In this week’s addition, I’ll take a look at how the Kennedy Lancers showed they’re still a threat, how Bishop Blanchet is proving to its coach that this team is different and how a freshman quarterback learned he was starting moments before kickoff, then led his team to a win in a rivalry game.
Plus, as always, I’ll have quotes, big performances and rankings.
But first, a look at why teams are playing more travel games, what that means for high school football and a proposal I’m making for future out-of-state games.
A story worth watching
At the Sea-Tac Airport on Thursday morning, the top-ranked 4A Skyline Spartans and the top-ranked 2A Archbishop Murphy Wildcats crossed paths before leaving town.
Skyline boarded a plane headed to the Salt Lake City area, where the Spartans demolished Cottonwood High 57-25 on Friday. Archbishop Murphy boarded a plane for San Diego, where the Wildcats took down a bigger University City 40-26.
“It’s pretty neat that two teams ranked No. 1 in the state in their classifications are at the airport at the same time heading out to basically represent Washington football,” Archbishop Murphy coach Bill Marsh said on Friday morning.
More and more, high school football teams are venturing beyond their cities and states for games. Proponents of these out-of-state games point to several positives: Students get to see new cultures and parts of the country, it creates a lifelong memory, it’s good exposure and it allows teams to compete against different competition.
Opponents tend to point to three major counterpoints: The games, because of travel, are expensive to play, students miss class and they chip away at the amateurism of high school football, making it a little more collegiate.
In the first two weeks of the season, three Seattle-area teams have participated in such games. Bellevue played host to Trinity from Euless, Texas, in Week 1. Then, on Friday, Skyline and Archbishop Murphy left the comforts of Washington.
Since 2004, Bellevue has played five teams from California, two from Texas, one from Oregon and one from British Columbia. Since 2008, Skyline has played four teams from Oregon, one from California and one from Utah. And Marsh, the Archbishop Murphy coach, said his team hopes to get “on an airplane every other year.”
So what does it mean for high school football? Is it good for the sport? Bad? Indifferent?
“When these first started, I wasn’t the biggest fan of it because we have great football in Washington,” said Marsh, who is in his first year at ATM. “But with everything Bellevue and Skyline have done, I just think it’s great for us to showcase that we do have great football in the Northwest because all I hear about is Texas, California and Florida. I’ve really grown fond of doing this kind of thing.”
When he took over before this season, Marsh said school administrators approached him with the idea of traveling to San Diego for a game. “It was like, ‘Yeah, OK, twist my arm,'” he joked.
Marsh understands the concerns behind playing out-of-state games; his players missed two days of classes because of this one. But he also has ammo against that argument.
For one, he has five educators on his staff and the team has study hall on the road. Second, he said, traveling for a football game is no different than a marching band traveling to the Rose Bowl or a debate team heading to nationals.
“Are they missing some valuable class time?” he said. “Of course they are. But when you put it in the context of the entire experience and all those things that come with it, I think the tradeoff is worth it.”
Said second-year Bellevue principal Scott Powers: “If you’re successful in debate or DECA, you move all the way from regional to state to national competitions. I’m not suggesting we should move to a national championship or any of those situations at all, but these early season games where we’re playing some great teams and getting a chance to showcase ourselves, I don’t have an issue with that in any way.”
Marsh, Skyline coach Mat Taylor and Bothell coach Tom Bainter all said playing out-of-state games increases offseason accountability and provides incentive for students.
“There’s a motivational aspect to it in the offseason that can really help your athletes stay in the weight room and really do the things they need to do with grades and their physical health,” Bainter said.
As far as the costs, Marsh said his team has an auction each year. He said the school fronted some of the travel costs this year and that auction and fundraising will pay it back. Powers, the Bellevue principal, said the football team’s travel is not school-financed and that fundraising, returns from the ticket gate and the booster club contribute to covering expenses.
The counterargument to all of this leans heavily on the idea of amateur athletics. As Murray Sperber, the former Indiana professor and author of several books detailing the corruption of amateurism, said on NPR and in a Sports Illustrated article in 2004: “There’s never been this kind of national schedule [for high school football] before, and particularly between high schools who travel great distances to play each other. There’s a kind of inevitability to this, but you don’t have to like it. I personally think it’s terrible.”
