It’s the first time two Seattle Public Schools have played for a spot in a state title game. Three of the four semifinal spots are from Seattle as O’Dea faces Bellevue.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised.
We, meaning Seattle-area residents who follow the high-school football scene. Scroll through Garfield and Rainier Beach’s rosters and the talent is abundant. Naturally, that should translate into the programs contending for a state championship.
And yet, few saw Saturday’s historic playoff coming. The Class 3A state semifinal game between Rainier Beach (8-2) and Garfield (7-5) is the first with two public schools from the city. (Of course, they are state basketball powers. Before Nathan Hale’s run last year, they won the previous five state titles.)
State football semifinals
All games Saturday Class 4A
Central Valley (10-1) vs. Richland (12-0)
At Edgar Brown Stadium, Pasco 1 p.m.
Woodinville (12-0) vs. Sumner (11-2)
At Sparks Stadium, Puyallup, 5 p.m.
Bellevue (11-1) vs. O’Dea (10-1)
At Pop Keeney Stadium, Bothell, noon
Garfield (7-5) vs. Rainier Beach (8-2)
At Pop Keeney Stadum, Bothell, 5 p.m.
Hockinson (12-0) vs. West Valley (12-0)
At Gonzaga Prep, Spokane, noon
Archbishop Murphy (11-1) vs. Tumwater (10-2)
At Sparks Sadium, noon
Newport (11-1) vs. Royal (12-0)
Lions Field, Moses Lake, 1 p.m.
La Center (10-2) vs. Meridian (12-0)
Civic Stadium, Bellingham, 4 p.m.
Kalama (12-0) vs. Napavine (11-1)
Central High School, 7 p.m.
Asotin (9-3) vs. Liberty (12-0)
Gonzaga Prep, Spokane, 3 p.m.
Odessa (11-0) vs. Sunnyside Christian (12-0)
At Edgar Brown Stadium, Pasco, 4 p.m.
Almira/Coulee-Hartline (10-2) vs. Lummi (9-3)
Civic Stadium, Bellingham, 1 p.m.
“It’s never happened before where two inner-city, black teams have played for a state championship berth,” Rainier Beach athletic director George Foster said. “I was looking at Facebook the other day and somebody called it ‘The Hood Classic.’ And it is. These are neighborhood rivals — the CD (Central District) versus the South End.”
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This could be the biggest game between two city teams since the days of Bruce Harrell and Anthony Allen. The future University of Washington stars were part of the 1975 Garfield team that lost to Metro League rival Bishop Blanchet in a first-round game. The game was played before a sold-out crowd of almost 13,000 at Memorial Stadium. Garfield lost in four overtimes, 42-35.
“They had to bring in extra bleachers for the end zone,” said Foster, who was a sophomore at Sammamish, which beat Blanchet the next week. “I sat on the Garfield side and was way up high because I got there late. It was electric.”
Many expect a similar feel at Pop Keeney Stadium for Saturday’s 5 p.m. game. O’Dea (10-1) plays its state semifinal matchup against Bellevue (11-1) at noon as part of twinbill.
“I’ve asked people who they think will win and it’s 50-50,” said Fighting Irish coach Monte Kohler, who has led his program the past three decades. “The idea of the Metro League having three teams in the semis is cool and can you believe one Seattle public school will be in the state championship? People are excited about that. And the collection of kids that will be on the field Saturday is pretty special. There’s a lot of energy about this.”
The Beach-Garfield game will feature 15 legitimate Division I prospects, according to Brandon Huffman, a longtime scout for 247Sports.com. Garfield senior receiver Tre’Shaun Harrison (Oregon) and Rainier Beach junior lineman Nathaniel Kalepo (Washington) are already committed to Pac-12 schools.
Garfield coach Joey Thomas and Rainier Beach coach Corey Sampson designed their schedules to put their players in position to contend for a state title. Sampson pinpointed travel and hostile road environments and started his season by taking his team to Oregon to play Madison.
Beach won 34-6. And during its state-tournament run, the Vikings traveled 650 miles to collect wins at Mt. Spokane and Peninsula.
Thomas went the ultracompetitive route. Four of the Bulldogs’ eight regular-season opponents played for a state title in the past two years. Garfield was outscored 142-55 in losing all four. In the playoffs, the Bulldogs upset top-ranked Eastside Catholic and Lincoln (which finished the season ranked fourth) by a combined six points.
“Garfield probably thinks they can go beat the Seahawks the way they’ve been rolling,” Huffman said. “You look at Corey, and he has an intensity to him but is very laid back. There was never the high expectations and they go on to have a great season. Joey has done a fantastic job of rallying the second-half of the season.”
Beach defeated Garfield 27-12 at Memorial Stadium in October. A difference-maker was Vikings senior quarterback Max Nall, who started under center for the Bulldogs last season. He opened the game with a fumble, but was savvy enough with Garfield’s defensive scheme to help get the win.
“The last couple of years, we’ve been building the program,” said Sampson, who was the starting quarterback for Franklin’s 1990 and 1991 state semifinal teams. “I knew we had the pieces to go a little further this year. But this, it takes me back to the 1990s when Franklin, Garfield and Rainier Beach were competitive. It’s been a long time, so it feels like a state-championship type of game. It’s huge for the community.”