He no longer had to compete with his top rival, but that doesn’t mean Randy Davis was thrilled when the Eatonville High School football team left the 1A Nisqually League for the 1A Evergreen Conference before the season.
“I wasn’t, to be honest,” the Cascade Christian coach said. “We weren’t real happy our league imploded like it did. They probably gave us the best competition.”
Eatonville coach George Fairhart insisted it wasn’t a football-only decision, and certainly nothing personal.
“It was a better fit for all our sports — girls and boys, varsity and JV,” Fairhart said.
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But here they are, anyway. Not even separate leagues could keep them apart.
Cascade Christian and Eatonville will play for a spot in the Class 1A state championship when they meet in the semifinals at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Tacoma Dome.
The teams have a combined 27 state tournament appearances and four state titles. Despite that and years of history against each other in the regular season — with Eatonville winning at Cascade Christian for the Nisqually title in 2012 and Cascade Christian returning the favor in Eatonville last year — this is their first time meeting in the state playoffs.
“I’m getting goose bumps just thinking about winning,” said Eatonville’s George Tomal, who was named 1A Evergreen Conference MVP this season and one of The News Tribune’s All-Area defensive backs. “It’s kind of nerve-wracking. They are undefeated, we are undefeated. It’s going to be a battle.”
And a battle of two different demographics. While Cascade Christian, a private school, is within a few miles of downtown Puyallup, Eatonville is located in what some might call the sticks. Though they were in the same league, they were separated by about a 40-minute drive.
“People think, ‘Oh, we have to go all the way out to Eatonville and they are a bunch of hicks who don’t shave,’ ” Tomal said. “But we are just like regular kids. We are just a little more in the woods instead of the city.”
Cascade Christian’s All-Area tight end Mason Tobeck said his address is in Eatonville, though it’s not too close to the town.
“We always looked forward to playing Eatonville and I’m sure they looked forward to playing us,” Tobeck said. “So it was kind of a bummer they left our league.
“But I think we knew early in the season that if we got to this point that this is who we would be facing. I think we were expecting this game, I think you could say, and looking forward to it.”
Eatonville (11-0) earned the EvCo title in its inaugural season, including back-to-back narrow victories against Hoquiam (19-14) and Montesano (23-17).
And the Cruisers beat Mount Baker, 29-28, with a two-point conversion in overtime in last week’s state quarterfinals.
Meanwhile, with Eatonville gone, Charles Wright gave the Cascade Christian (11-0) its toughest test in league play … losing 62-32.
That came after Eatonville upended Cascade Christian, 29-6, in 2012 on its way to ending the Cougars streak of five consecutive league titles. It was Eatonville’s first year back in the Nisqually after two years in the 2A South Puget Sound League.
“It turned into a pretty good rivalry, but they wanted to get out of the league and get into a new league and more power to them,” Davis said. “It’s pretty ironic, though, that we ended up facing each other anyway.”
For as long as Davis has been the coach at Cascade Christian (11 years) Fairhart has been at Eatonville’s helm twice as long (22 years) and remembers facing the Cougars when Chris Van Sligtenhorst was the coach. Davis earned his 100th career victory when Cascade Christian won at Eatonville last year.
“They are a really good team with some great athletes and they are very well coached,” Fairhart said. “They don’t make mistakes, don’t hurt themselves and are very disciplined. That’s definitely a trait of a Randy Davis coached team and that’s why they are good year after year.”
Said Davis: “What always stands out about (Eatonville) is how physical they are. It’s always a knockdown, drag out with these guys.”