There’s also the question of whether national television exposure is actually a good thing for 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds. “I have the same concerns, I will say, about nationally televised games and what those do,” said Mike Colbrese, the WIAA’s executive director who said his organization has no official stance on out-of-state games. “I like the exposure if you can get your message across that these are still kids that are part of an educational experience. I think that’s great.”
There’s also concern of schools playing teams above their caliber. Marsh said that originally his team was scheduled to play Mission Viejo, a powerhouse and far bigger school than Archbishop Murphy. Instead, Marsh had his team play the smaller and more comparable University City.
In 2010, Bainter and his Bothell Cougars took on a talented Mission Viejo team at Qwest Field (now CenturyLink). Bothell lost 49-13, and the Cougars also lost more: Three players suffered ACL injuries in the game.
“The kids were lost for the whole year,” Bainter said. “Three of them. Three starters. It was at Qwest so it wasn’t the turf that caused the injures. The question was, ‘Did you put your team in a situation where they were overwhelmed or outmatched or outclassed a little bit?'”
And while Bainter said he carefully reviewed each injury and decided that, no, the quality of the opponent didn’t cause the injuries, the concern for teams biting off more than they can chew exists.
Yet, as Colbrese said, “We all have to realize that this is here. It’s part of what we deal with these days. It’s part of the landscape now.”
So here’s my modest proposal for out-of-state travel games, and it’s something that hit me after talking to Trinity coach Scott Lineweaver the day before his team played Bellevue. “I wish we had time to go tour Boeing and Microsoft, but we’re just kind of limited,” he said. “If we could stay another day, we could do some of those but then you get in to finances.”
Finances, of course, are a huge concern, if not the concern with these games. But here’s a way to get the best of both worlds.
If a team plays Friday night, schedule a late-night or red-eye flight on Saturday. Then teams can use Saturday to do something educationally or culturally rewarding, whether it be visiting a historic monument, university, theme park or attraction that has meaning to that place.
“If we were to do this again, we would have scheduled a late-night flight out on Saturday and then done a Sea World or something to add to the cultural experience of it,” Marsh said. “This might be the only time some of these kids get to come to San Diego. And not only would we have done that, I would have scheduled us an opportunity to go to San Diego State and the University of San Diego and take advantage of this opportunity, especially for our upperclassmen.”
Freshman QB gets nod before kickoff, then leads team in rivalry game
Right before kickoff, Eastside Catholic coach Jeremy Thielbahr got on his headset and talked with his assistants. In that moment, Thielbahr and his staff determined that senior starting quarterback Trey Reynolds wasn’t healthy enough to play.
He then gathered all of his quarterbacks and broke the news: The Crusaders were starting Harley Kirsch. A freshman. Against Eastlake, a neighboring rival and 4A school.
“Our whole team, including the coaches and including me, thought Trey Reynolds was going to the start the game,” Thielbahr said. “But when we saw Trey in warm-ups and he wasn’t able to perform, I had to grab the offense and tell them. Our senior-laden offensive line, our senior tight end and our junior running back said, ‘Good, because Harley is going to win us this game.'”
Which is exactly what Kirsch did, guiding Eastside Catholic to a 30-12 win in the first-ever meeting between two schools separated by only a mile. Kirsch completed 15 of 24 passes (63 percent) with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He also carried the ball 20 times for 117 yards and a touchdown.
“I think it probably helps that we didn’t tell him to the last minute because he didn’t have time to think about it,” Thielbahr said. “But he’s a kid who is mature beyond his years and was able to run the offense. And it’s not an easy offense to run. It’s no huddle, multiple sets and we’re calling protections and plays on the line of scrimmage. It’s not walking in and handing the ball off 25 times. The quarterback has a lot on his shoulders.”
Yet the moment is one Kirsch prepared for. Early in the week, Kirsch watched enough film of Eastlake’s defense to be able to discuss the Wolves with Eastside Catholic’s coaches.
“Harley comes in my office and basically gives me a rundown of everything Eastlake was doing,” Thielbahr said. “He’s a football junkie and loves to watch tape. He has a focus that’s pretty amazing.”
