TACOMA — The Tumwater Thunderbirds expected this outcome to be different.
They were confident, focused and ready for the task at hand, especially in another go-round against the Lynden Lions, who denied the T-Birds in the 2012 Class 2A state football title game.
But for the second consecutive year, Tumwater fell to Lynden, this time by a 38-28 count in Saturday’s 2A state championship game at the Tacoma Dome.
A senior-laden Lynden team topped Tumwater, 41-7, in the 2012 final.
The T-Birds have a 5-2 all-time mark in state title games; their last championship was in 2010.
The Thunderbirds were emotional about what could have been as they exited the locker room to a sea of green featuring hundreds of parents, friends, and supporters. But talk quickly turned to what they accomplished in their 13-1 season.
Without hesitation, senior quarterback Jayden Croft called this season a successful one. He also talked about the mark this year’s seniors left on the program.
The two-dozen seniors have been a part of three state title game appearances, winning one in 2010 (34-14 over Archbishop Murphy). This squad also tied the 1989 and 1990 teams for the school mark for most wins in a season.
“This senior class has been here three of the four times,” said Croft, whose 8-of-15 passing was good for 82 yards. He also rushed for 24 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns. “We have a great legacy. It sucks to take second, but we all had a great career at Tumwater.”
The Thunderbirds entered Saturday’s game having outscored their opponents in the first half by almost 20 points per game. Against Lynden, they trailed at halftime, 28-13.
A 44-yard fumble return by Blake Browning on the third play of the game gave Lynden the early edge. The Lions had a short field with which to work, too, starting inside their own 20 just once.
“That was the first half for us, just our mental and physical mistakes,” Tumwater senior tight end Zach Delucco said.
Said Tumwater senior running back Christian Cummings, who rushed for a team-high 83 yards on 15 carries: “They punched us in the mouth in the first half. We just couldn’t come back from it.”
Lynden sophomore Sterling Somers started only seven previous games at quarterback because of a wrist injury to junior Lucas Petersen, but he looked like a seasoned veteran. His 11-of-13 passing in the first half got the Lions started and he finished with 16-of-21 passing accuracy for 263 yards.
Scooter Hastings, Lynden’s 6-foot-7 receiver, had four catches for 113 yards and a touchdown, and the Lions (14-0) finished with 445 yards of total offense.
With Tumwater trailing, 35-13, in the third quarter after Lynden’s Jaremy Martin scored on an 8-yard run, coach Sid Otton’s halftime message to his team sunk in.
“I told them at halftime, ‘Let’s turn this thing into a classic … get it into overtime,’ ” he said.
Tumwater almost did, outscoring Lynden, 15-3, in the fourth quarter. Croft’s 4-yard touchdown run on a fourth-and-1 play pulled Tumwater to 35-28 with 4:26 to play. The T-Birds had started that drive at midfield after defensive lineman Korye Trejo recovered a fumble on Lynden’s center-to-quarterback exchange.
After Croft scored, Elijah Hill’s onside kick went the required 10 yards, and Tumwater linebacker Addison Barrett initially recovered the ball. But when the pile dispersed, Lynden’s Rudy Mendoza had it.
Lynden took up almost 3 minutes of clock and went up, 38-28, on Alex Otano-Guenther’s 40-yard field goal.
A play earlier, Tumwater stopped Lynden on third down with Garrett Terrell’s pass breakup in the secondary on Jalani Phelps.
Lynden forced Tumwater into a fourth-and-21 situation on the T-Birds’ final possession, but Croft’s desperation heave fell incomplete on a penalty-filled drive.
Lynden becames the first Class 2A team to win three consecutive state titles. The Lions defeated Archbishop Murphy, 17-16, in 2011, then Tumwater two years in a row. But Saturday’s win wasn’t easy, said Lions coach Curt Kramme.
“Tumwater is an outstanding team, and they gave us quite a game,” Kramme said. “Right down to the end, just as I expected they would.”Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 firstname.lastname@example.org theolympian.com/southsoundsports @MegWochnick