Steve Graff could not have picked a better 25-year anniversary milestone for coaching football in the Tri-Cities.
He gets a chance at another Class 4A state title Saturday, this time with Chiawana High School in Pasco.
Five seasons in with the school, Graff — a detail-oriented disciplinarian with a winning pedigree — is building the same kind of championship program at Chiawana (12-1) he had at Pasco High School, where he won 4A titles in 1998, 2000 and 2003.
“The expectations just moved,” Graff said. “We didn’t change any of them. And the kids have bought into it, much like they did in Pasco. And away we went.”
The school’s first season in 2009 was a rough transition. Only juniors and seniors could play at Chiawana, and Graff’s coaching staff wasn’t allowed in the new building until the next season. The Riverhawks finished 1-8.
The 2010 season had a semblance of a more complete program. Graff had his loyal assistants by his side full time, and the current group of seniors entered the fray as ninth-graders.
One of them was Grady Graff, Steve’s middle son, now an all-conference first-team player at linebacker and tight end.
“The second year we were here, when we played Ferris (in the 4A quarterfinals) and lost, 13-7. and they went on to win the state championship,” Steve Graff said, “everyone kind of thought, ‘We can get this done here.’ ”
And the Riverhawks did it in a short period of time.
Chiawana won the Columbia Basin Big Nine 4A title in 2011 but lost to Central Valley, 24-0, in the crossover playoffs.
Last season, the Riverhawks endured a rash of injuries and barely made the postseason, where they were drubbed by Gonzaga Prep, 55-28.
They’ve been dominant much of this season, especially on defense.
For the 4A state title game against Camas (13-0), Graff will be using the same blueprint he used in his days at Pasco.
“We started running inside last week,” Graff said. “And after talking to them (Monday), I told them to start sucking in juice and water now to stay hydrated.
“I remember one year we had to travel (to Tacoma) the day of the game and ride in school buses. It sort of became a ho-hum deal (at Pasco). It is not a ho-hum deal. It is hard to get there, and our administration (at Chiawana) has bought into that.”
No. 4 Chiawana (12-1) Vs. No. 1 Camas (13-0)
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Tacoma Dome
Coaches: Steve Graff is in his fifth season at Chiawana (37-15 record). Jon Eagle is in his sixth season at Camas (60-11 record).
Road to Gridiron Classic: Chiawana defeated Moses Lake (52-13) in the state first round, Wenatchee (56-34) in the quarterfinals and Federal Way (40-7) in the semifinals. Camas defeated Cascade of Everett (63-28) in the first round, Eastlake (47-28) in the quarterfinals and Bellarmine Prep (49-21) in the semifinals.
About the Riverhawks: A first-time Class 4A state champion will be crowned Saturday. Graff will stick to what has been working all season, starting with a front seven on defense — led by LB Alex Weber, the Mid-Columbia Conference defensive player of the year — that will need to pressure Camas QB Reilly Hennessey. The defense showed last week that it can tackle great players (Federal Way’s Chico McClatcher and Keenan Curran) in open space and will need that kind of effort Saturday. On offense, RB Clifton Lozano (299 carries, 2,055 yards, 24 TDs) should be able to exploit the interior of the Papermakers’ defense. QB Joey Zamora (147-252, 2,401 yards, 28 TDs) is an underrated weapon.
About the Papermakers: How do you slow down this high-charged offense with game-breakers everywhere? Camas has consistently buried opponents from the opening whistle, breaking out to huge leads. Hennessey (168-260, 3,205 yards, 36 TDs), the Greater St. Helens League 4A offensive player of the year and an Eastern Washington commit, makes it all go. His improvement in the different amount of throws he can make is arguably the biggest reason why the Papermakers’ offense is that much better than last season. WRs Zach Eagle (64 catches, 1,253 yards, 13 TDs) and James Price (37 catches, 804 yards, nine TDs) and even RB Nate Beasley (162 carries, 1,413 yards, 26 TDs) are reliable targets.
TNT pick: Camas, email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org