Tumwater’s Otton once had banner season with Colfax

mwochnick@theolympian.comDecember 7, 2013 

To Tumwater High School football coach Sid Otton, a win Saturday against Lynden at the Tacoma Dome would give him seven state titles.

The record book, though, would only recognize six.

Decades before leading the Thunderbirds to five state titles, Otton coached at Colfax High. In 1971, his Bulldogs went 9-0, averaged more than 440 yards of offense per game and were picked as the Class A state champions in a landslide vote by sports writers and editors.

This was in an era before playoff games. The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association’s football playoff system was two years away, and state champions were named by

The Associated Press.

“That was one awesome team,” Otton said.

Otton would know. He has won state titles in 1987, 1989, 1990, 1993 and 2010. He has coached three undefeated teams in his 46-year career.

This year’s team would be the fourth undefeated team of Otton’s career should it beat No. 1 Lynden in the 10 a.m. game.

But the first was that 1971 team from a small Whitman County town 15 miles northwest of Pullman.

A PERFECT YEAR

Folks in and around Colfax describe the place as a “hard-working” and “blue-collar” farming community. In the 1970s, the school had about 300 students, many of them multi-sport athletes who honed their skills while working on family farms on the Palouse.

Otton arrived in Colfax in the fall of 1970. He had just earned a master’s degree from Utah State after a two-year coaching stint at Coupeville (1967-68). The Bulldogs already had a winning tradition as now-Hall of Fame coach Jerry Parrish’s 1969 Colfax team went undefeated.

Otton combined pheasant hunting and coaches meetings with assistant coach Bob Bafus, now a Hall of Fame basketball coach. During basketball season, Otton assisted Bafus on the bench.

Otton credits his time with Bafus for helping him shape his coaching style.

“We were opposites, but worked together really well,” Otton said. “I benefited a lot from being around him.”

Otton vivdly remembers the ’71 team. Running a power-I offense, his team outscored opponents by an average of 22.5 points per game. The defense recorded four shutouts.

In the Southeast A League, Colfax routed its rivals: DeSales, 32-0; Waitsburg, 49-0; Pomeroy, 33-13; Dayton, 54-0; and Connell, 40-22, to end the season.

The highlight was in the fourth week when Colfax beat Medical Lake, 28-14, to snap the Cardinals’ 30-game unbeaten streak.

“Everyone got really excited,” said Tobby Hatley, a sophomore tailback on that Bulldogs team who now lives in Spokane and owns a communication firm after a lengthy career in broadcast journalism.

“After that, everyone was fairly confident (about going undefeated).”

Hatley, who went on to star at Eastern Washington after leaving Colfax as its all-time leading rusher (4,078 yards), ran for 1,279 yards and 18 touchdowns in 1971. Senior Greg Brownell led the Bulldogs with 1,344 yards rushing and had 14 touchdowns that season.

There’s no doubt Colfax would have won a WIAA-sanctioned state title had a playoff system existed then, said Craig Culbertson, now an assistant football coach at Colfax.

“I don’t know who would’ve touched us, honestly,” said Culbertson, a sophomore defensive back in ’71. “It’s too bad we didn’t have a playoff to prove it.”

Colfax garnered eight of 11 first-place votes from Washington journalists for its first state championship in football. Port Townsend (two first-place votes) and Highland (one) also finished 9-0 that year.

A banner outside the Colfax gymnasium and a beat-up football showing the team’s week-by-week schedule symbolize the Bulldogs’ ’71 success.

“I still hear people walk by and look at that and talk about the season,” said Mike Morgan, Colfax’s current football coach and athletic director, who guided the Bulldogs to a win in the Class 1A title game against Tacoma Baptist in 2001.

Otton went 28-8 in four seasons at Colfax before moving to Tumwater for “aspirations of new challenges,” he said.

SEEKING MORE MAGIC

Otton, 70, will walk onto the Tacoma Dome field Saturday as the state’s all-time leader in wins with 359 — 326 of them at Tumwater.

A win would be one for the record books. It would give Tumwater a school record for wins in a season (14); the 1989 and 1990 teams went 13-0.

It also would be a salve for a senior class that lost to Lynden, 41-7, in last year’s Class 2A title game.

“This is their dream,” Otton said. “They want to finish what didn’t happen last year.”

Senior running back Christian Cummings said a title would be a “dream come true.”

“That would be amazing,” he said.

Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 mwochnick@theolympian.com @MegWochnick

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