Hockinson headed to state football semifinals

Canon Racanelli throws for three touchdowns and rushes for two more scores as Hawks defeat Liberty 34-20

BATTLE GROUND — These Hockinson Hawks always believed they could be the best team in school history.

They proved it Saturday night at District Stadium.

Canon Racanelli threw for 302 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for two more scores, and the Hockinson defense made all the right adjustments, leading the Hawks to a 34-20 victory over Liberty of Issaquah in a Class 2A state football quarterfinal playoff game.

Hockinson (12-0)  is going to the state semifinals for the first time. The Hawks will be on the road against West Valley of Spokane. (Time, day, and site to be determined.)

Hockinson quarterback Canon Racanelli (12) fires a pass during Saturday’s 34-20 win over Liberty in the quarterfinals of the Class 2A state high school football playoffs. Racanelli threw three touchdown passes and ran for two more scores to lead the Hawks. Photo by Mike Schultz
Hockinson quarterback Canon Racanelli (12) fires a pass during Saturday’s 34-20 win over Liberty in the quarterfinals of the Class 2A state high school football playoffs. Racanelli threw three touchdown passes and ran for two more scores to lead the Hawks. Photo by Mike Schultz

The Hawks don’t care where they will be playing in Week 13. They just care that they made it to Week 13.

“It’s something special,” Racanelli said. “We knew we had the right group of dudes.”

“I’ve been part of every one of the greatest teams to make it this far,” Ryan Sleasman said, noting the Hockinson teams that reached the quarterfinals in 2014 and 2015. “Finally, we’re taking the next step. This is finally the team we did it with.”

Hockinson coach Rick Steele also thought of the past while considering the present. He noted all the Week 10 playoff losses in the early years. Then getting to back-to-back quarterfinal appearances. Now this.

“Our program is taking this step forward because we believe we can play with anybody in the state. We haven’t always felt that way,” Steele said. “This group, they’re winners. They know how to win. They know there is a different level of football (in the playoffs), and they’re playing at it.”

Hockinson receiver Peyton Brammer (9) makes a eye-opening catch during the Hawks’ victory over Liberty Saturday at District Stadium in Battle Ground. Photo by Mike Schultz
Hockinson receiver Peyton Brammer (9) makes a eye-opening catch during the Hawks’ victory over Liberty Saturday at District Stadium in Battle Ground. Photo by Mike Schultz

There was no panic in the Hawks when Liberty marched down the field and scored on the opening possession of the game. Hockinson, a team that has had one close game going into the fourth quarter all season, all of a sudden trailed.

“The brotherhood is really strong on this team. We knew we had to step up,” said Sleasman, one of the senior leaders and a defensive lineman who made play after play after that initial drive. “We talked about all of our mistakes. We fixed them. Then we played 110 percent.”

Liberty rushed for 73 yards on that first drive.

“We expected one thing, and we got another,” Sleasman said. “They caught us off guard. We just adjusted. We never worried about it.”

Steele said it was difficult to replicate the Liberty offense in practice.

“Our defense just had to learn it (in the game),” the coach explained.

Hockinson linebackers Tony Richardson (35) and Colton Wheeler (44) join together to bring down a Liberty ball carrier in Saturday’s state quarterfinal playoff game at District Stadium in Battle Ground. Photo by Mike Schultz
Hockinson linebackers Tony Richardson (35) and Colton Wheeler (44) join together to bring down a Liberty ball carrier in Saturday’s state quarterfinal playoff game at District Stadium in Battle Ground. Photo by Mike Schultz

The Hawks did just that, holding LIberty to 33 yards on the ground the rest of the game.

With the defense doing its thing, the Hockinson offense shined.

Colton Wheeler recovered a Liberty fumble, leading to a Canon Racanelli touchdown pass to Sawyer Racanelli to tie the game at 7.

Canon scored on a QB sneak from a yard out in the first minute of the second quarter. Liberty used a trick play for a 51-yard touchdown pass to make it 14-all, but the Hawks went 80 yards on nine plays for a 21-14 lead on another Racanelli-to-Racanelli touchdown.

A Liberty field goal made it 21-17 at the half.

It was pretty much all Hawks in the second half.

Canon Racanelli scored on a 10-yard run on the first series of the third quarter. On that drive, the Hawks converted a third-down play when Liberty inexplicably rushed just three guys toward the quarterback. Racanelli just waited and waited for a receiver to get open, then found Peyton Brammer for a 34-yard gain.

Hockinson quarterback Canon Racanelli (12) embraces his father Josh Racanelli, one of the team’s assistant coaches, after the Hawks earned a trip to the Class 2A state semifinals with a victory over Liberty Saturday. Photo by Mike Schultz
Hockinson quarterback Canon Racanelli (12) embraces his father Josh Racanelli, one of the team’s assistant coaches, after the Hawks earned a trip to the Class 2A state semifinals with a victory over Liberty Saturday. Photo by Mike Schultz

Brammer would end up with a team-high 92 yards receiving. Sawyer Racanelli caught six passes for 80 yards.

