PUYALLUP — In record-breaking fashion, Tumwater won its sixth state football championship in school history on Saturday.
Senior running back Hunter Baker darted 87 yards on second down with 1:18 left in the third quarter for a 41-20 lead that left little doubt as the Thunderbirds defeated Steilacoom 48-34 for the Class 2A title at Sparks Stadium.
“I got down to the last five yards and I was dying,” said Baker, who finished with 165 yards on 10 carries, scoring twice. “Until that timer hit zero, we fought and fought and fought. This team has the best brotherhood I’ve ever seen in my life, but without our (offensive) line blocking the way they do, I don’t think this win would be possible.”
Baker’s run was a Class 2A state-championship game record. The previous was an 83-yard scoring run in 1998 by Othello running back Isaac Johns.
Steilacoom quarterback Chance McDonald also rewrote the record book for pass completions and attempts. He topped former Hockinson star Canon Racanelli’s 2017 mark by completing 48 of 70 passes for 479 yards and four touchdowns.
McDonald’s 6-yard touchdown pass with 1:09 remaining in the game pulled the Sentinels within 41-34. But on the ensuing onside kick, Tumwater sophomore Austin Terry fielded a pop-up and ran it 43 yards for the game’s final touchdown.
“We were definitely nervous,” Thunderbirds senior running back Dylan Paine said of the final minutes. He led all rushers with 228 yards on 21 carries, scoring three touchdowns. “We know they’re one of the best passing teams in the state. Austin’s score was a little bit of relief taken off our shoulders, but we knew they were still dangerous. We just stayed locked in and finished strong.”
The teams played on a wet field on a chilly night due to afternoon rain. Washington Interscholastic Activities Association played its state championship games outside of the Tacoma Dome for the first time since 1995. The move from holding all classifications at the Tacoma Dome was due to cost in leasing the facility.
Steilacoom, which made its fourth consecutive postseason appearance, was playing in its first state championship game. The second-seeded Sentinels opened the scoring with a 28-yard pass from McDonald to junior Tre Horner with 8:48 left in the first quarter. He finished with 117 receiving yards on 10 catches.
The Thunderbirds (14-0), which was making its sixth title-game appearance, built a 13-6 lead early in the second quarter and took a 20-13 lead into the break after Paine sprinted in a 42-yard score with 1:05 on the clock.
Steilacoom (11-3) opened the second half with a penalty and missed tackle to help Tumwater score on a 55-yard touchdown run by Baker. The play put the Thunderbirds up 27-13.
The Sentinels responded with their own drive, capped by a 1-yard touchdown run from junior Emeka Egbuka, the Gatorade state player of the year. He led all receivers with 163 yards on 18 catches, scoring three TDs.
But Steilacoom’s defense couldn’t stop Tumwater.
“Tumwater’s had a lot of success over the years that started with coach (Sid) Otton,” said first-year Thunderbirds coach Bill Beattie, a former player who was the longtime coach of Olympia. “Just to be a part of this again and the tradition that just keeps carrying on, I’m so happy for these players, these coaches, everyone here. It’s been awesome.”
NOTE: This story has been corrected to reflect that the WIAA played its state-championship games outside the Tacoma Dome for the first time since 1995. The story originally reported that they were played outside for the first time since 1995, which was incorrect.