By Josh Kirshenbaum / firstname.lastname@example.org
TUMWATER — As Dan Hill straightened up, wiped his eyes clear, and took in the scene around him on Sid Otton Field, his young son came running up to him. Jumping into his arms, the little Hill put his hands on his father’s chest, looked up and down, and made the obvious observation:
Hill was indeed. His WF West team — none of whom would have been older than his son is now the last time that the Bearcats beat Tumwater — became the first Chehalis side to take down the mighty Thunderbirds since 2009, moving into pole position in the 2A EvCo with a 28-7 win that wasn’t as close as the score suggested.
And the Bearcats celebrated accordingly, starting with senior lineman Hunter Lutman.
“He was talking to me while we were in the victory formation, like, ‘Gage we’re going straight to the water,'” sophomore Gage Brumfield said.
After the final kneel-down, Lutman — like the lineman had all night for the Bearcats — led the way. Sprinting to the sideline as the handshake line formed at midfield, he grabbed one of the two gatorade jugs and upended them onto his coach’s head. Seconds later, the second one followed.
From there, it was a matter of handshakes, a rowdy rendition of the fight song with the Chehalis faithful that had spilled onto the field postgame, and a postgame coach’s talk that was more of a flash mob than a speech.
It was 13 years’ worth of catharsis, wearing white and red.
“It feels great,” senior lineman Daniel Matagi said. “For me it’s been four years in the making. For the rest of this community, it means so much more, being 13 years.”
And following an offseason and four weeks of rumblings in Lewis County, that maybe — just maybe — this could be WF West’s year, it took all of eight minutes to set the tone of how things were going to be.
After moving the chains twice on the Bearcats’ first possession, Gavin Fugate unloaded deep, dropping a dime over the top to Brumfield for a 36-yard gain. Two plays later, Tucker Land got to the sideline and scampered 9 yards on third-and-goal to put the visitors on the board.
Tumwater went nowhere on three plays and punted the ball back, and WF West went 65 yards on 10 plays, with Brumfield catching a 10-yard slant to get into the end zone.
Just like that, and WF West had scored more points than it had on Tumwater since 2015. But the onslaught would only continue.
“It was huge, getting off to a quick start,” Hill said. “It’s all about momentum in the game of football, and to be able to come in and have that momentum and carry it for two straight quarters, it showed me what this team is really capable of, and they’re capable of championship-type football.”
With its foot getting closer and closer to Tumwater’s throat, the WF West offense finally faltered, fumbling the ball away deep in its own territory. Three plays later, though, Cody Pennington picked off an Ethan Kastner pass, and the Bearcats promptly went 97 yards in a minute and a half, scoring on an Evan Stajduhar run with less than a minute to go before halftime to make it 28-0.
Fugate finished 15 for 24 — 14 of those completions came in the first half — for 254 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Brumfield hauled in seven receptions for 116 yards, Stajduhar caught five for 69, and Cameron Amoroso was on the end of Fugate’s other touchdown, getting behind the defense on a 56-yard bomb early in the second quarter.
“We knew we were going to need him, and Gavin stepped up and played a heck of a game tonight,” Hill said. “And our receivers, they played an excellent game.”
The offense cooled off significantly in the second half, but by then the deficit was far too great, thanks to the way the WF West defense was playing.
For the second straight week, the Bearcats pitched a defensive shutout, with Tumwater’s only touchdown coming on a Luke Reid pick-six in the third quarter. The Thunderbirds managed just 104 rushing yards, averaging under 3 yards per carry, despite holding the ball for the majority of the second half.
“It’s amazing,” Brumfield said. “I’m proud of our boys up front. They’ve been working. They’re crazy, and I love ’em.”
Carlos Matheney picked up 61 of those yards, on 15 carries. Quarterback Alex Overbay finished 4 for 14 for just 26 yards through the air, with Tumwater’s biggest play coming on a 34-yard toss by Reid to David Malroy on a bit of trickery.
But all of the trickery and misdirection available couldn’t hide the fact that for the first time since its current players were preschoolers, WF West won the physical battle in the trenches over Tumwater.
“I saw our linemen win us the ballgame tonight,” Hill said. “We knew they could do that, they believed in it, our players and coaching staff believed in them, and offensively and defensively up front, they played a solid game tonight. Without them, we don’t win this. They were incredible tonight.”
Tumwater (4-1, 1-1 2A EvCo) will try to bounce back into the win column back at home against Aberdeen. WF West, meanwhile, will return to Chehalis at 4-1, still undefeated in league play, with its biggest win in recent memory under its belt to face Rochester.
“I don’t know what statement we made, other than that we’re a real team,” Matagi said. “And this year, Chehalis is here to do big things. Chehalis is here to win championships.”