Come on. Be honest.
Did you really think Skyline would allow the Class 4A football state finals to be played without the Spartans?
Unranked Skyline, losers of three regular-season games that knocked the Spartans from the Class 4A Top 10 for the first time in school history, is back in the state title game for the fourth straight season.
“Our record’s not pretty, yeah we’re 10-3,” quarterback Max Browne said. “You hate to lose, but the cliché’s right – you learn from losing.”
Skyline held off second-ranked Woodinville 26-21 on Saturday afternoon at the Tacoma Dome and will meet ninth-ranked Skyview, a 38-14 winner over No. 8 Lake Stevens in the evening game, in the finals.
The Spartans were 6-3 when they entered the postseason. They’ve reeled off four straight victories, looking like the championship-caliber team they were believed to be – and still are – when they began the 2011 season ranked No. 1.
Against a previously-undefeated and defensive-minded Woodinville squad, Skyline raced to an early 12-0 lead, something Browne said the Spartans learned to do the hard way.
“The only thing I can say we’re doing differently now than in those losses is we’re starting off faster,” said Browne, who completed 22 of 31 passes for 292 yards and two touchdowns against Woodinville. “We’re not turning the ball over and we’re starting off faster in the first quarter.”
Skyline held off a furious Falcons rally in the final three minutes. Woodinville’s Beau Vintertun caught a 5-yard touchdown pass with 88 seconds left, pulling to 26-21, and the Falcons recovered the onsides kick. Woodinville (12-1) reached the Spartans’ 14, but turned the ball over on downs with 27 seconds left.
Big-game experience – Skyline has won nine of its past 10 games in the Tacoma Dome – can’t be overlooked as a key ingredient in another Spartan championship run.
“When we get here,” Skyline coach Mat Taylor said, “the expectation is we’re going to win.”
Skyline’s title-game opponent won’t have that been-there, done-that feeling. Skyview, which opened the same year as Skyline (1997), is in the finals for the first time.
“We haven’t been here before,” Storm coach Steve Kizer said. “We’ve been close…but we’ve never been this far.”
Like the Spartans, the Storm suffered a couple early defeats to marquee teams. Losses to Couer d’Alene, Idaho’s Class 6A state champion, and Sherwood, which has reached the finals of Oregon’s Class 5A playoffs, helped toughen up Skyview.
The payoff has been the Greater St. Helens League championship and an 11-game winning streak. In the postseason, the Storm have outscored opponents 161-55.
Skyview (11-2) dominated previously unbeaten Lake Stevens (12-1), scoring touchdowns on five of its first seven drives and punting only once. The Vikings chose to stack the line of scrimmage to stop running back Parker Henry, Class 4A’s leading rusher. That left quarterback Kieran McDonagh to slice apart an short-handed secondary.
McDonagh completed 22 of 31 passes for 339 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 66 yards and two scores.
“We have a pretty good running back, a really good running back,” Kizer said of Henry, who finished with 79 yards on 23 carries. “They did a nice job on him, so we just had to throw the ball.”
Taylor knows his team will face a challenge, and Henry will draw focus from the Spartans, too.
“Skyview has a tremendous running back, they’re really good up front,” he said. “Defensively they’re solid.”
Skyview is eager to get a shot at Skyline.
“I think we can play with anybody,” McDonagh said.