Said Kirsch, “The coaches were asking me all these things, and I understood what they were saying. I watched enough film that I was able to communicate with them and tell them what I thought. I think that helped me in terms of understanding what they usually do in this or that situation.”
The game’s big moment came at the end of the first half with the score tied at 10 and Kirsch running the two-minute drill. As the half neared an end, Kirsch rolled out and delivered a strike to Johnny Michalik for a 10-yard touchdown with eight seconds left that capped a 7-play, 80-yard drive.
“I think that was a big moment for him and a big moment for the team,” Thielbahr said. “That didn’t end the game because Eastlake is a great team. But it certainly put one of the nails in the coffin.”
Kirsch said he was excited and nervous when he learned he would make the start. He didn’t even have enough time to tell his parents or friends, who found out when Kirsch ran onto the field for the first time.
“I had a lot of mixed feelings at the time,” he said. “Luckily, I went through the game and got less and less nervous.”
He had his rough spots, including those two interceptions, but for the most part Thielbahr said Kirsch played his part well.
Kirsch traveled to the University of Texas this summer to participate in the U.S. under-15 national team’s developmental week. He also competed in the Arena Youth Football League last spring, which he said forced him to develop a quick release and make quick decisions – all of which came in handy on Friday.
“In a situation like that, it’s almost kind of a challenge just to remember all the little things to make the offense run right like you’re supposed to,” Kirsch said. “But then I settled down and it got easier from there.”
Kennedy Catholic eases ‘nervous’ coach with win
Before his team played Roosevelt on Saturday night, Kennedy coach Bob Bourgette was nervous. “Really, really nervous,” Bourgette said.
The Lancers had dropped their first game of the season to a top-five Mount Si team and were now facing the prospect of starting the season 0-2.
“Kennedy, we pride ourselves on our program,” Bourgette said. “I knew we had an opportunity to lose two in a row. When you look at a goose egg with two losses, that’s tough. The thing that really made me a believer of this football team is the way they gutted it out in that fourth quarter.”
Yep, Kennedy avoided going 0-2 by scoring the final 13 points in a 26-20 win against Roosevelt. First, Kennedy tied the game when Cole Madison capped a 15-play drive with a 1-yard touchdown run in the fourth.
But the play of the game came when linebacker Zach Nobmann forced a fumble, giving the ball back to the Lancers around midfield. That helped erase two Kennedy fumbles when Colin Cossette scored a 4-yard touchdown with about two minutes left.
Bourgette said quarterback Conner Richardson and his passing helped Kennedy overcome Roosevelt’s physical style at the line (Kennedy attempted only three passes against Mount Si). Richardson also had a 3-yard touchdown run and returned a fumble for a touchdown.
“It was like a big weight off their shoulders,” Bourgette said.
And for Roosevelt, Roughriders coach Matt Nelson said he learned something about his team too.
“We know we’re right there on the doorstep of being able to compete with big-time programs,” Nelson said.
Blanchet Braves prove themselves once again to their coach
Editor’s Note: A previous edition of this story had Blanchet’s punter as Jake Peterson instead of Jack Peterson. I regret the mistake.
The Bishop Blanchet Braves liked where they stood against North Kitsap, holding a 12-point lead at the half. Then this: three straight drives, three straight turnovers, 21 straight points for North Kitsap.
And yet, once again, the Braves grinded out a win, relying on a fake punt and another late-game interception in grabbing a 25-21 win to start the season 2-0. More than that, the Braves proved, at least to their coach, that this group is different from those before it.
“Our kids the last two weeks have been so resilient battling through that adversity,” Blanchet coach Aaron Maul said. “The last few years there’s no way our groups would have. We’d be sitting 0-2 right now without a doubt.”
The comeback likely wouldn’t have happened without the heady play of punter and captain Jack Peterson. Faced with a fourth down from Blanchet’s own 48, Peterson noticed North Kitsap loading up players on the outside, leaving a gap in the middle. It’s something Blanchet had talked about before in practice, and Peterson made the gutsy but correct decisions to take off up the middle.
He picked up a first down and kept a drive alive that eventually ended in a touchdown. Quarterback Thomas Riley tossed four touchdown passes, including two to Tony Caballero and one to Ray Siderias.
