The Thomas Jefferson and Todd Beamer football teams are in essentially a two-horse race to the 4A South Puget Sound League Northwest title.
Wait … Thomas Jefferson?
The Raiders (3-2; 2-0 4A SPSL Northwest) haven’t finished a season with a winning record in more than a decade, have never reached the state tournament, and enter a 7 p.m. Friday game against Beamer with a potential league title on the line after losing last year’s matchup, 38-0.
Jefferson coach Jeff Zenisek said he might not have any Thoroughbreds in this title race. But plenty of Clydesdales.
“I see us as a bunch of workhorses,” Zenisek said. “You get out and plow that field and that’s what we’ve been doing.
“We don’t have that true Thoroughbred, that breakaway wide receiver or breakaway running back when they get into the open, but we have a bunch of guys that are playing together as a team.”
Case in point: running back Kenneth Turner.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound senior has 135 carries for 809 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns for Jefferson. He’s also thrown for a touchdown, returned a fumble for a touchdown — and whatever else the Raiders needed.
He ran for 203 yards on 32 carries and scored three touchdowns in Friday night’s 45-21 win over Mount Rainier.
“He’s got a few long runs, but most are five, six, sometimes three or one yard at a time. It’s a lot of pounding,” Zenisek said. “The greatest thing about Kenny is that he understands the game. And he understands both sides of the ball. He has a football mind whereas a lot of kids don’t.”
All that hard work is what makes Jefferson’s position — tied atop the 4A SPSL Northwest standings — feel so earned.
But that’s how the offseason went, too. Those pads, helmets and nice new Nike football jerseys — none of it was simply given to whoever decided to show up. Zenisek said he made sure all had to be earned by first testing in the weight room and other offseason participation.
He said the chemistry felt right, too. How many coaches pack 28 football players into their personal motor home to take them to offseason scrimmages?
Zenisek did. Turner sat in the passenger seat, while others piled on the couch, in the kitchen — even the bathtub. He joked that his wife still hasn’t forgiven him for how bad it smelled afterward.
“And it’s a good thing the highway patrol wasn’t around,” Zenisek said.
He said the players were confident in the offseason that this team could be good, but really believed after the Raiders’ season-opening 33-27 overtime victory over Puyallup, which they won despite entering the fourth quarter trailing 27-7 — before Turner scored four unanswered touchdowns.
“I had feelings, I guess, during the summer, but to see the determination of this team in that game – last year’s team would have folded,” Zenisek said. “This year, it’s just a different characteristic in these kids.”
PATRIOTS’ BIG WIN
Tariq Ellis followed his 277-yard, five-touchdown performance against Clover Park with 29 carries for 231 yards and two touchdowns — with three two-point conversions — in Washington’s 36-27 upset of Fife on Friday.
He’s listed at 5 foot 6 and 160 pounds, and reached the 2A West Central District track and field championships in the 100, 200 and 400 last spring. But Washington coach Mike Von Rueden said wrestling helped toughen up Ellis.
With wins Friday, defending 4A SPSL Northwest champ Federal Way (1-4) and defending 4A SPSL South champ Emerald Ridge (1-4) earned their first victories of the season. … With Fife’s loss, River Ridge is alone atop the 2A SPSL standings. … Lincoln quarterback Willie Hamilton, in his first varsity start, was 14 of 21 passing for 289 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions in a win over Mount Tahoma on Friday. He’s playing for Joey Sinclair, who coach Masaki Matsumoto said will miss at least six weeks with a fractured collarbone that he suffered against Shelton. … Olympia running back Scott Gunther has run for more than 200 yards in four consecutive games after gaining 267 yards on 40 carries in Friday’s win over Issaquah. … Bryce Hoisington, the area’s leading rusher with 1,216 yards in five games, had three touchdowns on six carries in Vashon Island’s 56-30 win over Marriott (B.C.). He ran for 150 yards (25 yards per carry).
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677