When Federal Way and Union met earlier this season, the Eagles’ depleted defense was the storyline.
In the Class 4A state playoffs Friday, that defense grabbed hold of the game and rewrote the ending.
Senior cornerback Ben Koler had a momentum-shifting late interception, star tailback Chico McClatcher ground out 264 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns on 34 carries, and No. 5 Federal Way avenged a Week 1 loss by beating No. 4 Union, 23-14, to advance to the quarterfinals.
“The last game we played against them we had a very difficult time in the second half stopping the run,” Federal Way coach John Meagher said. “So having our defense healthy and our linebackers in there made it a lot tougher sledding for them in between the tackles.”
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The victory sends Federal Way to the quarterfinals, where it will match up with the winner of Saturday’s Newport-Lake Stevens winner at a time, date and place to be determined next week.
In the Week 1 loss to Union, Federal Way gave up 308 yards rushing and blew a 21-7 third-quarter lead to lose, largely because key members of the linebacking unit were hurt. This time around, the run defense held Union running back Caleb Browning to just 42 yards rushing and Koler picked off Titans quarterback Jordan Lawson to set up what would prove to be the game-winning drive.
“Our pass rush and our run rush — it’s all on our linebackers and our defensive line,” Koler said. “Week 1 we didn’t have everybody, so it was harder for us to cover … it was our defensive line that really stepped in for us, and our linebackers.”
McClatcher moved through would-be Union tacklers like quicksilver in the fourth quarter, scoring the go-ahead touchdown on a 17-yard run and icing the game with a rumbling 44-yard touchdown effort — both in the span of 60 seconds. The Eagles’ workhorse essentially was the Federal Way offense for much of the night, even attempting a wobbly pass that was promptly intercepted.
“He carried the load, just like he has been the last couple of games,” Meagher said. “He did a great job. It’s what we expect from Chico.”
It was billed as a redemption game, and the Eagles delivered.
“The first game we were up 21-7 and they came back.” McClatcher said. “A player on their team said (our lead) was a fluke.
“Well, I don’t think this was a fluke.”