Tears openly flowed on Mount Si’s football field last season.
The Wildcats lost to Puyallup in the Class 4A state tournament quarterfinals, closing an era for quarterback Cale Millen and receiver Jonny Barrett, who broke multiple school and some state records.
Anytime Mount Si needed a big play, coach Charlie Kinnune would dial up a call for the electric duo.
As emotion overflowed from the 2018 team not achieving its goal of a state championship, doubt filtered in, too. Could a squad that had seven underclassmen on the field for the final drive against Puyallup even return to the state tournament?
“It’s not great to talk about your doubts of your own football team, but coming into the start of the season I definitely was not extremely confident about how we’d do and how far we would make it in the playoffs,” Mount Si senior lineman Gale Kamp said.
The Wildcats have not only returned, they’ve advanced a step further. Mount Si (10-2), which is seeded 11th, will face second-seeded Camas (12-0) in the semifinals Saturday afternoon at McKenzie Stadium in Vancouver.
Sure, another Millen in junior quarterback Clay is under center, but ask the Wildcats and they’ll tell you it’s not a team of stars that lifted Mount Si to this point. Millen, who’s thrown for 3,007 yards and 33 touchdowns in his first season as a starter, has seven receivers who’ve caught 20 or more passes.
Versatile junior Cole Norah didn’t return until Week 5 due to suffering an ACL injury during offseason 7-on-7 play. He’s scored five rushing and four receiving touchdowns in eight games.
Then there are juniors such as outside linebacker Daniel Harrison and corner Stuart DeMerit who helped two-way senior Colby Botten hold it down defensively before Botten suffered an injury. All were first-team KingCo 4A Crest Division selections while Kamp was named the Crest’s Lineman of the Year.
“I thought it would be a stretch for us to get to this point, mainly because of the teams that are out there,” Kinnune said. “I’m telling the kids we have lightning in a bottle and that lightning is the fact that we’re improving every day and nobody is counting stats. We have something very unique and you don’t always get that in a team atmosphere.”
This is the second time Mount Si has reached the football state tournament semifinals. The first was in 2012 as a Class 3A school. The Wildcats lost 37-7 to eventual state champion Bellevue.
It’s the first time in KingCo 4A history that the conference has had three programs represent it in the semifinals. The eighth-seeded Woodinville (11-1) hosts fifth-seeded Bothell (10-2) at Pop Keeney Stadium on Saturday.
But in eight of the past 10 seasons, at least one KingCo 4A school has advanced to the semis with Skyline (2009, 2011, 2012) and Bothell (2014) winning titles. As a county, 12 King County schools have represented the area in the semifinals of the Class 3A and 4A football tournaments the past decade.
“I’ve thought about this a lot,” Kinnune said of his theory in why the KingCo 4A schools have cultivated consistent success. “It’s players, it’s coaches, it’s facilities and it’s community and student support. In the KingCo, you have a crushing of all of that.
“But it wasn’t but a couple of years ago the eastside schools — the Gonzaga Preps, the Richlands, the Chiawanas — there were many of us who thought things were swinging East with those good, old-fashion programs. Then a few years later, there’s nobody from the East in the (quarterfinals).”
When it comes to coaching, Kinnune isn’t just talking about the top of the KingCo 4A programs. He said it’s the school administrations that ensure there’s funding for a full assistant coaching staff to help the head coach.
Part of that key support staff for Mount Si is strength development coach Brett Bergstrom. Kamp credits him for making him and teammates stronger last summer. While Kamp, an Eastern Washington commit, is listed at 256 pounds, the rest of the line’s average weight is barely over 220.
Yet, against bigger lines throughout the season, the Wildcats held their own. The highlight was the quarterfinal upset against third-seeded Lake Stevens last week. The Vikings entered the matchup averaging 240 rushing yards per game.
Mount Si held Lake Stevens to 101 rushing yards in the 24-21 road win.
“Not everybody shares the same mentality with getting into the weight room and how it’s going to help you in Week 13 like we’re in right now,” Kamp said of team’s voluntary summer workouts with Bergstrom. “It’s hard to get people to see the long-term goal and the point of getting up at 8:30 in the morning to lift.”
This week players have reflected on those tough summer sessions and how they’ve helped the Wildcats reach the eve of their first semifinal as a Class 4A school. A game that a year ago few thought they’d play.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Kamp said. “We’re the second team ever in Mount Si’s history to make it to the final four and you’d be amazed by the amount of guys that aren’t satisfied. We all see the bigger picture now and know we want a ring on our finger at the end of the year. We’ll stop at pretty much nothing to get that.”