The Hockinson defense forced a three-and-out, with Sleasman getting a tackle-for-loss and then a sack on back-to-back plays. The Hockinson offense then went 61 yards on six plays, with Canon finding Matt Henry on a 24-yard touchdown pass for a 34-17 lead. The Hawks converted a third-and-29 play to keep this drive alive when Jake Beslanowitch caught a 38-yard pass.

Canon Racanelli ended up completing 19 of 28 passes for his 302 yards. His three TD passes give him 50 on the season, and he now has 15 rushing touchdowns.

Liberty got another field goal toward the end of the third quarter that capped the scoring for the game.

The fourth quarter belonged to the Hockinson defense. Liberty had the ball twice, trailing by just two touchdowns. One score would have given the Hawks a bit more drama. The Hawks said no way.

Sophomore Nathan Balderas had a tackle-for-loss on one play, then caused another sack on the next play, holding on to the Liberty quarterback long enough until a couple teammates finished the job.

“Gotta give the credit to my teammates,” Balderas said. “I only made a couple plays.”

Still, he played a key role in a defense that was challenged, then stepped up to that challenge.

“We let a couple big plays go by. We recouped after that. After that first drive, we had to bring it, and we did,” Balderas said.

Oh yeah, Canon Racanelli also plays defense. He had an interception in the end zone to kill one LIberty drive.

Tony Richardson also had a sack that led to the end of LIberty’s final chance with the ball.

Hockinson killed the final 4 minutes, 37 seconds to get into Victory Formation.

Hockinson lineman Nathan Balderas (71) and teammate Sawyer Racanelli (11) take a moment to share the joy of the Hawks’ Saturday playoff victory. Photo by Mike Schultz
Hockinson lineman Nathan Balderas (71) and teammate Sawyer Racanelli (11) take a moment to share the joy of the Hawks’ Saturday playoff victory. Photo by Mike Schultz

“It’s crazy thinking this is where our program has come in four years,” Canon Racanelli said. “We earned this. We worked hard in the weight room all year.”

“We’ve got to keep rolling,” Balderas added. “Hopefully we’ll make it to the dome.”

This is all new for the Hockinson Hawks. The semifinals next week. A win there, and a trip to the Tacoma Dome for the state championship game.

No matter what happens, though, this team has made school history.

It started with a belief. Now, it is fact.


HOCKINSON 34, LIBERTY 20

Liberty 7 10 3 0 — 20

Hockinson 7 14 13 0 — 34

First quarter

L — Jacob Thoresen 18 run (Holden Kooiker kick)

H — Sawyer Racanelli 12 pass from Canon Racanelli (Nick Charles kick)

Second quarter

H — C. Racanelli 1 run (Charles kick)

L — Thoresen 51 pass from Jake Wright (Kooiker kick)

H — S. Racanelli 16 pass from C. Racanelli (Charles kick)

L — Kooiker 42 FG

Third quarter

H — C. Racanelli 10 run (Charles kick)

H — Matt Henry 24 pass from C. Racanelli (kick failed)

L — Kooiker 37 FG

Individual statistics

RUSHING: Liberty: Reilly Larson 6-19, Thoresen 4-32, Sam Coulon 6-22, Mason Vold 1-4, Samuel Brown 20-21, Wright 8-23, Team 1-(minus 15). Hockinson: Colton Wheeler 11-51, C. Racanelli 15-51, S. Racanelli 1-4, Bailey Jones 2-5, Team 3-(minus 3).

PASSING: Liberty: Brown 5-9-0-101, Wright 1-1-0-51, Kahlil Manning 0-1-1-0. Hockinson: C. Racanelli 19-28-0-302.

RECEIVING: Liberty: Coulon 1-19, Thoresen 1-51, Tyler Suttles 1-5, Wright 2-49, Vold 1-28. Hockinson: Peyton Brammer 4-92, S. Racanelli 6-80, Matt Henry 4-37, Nicholas Frichtl 3-51, Jake Beslanowitch 1-38, Levi Crum 1-4

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About The Author

Paul Valencia joins ClarkCountyToday.com after more than two decades of newspaper experience. He became the face of high school sports coverage in Clark County during his 17 years at The Columbian. Before moving to Vancouver, Paul worked at Oregon daily newspapers in Pendleton, Roseburg, and Salem. A graduate of David Douglas High School in Portland, Paul enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving three years as a soldier/journalist. He and his wife Jenny recently celebrated their 20th anniversary. They have a son who has a passion for karate and Minecraft. Paul’s hobbies include: Watching the Raiders play football, reading about the Raiders playing football, and waiting to watch and read about the Raiders playing football.

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