On the outside, not many folks expected this year’s Gig Harbor High football team to be a state tournament football team.
But Gig Harbor got into the playoffs, and Tides’ coach Aaron Chantler has a way of winning district playoff games. With a 14-13 win over Interlake on the road on Saturday night, Gig Harbor is headed to the state tournament for the fourth straight season, and Chantler is now 4-0 in district playoff games.
“It’s a weird thing,” Chantler said. “We’ve found some success to get to state. It’s hard to go to state that many times in a row.”
There is some redemption for Chantler’s young team, which dealt with some negativity in the offseason. Everyone telling Gig Harbor’s players that they were going to be terrible this season wore a bit on the team.
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“It’s a shock to a lot of other people, but we thought if things broke right, we could be back in the playoffs,” Chantler said. “Our program has a solid foundation. Our kids are buying into it. The success kind of speaks for itself.”
Interlake scored the first 13 points of the game in the first quarter, but Gig Harbor stormed back in the second quarter, scoring on runs from quarterback Ben Hollenbeck and running back Martin Brazier. The score was 14-13 at half and it held after Gig Harbor’s strong defensive effort in the second half.
On Interlake’s final drive, Gig Harbor defensive back Mark Kimball picked off the quarterback to seal the win for the Tides.
“It was a big moment for him,” Chantler said. “It was kind of redemption. He had a coverage issue earlier in the game. For him to hang on to the ball and have a nice little return, it was a pretty big play. We had good defensive plays when we needed them.”
After the game, Chantler tweeted jokingly that he “almost had a heart attack.”
“That’s what happens when you’re a young team — there are so many more ups and downs,” Chantler said. “Things went pretty much according to plan for two and half years. This year, your heart rate fluctuates a little more. The kids have just fought all year long. No matter what the score is, they get after it. That’s been a huge testament to their character.”
Gig Harbor (6-4) will travel to Kennewick on Saturday (Nov. 12) to face Kamiakin (8-2). The Braves are the favorite.
“I just want them to enjoy the moment,” Chantler said. “We’re not playing the Seattle Seahawks. We’re not playing the University of Washington. We’re playing a good high school football team. It’s not like we just got lucky and are there. Go in with no pressure. We’re the underdog. Let’s go compete for four quarters and see what happens.”