It wasn’t the strangest strategy taken by a high school football coach — but apparently Bonney Lake’s Jason Silbaugh knew exactly what buttons he was pushing.
Silbaugh knew if the Panthers were going to make a run in the second half of the season, their fate would be in the hands … of the offensive line?
Yep, those guys.
Against pass-happy Arlington, Bonney Lake pounded the ninth-ranked Arlington Eagles for 350 rushing yards and won on the road, 33-21, on Friday night in the Class 3A state play-in round.
Senior Ethen Koepke bulled his way to four touchdown runs — the last on a 31-yard run on fourth-and-3 that put the game away with 2 minutes, 2 seconds remaining.
Simply put, the Panthers — who advance to the state playoffs for just the second time in school history — controlled the line of scrimmage. That is where they won Friday night.
“The biggest thing is our offensive line came out and blocked,” Silbaugh said. “We had to challenge them. With a new starting quarterback and four running backs, we knew they had to put this team on their back. And they grew together.”
If Bonney Lake was going to play that style of ground-and-pound football, the blocking had to come together. Junior Christian Mack moved from left tackle to center and showed his versatility. Caleb Davis and Brandon Hoffman — a former quarterback — showed athleticism as the bookend tackles. And Bailey Brigham was the unit’s emotional leader at right guard.
“It took a long time,” Silbaugh said. “But now they talk. They communicate. They line up differently, which is a big deal if you want to run the football.”
Three of Koepke’s scores were in the fourth quarter — including his 52-yard scamper on the first play to give the Panthers a 19-14 lead.
The Panthers needed to upend defending league champion Peninsula on the final week of the regular season just to grab the 3A SPSL’s final seed to the postseason. They will play Lincoln in the first round of the state playoffs.
CLASS 4A DISTRICTS
At Gig Harbor 45, Mariner 0: The third-ranked Tides scored three touchdowns and two-point conversions in the first nine minutes — all led by quarterback Davis Alexander in a shutout victory at Roy Anderson Field.
Alexander connected with Noah Samsen on two touchdown passes — of 53 and 24 yards. The senior also ran for two successful conversions, and passed for another as Gig Harbor built a 24-0 lead at the 3:26 mark of the first quarter.
At Graham-Kapowsin 61, Snohomish 26: It was the Kobe Merriweather show — 176 rushing yards and four touchdowns — at Art Crate Field, and the No. 4 Eagles romped to victory.
Merriweather had scoring runs of 3 and 17 yards in the first quarter to help Graham-Kapowsin build a 21-0 lead.
At Camas 49, Bethel 6: Somebody forgot to remind the visiting Braves in this expected air-raid showcase that the No. 1 Papermakers have a pretty good tailback, too.
Jordan Del Moral tallied four short touchdown runs in the first 17 minutes, and Camas built a 42-0 halftime lead at Doc Harris Stadium.
Del Moral’s last score, a 9-yard run, gave the Papermakers a 28-0 lead with 7:14 remaining in the first half.
At Lake Stevens 61, Tahoma 10: Georgia-bound Jacob Eason threw for 287 yards and five touchdowns, and easily won his anticipated showdown with Tahoma’s Amandre Williams in getting the Vikings a victory.
Williams, a Washington commit, passed for 246 yards, and had his lone touchdown on a 2-yard scramble in the first quarter.
At Skyline 54, Beamer 14: It might not have started well for Spartans quarterback Blake Gregory — but he finished with four touchdown passes as No. 6 Skyline rolled in Sammamish.
On Skyline’s first play, Gregory threw his first interception of the season — and it was returned 6 yards by Lincoln Liulama-Mitchell for a touchdown to give the Titans a 7-0 lead.
But it got much better for Gregory — and much worse for Beamer.
Mount Si 17, at Jefferson 14: Ninth-grader Reed Paradissis’ career-long 40-yard field goal with 7:34 to go broke a 14-14 tie, and the Wildcats held off the SPSL Northwest champions at Memorial Stadium in Federal Way.
The Raiders got as far as the Mount Si 21-yard line in the final 27 seconds, but a fourth-and-12 pass fell incomplete. Kenny Turned paced the Jefferson offense with 236 rushing yards on 32 carries.
CLASS 3A DISTRICTS
At Lincoln 43, Rainier Beach 15: Willie Hamilton threw a pair of touchdown passes, and ran for two more scores as the third-ranked Abes won at Lincoln Bowl.
Hamilton’s 9-yard touchdown connection with Alvin Johnson gave the Abes a 28-6 lead with 3:48 remaining in the first half.
At Sumner 41, Cleveland 8: Connor Wedington steamrolled the Eagles defense with 183 rushing yards and five touchdowns, and the No. 4 Spartans cruised to a victory at Sunset Chev Stadium.
CLASS 2A DISTRICTS
Franklin Pierce 29, at Foster 12: The Willie Patterson-to-Emmanuel Thornton connection hooked up three times for touchdowns, and the Cardinals won in Tukwila.
CLASS 1A DISTRICTS
At Charles Wright Academy 29, Klahowya 3: This time it was the Tarriers’ defense that dominated the game, forcing five turnovers, and Charles Wright won in University Place.
Senior Desmond Jones rushed for two scores and picked off a George Harris pass, returning it 40 yards for another touchdown.
Eatonville 23, at La Center 20: The Cruisers got a late interception near midfield with 1:06 to go, and the defending state semifinals punched their ticket back to the state playoffs with a road victory.
Logan Moose rushed for 57 yards. His 1-yard touchdown run gave Eatonville a 20-7 lead three minutes into the second half.
CLASS 2B DISTRICTS
At Life Christian 48, Onalaska 12: Wyatt Dunlap accounted for 265 total yards and four touchdowns, and the Eagles won at Harry E. Lang Stadium.