Steilacoom wasted little time taking the lead Friday against No. 5 Fife in the 2A SPSL championship game at Fife High School.
Junior quarterback JJ Lemming connected with senior wide receiver TJ Page for a 76-yard touchdown pass to give the Sentinels the lead on their first offensive play of the game. But that pass did a lot more than just give the Sentinels the lead – it set the tone for a dominant performance by Lemming and the offense.
By game’s end, Lemming completed 16 of 27 passes for 406 yards and four touchdowns and the Sentinels stunned the Trojans, 52-27.
“We feel very confident in our ability to pass the ball,” Steilacoom head coach Colby Davies said. “We like the quarterback we have, the guys protecting and the athletes we throw to. That was a matchup we thought we could exploit tonight, and we did a good job.”
The fifth-ranked Trojans came into the game with an 8-0 record, but it was clear early on the Sentinels would pose their toughest challenge of the season. Fife scored its first touchdown with 4 minutes, 13 seconds to play in the first quarter, but the Sentinels’ offense had an immediate answer — as it did most of the game.
Steilacoom needed just four plays to find the end zone for a second time in the game. This time, Lemming found freshman Emeka Egbuka for a 47-yard touchdown, giving the Sentinels a 17-7 lead after the first quarter.
It was the first catch of the game for Egbuka, who finished with six catches for 150 yards. In the first quarter alone, Lemming was 5-for-8 for 168 yards and two touchdowns.
“He’s the best,” Davies said. “I’d put him up against any quarterback in the state. Definitely in 2A, I think we can throw the ball better than anyone because of that guy. Not only his big arm, but he’s a great leader and a great decision maker. We put a lot of the calls in his hands. …He’s a big reason why we do what we do. We couldn’t do what we do without him.”
While the Sentinels’ offense was clicking, the Trojans looked like a prize-fighter staggered by a big punch. Their first-quarter touchdown was their only points of the first half, and they trailed 24-7 at halftime.
“They came out with the defense we thought they were going to run, and truth be told, I think they just wanted it more than we did,” Fife head coach Kent Nevin said. “That’s kind of us going back and doing our reflection. Here we go, we have to reload and go at it again. That’s what it comes down to. Our execution wasn’t there tonight and it showed. They didn’t do anything we weren’t expecting them to do, we just didn’t execute when we needed.”
The Trojans came to life in the second half. Junior linebacker Brian Hill recovered a fumble and ran it back 37 yards for a touchdown on Steilacoom’s first possession of the third quarter to cut the deficit to 24-14.
Again the Sentinels answered.
On the first play of Steilacoom’s next possession, Lemming connected with Egbuka for 67 yards to set up a first-and-goal from the Trojans’ 1. Lemming found Page for a 1-yard touchdown on the next play to make it 31-14.
The Trojans would score two more times, but both times Steilacoom answered. Fife never cut the deficit below 10 in the second half. After cutting the deficit to 11 at 38-27, the Sentinels responded with what was probably the biggest play of the game – a 91-yard touchdown pass from Lemming to Page on a 3rd-and-12.
Just when it looked as if the Trojans were poised to get back into the game, Lemming and Page provided the dagger.
“It was probably the biggest play of the game,” Lemming said. “It just really brought us up and really made us motivated to just go out there and win the football game.
Page proved to be Lemming’s favorite target, finishing with five catches for 190 yards and three touchdowns.
“Maybe people on the outside don’t see, TJ is one of, if not the hardest worker on our team,” Davies said. “He’s really come on as of late. We always knew he had a lot of talent and he was a great player. We started utilizing him a little more over the last four games. He’s just a guy who can run every route on the route tree and has great hands. He’s a pretty special player.”
While Steilacoom appears to be peaking at the right time, Fife is now faced with the challenge of bouncing back next week in the district playoffs, or seeing its season come to an end.
“It’s all about deciding to come back and play hard,” Nevin said. “Every day we talk about adversity in our lives, not just football, but in our lives. This is just one of those adversity moments for our kids. It’s going to be very fun to see how they respond. I have faith in them that they’re going to respond well.”
S – TJ Page 76 pass from JJ Lemming (Derick Nagaseu kick)
S – Nagaseu 33 FG
F – Xavier Preston 60 pass from Falani Jennings (Gabe Duenas kick)
S – Emeka Egbuka 47 pass from Lemming (Nagaseu kick)
S – Jaymason Willingham 1 run (Nagaseu kick)
F – Brian Hill 37 fumble return (Duenas kick)
S – TJ Page 1 pass from Lemming (Nagaseu kick)
F – Day’Jon Brooks 47 pass from Jennings (Duenas kick)
S – Jaymason Willingham 4 run (Nagaseu kick)
F – Lavelle Alexander 1 run (kick failed)
S – TJ Page 91 pass from Lemming (Nagaseu kick)
S – Jordan Bush-Johnson 4 run (Nagaseu kick)
RUSHING – Steilacoom: Mykah Brown 1-4; Jordan Bush-Johnson 4-21; Jaymason Willingham 10-62; Bryan Trambulo 1-1. Fife: Lavelle Alexander 8-30; Xavier Preston 13-56; Falani Jennings 10-(-2); Day’Jon Brooks 5-7; Eli Graham 1-11; Gannon Ginnis 2-25.
PASSING – Steilacoom: JJ Lemming 16-27-0-406. Fife: Falani Johnson 8-13-0-183.
RECEIVING – Steilacoom: TJ Page 5-190; Zhar Sanders 1-21; Jordan Bush-Johnson 3-36; Emeka Egbuka 6-150; Jaymason Willingham 1-9. Fife: Xavier Preston 2-74; Day’Jon Brooks 3-63; Eli Graham 1-30; Judah Graham 1-(-2); Gannon Ginnis 1-14.