Hawks make in-game adjustment to slow Tumwater in state championship game
TUMWATER — The Hockinson defense knew this was going to be the biggest challenge of the season.
The players on that side of the ball knew it was going to be on them.
And after a quick punch to the jaw in the opening minutes of the Class 2A state football championship game Saturday, the Hockinson defense did just about everything right.
“There’s an old saying. ‘Offense wins games. Defense wins championships.’ We knew we had a good defense, so we knew we’d have a good game,” defensive lineman Nathan Balderas said.
It turned out to be a championship performance.
Hockinson won its first state title in program history, taking down Tumwater 35-22 at the Tacoma Dome.
Tumwater cruised 64 yards on the first drive of the game for a quick touchdown. However, the Thunderbirds would not score another touchdown until less than five minutes left in the game.
“Film. Watching film repeatedly and knowing what they were going to do,” linebacker Tony Richardson said. “Our scout team played a big part of it, too, helping us out. Without our scout team, we would not have done this.”
Richardson said nerves played a factor in the first drive of the game.
Oh, and Tumwater is really good.
“It was just speed. You can’t recreate their speed in practice,” linebacker Jonathan Domingos said. “We just had to get used to it.”
“We got a feel for how fast they were moving, how hard they were hitting,” added linebacker Colton Wheeler. “We just had to adjust, fly and contain, and that’s what we did.”
They did it in a hurry, too.
After that first touchdown, Tumwater recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff. The Thunderbirds went backward on that drive, losing nine yards, and settling for a field goal.
Hockinson coach Rick Steele said trailing 10-0 in the first four minutes of the game was not ideal, but it was a lot better than being down 14-0. It was early, but Steele said that second Tumwater drive of the game was a crucial stop for his squad.
Hockinson seemed to pick up confidence, too.
Tumwater would get four more possessions the rest of the half. The Thunderbirds went three-and-out, punt on the first two.
Then the Hockinson defense got fourth-down stops on consecutive possessions. The last one came after the Hawks turned it over. The sudden change of possession did not change the momentum of the game, thanks to the Hockinson defense.
“Bend, don’t break,” Steele said. “We bent hard a couple times but didn’t break all that much.”
Tumwater had a total of 16 yards on its first two possessions of the second half.
That gave the Hockinson offense time to take an 11-point lead at 21-10 early in the fourth quarter.
While Tumwater did score two times in the fourth quarter, the Thunderbirds never had the ball again trailing by one possession.
“Talk about the defense,” Hockinson coach Rick Steele said. “That’s Tumwater over there. I think we shocked them, I really do. Our defense, good golly.”
Capping this stellar effort, it was the Hockinson defense, not its offense, that scored the final points in this championship season. Aidan Mallory picked off a pass and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown.
“We were up for the challenge,” Mallory said of the entire defensive effort. “We practiced and learned our reads and our jobs.”
Then the Hawks went to work.