The top-ranked Tumwater Thunderbirds found a way to get back up – as Marc West told them he had done 5,185 times in life with football and a four-year battle with ALS – and came from behind to beat No. 4 Archbishop Murphy, 24-21, in a Class 2A state semifinal at the Tacoma Dome.
TACOMA – They couldn’t give up.
Not with Marc West watching from his wheelchair, his words fresh in their minds.
So the top-ranked Tumwater Thunderbirds found a way to get back up – as West told them he had done 5,185 times in life with football and a four-year battle with ALS – and came from behind to beat No. 4 Archbishop Murphy, 24-21, in a Class 2A state semifinal Saturday at the Tacoma Dome.
Tumwater (13-0) plays No. 6 Prosser (12-1) in the title game next Saturday at 10 a.m. The Mustangs beat defending-champion Sedro-Wooley in the other semifinal, 33-21.
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Archbishop Murphy (12-1) seemed in control with a 21-17 lead and the ball near midfield with less than two minutes to play. But Cade Otton forced a fumble, Tumwater recovered at the ATM 45 and Spencer Dowers ultimately hit Noah Andrews for a 10-yard touchdown with 1:15 left.
The Wildcats might have had a chance for a tying field goal, but clock mismanagement proved costly.
It was a speech West gave the team earlier this month that helped inspire the Thunderbirds, Otton and Andrews said. West, who played at the University of Washington in the late 1980s, talked about how football prepared him for his toughest fight, against ALS, and how important it is to get back up when someone or something knocks you down.
“That definitely had a large impact on us,” said Otton, grandson of coach Sid Otton and a big factor on both sides of the football. “Talk about never giving up, he’s the ultimate example of that. He inspired us all.”
Andrews, who had 102 yards rushing with a TD and also threw for 142 yards out of the Wildcat formation, agreed.
“His mental game of staying alive and not giving up, it made us realize we needed to have that same mentality,” he said.
The T-Birds, seeking their first title since 2010, are also driven by last year’s semifinal loss to Sedro-Woolley.
And this loss will motivate Archbishop Murphy, according to junior Anfernee Gurley.
“There’s a little sting that comes with losing games like these, so that’s going to motivate us next year,” he said. “We promised each other that we’re going to make it back here.”
The Wildcats led 21-7 at halftime after Connor Johnson scored on a 1-yard keeper on the final play – a score set up by his 40-yard pass to Bailey Sing-Halpin.
It was 21-14 when the Wildcats came up with a big defensive stop in the red zone – but they fumbled the ball back and Tumwater capitalized with a 29-yard field goal by Nathan Seaman.
Johnson, a junior, threw for 293 yards and his 36-yard toss to Gurley set ATM up at the Tumwater 34 with 29 seconds to play. But the clock expired as he scrambled around on the next play as Aiden Slater took him down.
Coach Otton said the victory – his state-record 384th – rated “right up there” with some of the other great ones he has had in his 48-year career.