The leader that he is, Ian Saner gave what inspiration words he could find in a quiet locker room filled with heavy emotions.
“There’s not much you can say to them,” Saner said of his Tumwater Thunderbirds teammates. “Nobody can make them feel less sad.”
A 28-27 loss to Sedro-Woolley in a down-to-the-wire 2A state semifinal game Saturday afternoon ended Tumwater’s season one game short of a third straight trip to the championship game.
It will be an all-Northwest Conference state title game between Lynden (13-0) and Sedro-Woolley (12-1) at 1 p.m. next Saturday at the Tacoma Dome. Lynden is seeking its fourth straight title after dispatching Ellensburg, 33-6, in Saturday’s other 2A semifinal.
For a team that’d previously trailed just once at halftime this season — 3-0 against Capital in Week 1 — Tumwater never led against Sedro-Woolley, but the Cubs’ lead throughout was no larger than seven points.
Tumwater’s final chance for the lead — and perhaps the win — came on its final drive.
A series earlier, Griffin Shea’s 19-yard fourth-quarter touchdown run cut the Sedro-Woolley lead to 28-27, but Elijah Hill’s point-after try was wide right.
Still, there was 2 minutes, 51 seconds to go, and it led to one more chance.
The final drive began at the T-Birds’ 9-yard line with 1:18 left on the clock and successful runs and catches by Shea, Jacob Crawford and Cade Otton, whose fourth-down reception put Tumwater inside Sedro-Woolley territory at the 39.
With 11 seconds left and zero timeouts, Tumwater set up Hill for a 41-yard field goal try after a fresh set of downs following a Cubs pass interference call. Hill’s attempt, though, was blocked when Anthony Cann came off the edge to get a hand up.
The victory formation soon followed for Sedro-Woolley.
“Nothing went wrong for us going down the field,” Saner said of his team’s 67-yard drive in under a minute. “It just came down to the kick, and there’s nothing you can do about that.”
Quarterback Spencer Dowers, who was 10 of 21 passing for 117 yards, called it his favorite offensive drive all season.
“Not one of us had a scared look on our face,” Dowers said.
The T-Birds’ offense did much of its second-half production without junior wingback and leading rusher Easton Trakel. He left the game in the third quarter with a left ankle injury following a 27-yard catch. To supplement the running game, the T-Birds turned to Shea (two carries, 43 yards; three catches, 40 yards), Dominic Jones (six carries, 58 yards), Trevor Davis (three carries, 30 yards) and Saner, who finished with a team-best 90 yards on 18 carries and touchdown runs of 30, 11 and 4 yards.
All three of Saner’s touchdowns leveled the scoreboard after Sedro-Woolley had leads of 7-0, 14-7 and 21-14.
A sloppy first quarter was filled with five combined turnovers. Entering Saturday, Tumwater was plus-15 in the turnover margin, but head coach Sid Otton said Tumwater had become “generous with the ball” over the past three games.
Sedro-Woolley’s 14-7 halftime lead came with touchdowns scored on short fields after Tumwater turnovers. Carter Crosby’s 5-yard touchdown run and Quenten Dickman-Roppel’s 9-yarder came on drives that began at the Tumwater 9- and 11-yard lines, respectively.
Still, Tumwater totaled 381 total yards — 242 rushing, 139 passing — compared to Sedro-Woolley’s 260, including 243 on the ground against a Cubs run defense allowing 112 yards per game.
Tumwater finished with four turnovers (three lost fumbles) and a lot more missed opportunities, Trakel said.
“We made too many in this type of game,” he said.