VANCOUVER — It’s a time-honored move in many industries. Take one step backward to take two steps forward.
Works in high school football, too, or so Skyview is proving that this fall.
Storm coach Steve Kizer put together a ridiculous schedule for his team this fall. It included non-leaguers against Class 3A No. 1 Eastside Catholic and No. 2 O’Dea, and 4A No. 1 Camas, all during the season’s first six weeks.
Heading into Saturday’s semifinal playoff games, Eastside Catholic, O’Dea and Camas are a combined 35-1, the one loss coming in a head-to-head between Eastside and O’Dea. Skyview was a victim to all three.
The Storm came out of the first six weeks with a 3-3 record, but a team that knew it could weather just about anything. Skyview was competitive with all three, taking Eastside Catholic and O’Dea into the final minutes.
Skyview (9-3) hasn’t lost since, running off six straight wins as it heads to the Tri-Cities to face Richland (12-0) in a 4A semifinal game at 3 p.m. Saturday. The winner advances to the 4A state championship game at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 3 in the Tacoma Dome.
Kizer says that because Skyview plays only four Greater St. Helens League games, the options are limited in finding five non-league opponents. Not that he’s complaining.
“The teams that seem to have openings always seem to be pretty good. And we try to play the best schedule possible,” Kizer said.
At 3-3, anything could have happened to Skyview, particularly in a league with Camas, Battle Ground and Union, and only two available berths. It’s not like the Storm have a veteran-laden team, either. In last Saturday’s quarterfinal win over Lake Stevens, Kizer said the entire starting defense was made up of juniors. There are few starting seniors on offense, though one is quarterback Brody Barnum.
“We didn’t change our approach one bit, and I think the kids appreciated that. Whether we win or lose, we just try to get better every day,” Kizer said.
The biggest game of the season, as it turns out, isn’t Richland or Lake Stevens, but the Week 7 game against Battle Ground, a 17-14 Storm win. That game not only kicked off a six-game winning streak, it was the deciding factor between Skyview and the Tigers, who went 7-2 this season but didn’t make the playoffs.
“We’ve been in sudden death every game starting with Battle Ground. We lose one, and we’re done,” Kizer said.
Skyview won its final three regular season games, then peeled off three consecutive playoff wins over Olympia (38-27), Chiawana (38-28) and Lake Stevens (35-14) heading into Richland.
Kizer says the win over Lake Stevens might have been the Storm’s best performance of the season. He’s particularly impressed with the progress of Skyview’s defensive line.
“It’s allowed us to play two safeties high and still stop the run, and get good pressure without blitzing. That D-line is athletic,” Kizer said.
Barnum, who signed a baseball letter of intent with Washington State earlier in November, has been on fire during the playoffs, completing 51 of 79 passes for 784 yards and eight touchdowns.
This is Skyview’s third semifinal appearance since 2009. In 2011, Skyview reached the state championship game, losing to Skyline 38-7.
Skyview remains a decided underdog in the playoffs, as the other semifinalists – Richland, Camas, Sumner – are all 12-0.
“Our guys are loose. I mean, we’ve already lost three games. Nobody expects anything out of us. We’re out to show the world that we improved each week and we’re not the same team we were when we lost those three games,” Kizer said.
That may not be the case next year, when Skyview’s junior-dominated roster of 2016 becomes seniors.
No. 1 in the state, anyone?
“C’mon man, don’t start that. We want to be like this, where nobody thinks anything about us,” Kizer said.