Siderias actually ended North Kitsap’s final surge with an interception, just one week after teammate Jack Gardner did the same in a 7-6 win against Ballard.
The real test for Blanchet, though, will come at the end of the season when the Braves play O’Dea, Eastside Catholic and Seattle Prep in consecutive weeks. But so far, Maul has seen something different from this team than the one that went 5-5 last season.
– Lindbergh running back Daniel Wiitanen had 204 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 22 carries.
– Eastside Catholic’s Markell Sanders had eight tackles and two interceptions.
– Archbishop Murphy’s Hans VanderWel had 146 yards rushing, passed for 47 yards, had a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and led the team in solo tackles.
– Monroe’s Gabe Moore had 81 yards rushing and a touchdown as well as two interceptions.
– Nathan Hale’s Aaron Mandell scored touchdowns on a 95-yard kickoff return, on a 12-yard fumble return and on a 23-yard run.
– Lake Stevens’ Conner Coleman caught six passes for 171 yards and two touchdowns.
– King’s receiver Ben Welch had three catches for 85 yards and two touchdowns.
– Bellevue quarterback Jack Meggs completed 7 of 8 passes for 167 yards and three touchdowns in the first half.
– Rainier Beach’s Marquis Davis had 176 yards and three touchdowns on five carries. And one of those carries went for only three yards.
– Woodinville’s Conner Zaback made three field goals.
– Skyline quarterback Max Browne passed for 387 yards and three touchdowns.
– Franklin Pierce’s Samuel Mintah rushed for 280 yards and four touchdowns on 16 carries.
– Spanaway Lake’s Treyvon Brown had 242 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries.
Quotes/ off the cusp
“It was like a heavyweight bout. I know I got guys today that are probably just barely moving around their house. It was awesome. It was what I love football for,” Roosevelt coach Matt Nelson on his team’s 26-20 loss to Kennedy Catholic.
– A week after surprising people with a 28-0 win against Seattle Prep, Nelson’s team returned with another physical game against Kennedy. Kennedy coach Bob Bourgette couldn’t say enough nice things about Roosevelt’s physicality.
“I played arena football as well. I think that helped me with my quick release because the game is a lot quicker. It’s really specified for the offense. You have to really get the ball out quick, like one to three steps and the ball has to be out or you’re going to get hit,” Eastside Catholic freshman quarterback Harley Kirsch.
– I didn’t even know there was arena football for high-school aged players, but it’s interesting to hear Kirsch say that it helped him prepare for the speed of the varsity game.
“We think of Snohomish as friends. We don’t hate them, and they don’t hate us,” Glacier Peak quarterback Chris Becerra to the Everett Herald after playing cross-town rival Snohomish for the first time.
– It’s nice to see this perspective about a high school rivalry. Glacier Peak also won the game 43-7.
1. Skyline (Sammamish) (2-0)
2. Mead (Spokane) (2-0)
3. Federal Way (2-0)
4. Bellarmine Prep (Tacoma) (1-1)
5. Edmonds-Woodway (2-0)
6. Skyview (Vancouver) (1-1)
7. Camas (2-0)
8. Woodinville (2-0)
9. Kentwood (2-0)
10. Issaquah (1-1)
Out: Union (Vancouver) (1-1), Bothell (0-2)
1. Bellevue (2-0)
2. O’Dea (Seattle) (2-0)
3. Mount Si (Snoqualmie) (2-0)
4. Lakes (Lakewood) (1-1)
5. Eastside Catholic (Sammamish) (2-0)
6. Glacier Peak (Snohomish) (2-0)
7. Meadowdale (2-0)
8. Oak Harbor (2-0)
9. Kamiakin (1-1)
10. Mercer Island (1-1)
Out: Hanford (Richland), Timberline (Lacey)
1. Archbishop Murphy (Everett) (2-0)
2. Lynden (1-1)
3. Capital (Olympia) (2-0)
4. Prosser (2-0)
5. Othello (2-0)
6. W.F. West (Chehalis) (2-0)
7. Ellensburg (2-0)
8. East Valley (Spokane) (2-0)
9. Lakewood (2-0)
10. Burlington-Edison (2-0)