat the team we were playing each week badly. Now that we’re there, we have to focus hard.”
The Riverhawks definitely were focused on Saturday’s semifinal opponent. They scored on their opening offensive drive, marching 50 yards on five plays, with quarterback Logan Ellsworth fumbling the snap, picking it up and running in from the 3 for a 7-0 lead.
The Eagles looked to respond on the following series, when quarterback Trevor Asbjornsen found a receiver wide open on a fly pattern behind the Chiawana secondary. But the ball was dropped.
“We had a kid out of position,” Graff said. “He got turned around. But luckily the guy dropped it.”
On the next play, Chiawana defensive back Josh Wilson picked off Asbjornsen’s pass.
It would become a pattern: a Graham-Kapowsin offensive drive that would struggle, or start to get some momentum, only to be stopped by the Riverhawks.
All told, the Eagles had six offensive series in the first half that ended like this: interception by Wilson; turnover on downs; a punt; another punt; a fumble forced and recovered by Christian Penny; and an interception by Dre Dorton.
“That whole game, we played to stop the run,” said Chiawana sophomore linebacker Caleb Weber, who added seven tackles and one pass breakup.
“They have an amazing running back (Shannon Edwards, who entered the contest with 2,245 rushing yards and 30 touchdowns),” Wilson said.
The Riverhawks didn’t allow the quick Edwards to get loose. That forced G-K into some long third-down situations, which resulted in those two picks by Wilson and Dorton.
It just wasn’t the Eagles’ day. Coach Eric Kurle lost his kicker to a broken foot in warmups.
“His first kick, he made a field goal, jumped up and when he landed, he broke it,” Kurle said. “They’re a great football team. We had some shots early to do something. But we just couldn’t get it done. We dug a hole for ourselves.”
Still, it wasn’t until midway through the second quarter that Chiawana took complete control with a 14-point outburst, and it all happened in a span of 1 minute, 22 seconds:
• An Eagles punt of 12 yards deep in G-K territory gave the Hawks the ball on the visitors’ 19.
• On the first play, Ellsworth hit a wide-open Wilson for a 19-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead with 5:47 left in the half.
The play was set up with Dorton, on the left side, in motion in what looked like a run. Wilson, in the right slot, took off on the snap for the end zone.
“We were working on that play all week,” Wilson said. “Their safety came up when he thought it was a run and left me wide open.”
• The Hawks kicked off, and the Eagles (11-2) started at their own 16.
But when Asbjornsen set up to pass, he got creamed by Penny, who knocked the ball loose and recovered it back at the 5.
“Juan (Noyola) got hurt on the previous play, so I went in at tackle,” Penny said. “I normally play end, but I’ve always felt more comfortable at tackle. Tackle is easier to make moves.”
Penny beat his man.
“I hear the ball hit the ground, somebody jumped on my back, and I just crawled to the ball,” he said.
Three plays later, Ellsworth dived into the end zone. With 4:25 left in the half, Chiawana led 21-0, and the game was essentially over.
The only thing left was to get Austin Urlacher a record. The Riverhawks’ senior running back entered Saturday’s game ranked seventh all time in the state for most rushing yards in a season for 11-man football with 2,570 yards. Kai Van Sickle set the record of 2,774 yards for Capital in 2012.
Urlacher’s 139 first-half rushing yards vaulted him into second on the list.
By the fourth quarter, though, with Chiawana leading 21-6, the Hawks started a series 47 yards away from scoring and Urlacher needing 45 to tie Van Sickle.
His number was called all seven plays of the drive, and his final run was a 1-yard plunge, giving him his 33rd touchdown and the record to boot. He finished with 206 rushing yards.
“It’s a great achievement,” Urlacher said. “They had two big linemen we were worried about. But I think we could have been better up front.”
“(G-K) put nine guys in the box,” Graff said. “We’ve got to be able to move the ball. Our defense was on the field too long. When you’re up 21-0, you at least have to use more clock. And we turned the ball over.”
Still, Graff knows the key to his offense is giving the ball to Urlacher, “until Austin doesn’t take it anymore.”
One more game next week, then Urlacher and his teammates can rest for a while.
C — Logan Ellsworth 3 run (Matt Winn)
C — Josh Wilson 19 pass from Ellsworth (Winn kick)
C — Ellsworth 3 run (Winn kick)
GK — Dan Lorenz 2 run (run failed)
C — Austin Urlacher 1 run (Winn kick)
GK — Lorenz 1 run (pass failed)
RUSHING — GK, Shannon Edwards 17-57, Austin Ewell 2-29, Lorenz 5-11, Eian Olmos 1-(minus 2), Dylan Scaggs 1-(minus 7), Trevor Asbjornsen 4-(minus 15). Ch, Urlacher 33-206, Nate Murillo 7-20, Josh Wilson 2-18, Ellsworth 5-8, Dre Dorton 2-(minus 1).
PASSING — GK, Asbjornsen 11-25-3-154. Ch, Ellsworth 1-6-0-19, Dorton 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING — GK, Ewell 4-65, Olmos 1-43, Nate Affonso 1-12, Donald Walkinshaw 1-9, Noah Bales 1-11, Lorenz 1-9, Nathan Rainey 1-4, Edwards 1-1. Ch, Wilson 1-19.
FIRST DOWNS — GK 9, Ch 11. FUMBLES-LOST — GK 3-1, Ch 4-2. PENALTIES-YARDS — GK 3-21, Ch 8-56.