Tom Bainter will never forget the last time his Bothell Cougars played against a Steve Graff football team.
It was 2006, in the 4A state quarterfinals, and Bothell won it against Pasco 43-40 … in nine overtimes. That’s still a state record.
It was also a mentally exhausting contest.
“It was a quarterfinal game, so for the seniors, I’ll guess any of 50 plays could end your season just like that,” said Bainter. “To be honest, when the game was over, if you had been two minutes late you wouldn’t have known who had won that game. Kids on both teams were crying.”
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But Bainter also remembers something else.
“I remember how gracious Coach Graff and the whole staff was afterwards,” said Bainter. “I think we developed a respect for one another.”
That respect gets tested tonight, as Bainter’s Cougars (13-0) take on Graff and his staff, all who have moved over to Chiawana (12-1), to play the Riverhawks in the WIAA 4A state football championship at 7:30 p.m. in the Tacoma Dome.
That respect will be noticeable on the field. Bainter said his team will sport GraffStrong decals on their helmets for the game.
GraffStrong has been the team’s motto this season, ever since Graff’s youngest son, junior Mac, was injured in a hunting accident in September. Mac has been in a wheelchair ever since.
It puts things in perspective, said Bainter.
“This,” he said, “is just a football game.”
But make no mistake. Both teams want to win it.
Both coaches believe it won’t be easy to come away with a victory.
“They remind us a lot of Camas last year,” said Graff. “They’re really good. I don’t see many weaknesses.”
Here’s a quick look at tonight’s matchup:
WHEN BOTHELL HAS THE BALL
The Cougars are led by quarterback Ross Bowers, who is committed to play for California next fall.
Bowers has thrown for more than 3,200 yards this season and 36 touchdown passes.
His favorite target is Dayzell Wilson, a 6-foot-2 standout of a receiver who has caught 21 of Bowers’ TD passes.
Bowers and Wilson were named to the Seattle Times’ Star Times Offensive unit.
A third Bothell player was, too: running back Sam McPherson. But the Cougars lost McPherson to an ACL injury a few weeks ago.
Despite the loss of McPherson, Bainter expects to mix the pass with the run.
“We’re gonna be who we are,” said Bainter. “We’ll throw and run.”
That’s what they still do, said Graff, after watching film.
“They still run the football well,” said Graff. “(Bowers) can sling the football. But they can be balanced.”
Chiawana will counter with Juan Noyola and Christian Penny leading the way on the defensive line; Caleb Weber and Nate Murillo at linebacker; and Isaiah Richie, Dre Dorton and Dillon Coonrad in the secondary.
It has been a very strong defensive lineup all season.
“We haven’t found a weakness yet,” said Bainter. “So we’ll mix it up, give them different personnel to look at and different looks.”
The Riverhawks’ front seven will need to get pressure on Bowers. If that happens, that could alleviate some pressure on the Chiawana secondary.
And they must keep Wilson on lockdown.
“If we can’t cover him, we’re in trouble,” said Graff.
WHEN CHIAWANA HAS THE BALL
It’s no secret what the Riverhawks do: give the ball to senior running back Austin Urlacher, who set the single-season 11-man state record for rushing yardage in a season (2,776) last weekend.
Urlacher has found the end zone 31 times.
Quarterback Logan Ellsworth has 1,242 passing yards this season, with 15 touchdown passes against seven interceptions.
Dorton leads the team in receiving with 23 catches for 394 yards.
Jake Martin was named the Mid-Columbia Conference’s Outstanding Offensive Lineman this season.
“They’ve got a big, physical line,” said Bainter. “A running back who has gained 2,700-plus yards. They run the double tight end sets, the fly motion, so we know we’ve got to stop the run.
“They have a quarterback who can throw the ball, and they’ve got some good receivers,” he continued. “But we know they run the ball.”
The Cougars are led by linebackers Shawn Munro and Jacob Johnston.
“I think they’re one of the top defenses in the KingCo, so they’ve got to be pretty decent,” said Graff. “They have strong linebackers. We have to play a full 48 minutes against them. We can’t turn the ball over. In the Newport (semifinal) game, the first two turnovers turned into points for them.”
No one has stopped Urlacher yet this season, though.
“They’re going to be tough to stop,” said Graff. “But they have to stop us, too.”