There was a point during Steilacoom’s particularly difficult two-game non-league stretch early in the season, with losses against defending Class 4A state champion Union and reigning Class 2A state runner-up Lynden, when Sentinels junior quarterback Chance McDonald grew up.
Steilacoom coach Colby Davies thinks it was during the second half of the Lynden game, which Lynden won, 56-47.
“That was kind of the point where things really started to click against good competition,” Davies said. “I think we finally settled down as a team and as a group and he settled down.
“You just have to realize you’re a good player, the guys around you are good, the guys in front of you are good. We just have to do our job and play good consistent football and make good decisions, and I think he’s just gotten so much more confident since then.”
McDonald is in his first season as the team’s starting quarterback, and while he had plenty of reps in practice and during offseason tournaments and 7-on-7 competitions, nothing compares to being tested in live game situations. Like most young quarterbacks who gain that experience, the game has slowed down for McDonald throughout the season.
“My read progressions, making faster decisions, getting the ball out more quickly,” McDonald said. “The first couple games, I wasn’t really too comfortable. I didn’t have a lot of experience. I’m feeling good about it now.”
And now the junior QB is putting up huge numbers in the team’s high-flying air raid offense. McDonald has completed 133-of-201 passes this season for 2,537 yards, 33 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. In last week’s 55-20 win over SPSL 2A peer River Ridge, McDonald completed 15-of-20 passes for 443 yards and seven touchdowns.
“He’s been a lot more calm in the backfield, taking his time with his reads and not forcing any throws — just going to the open guy,” said Steilacoom five-star junior receiver recruit Emeka Egbuka, who has racked up 1,129 yards and 15 touchdowns on 47 receptions this season. “He has really become a field general back there.”
McDonald said he was ‘antsy’ in the pocket during the early portion of the season. Now, when the pocket shrinks, he has developed the confidence to stand tall and deliver a strike.
“The one thing he’s had to work on the most is throwing under pressure,” Davies said. “He just didn’t have a lot of experience coming into the season and hadn’t seen a ton of live reps. It was getting him to stay calm when he hears those pads popping in front of him.
“Him being able to stay calm, stay poised when those guys are getting after it up front and just trust that we have the guys to take care of the job up front, so he doesn’t have to rush his timing. He’s gotten better and better with the timing of actual game speed.”
Of course, it doesn’t hurt having a slew of talented receivers, led by Egbuka, one of the nation’s top players. Few players in the state can match Egbuka’s playmaking ability, which constantly demands double teams, leaving the rest of Steilacoom’s capable receivers in 1-on-1 situations they’re eager to exploit.
“(Egbuka’s presence) opens up a lot of things,” McDonald said. “We have him on that side, so it overloads that side. So it opens up tons of space on the back side. That’s what killed a lot of teams that we’ve played so far.”
Isaiah Devane is second on the team in yards with 406 yards and two touchdowns on 25 receptions. Jayden Coalson has caught 20 passes for 402 yards and four touchdowns. Logan Brady has 22 catches for 333 yards and seven touchdowns and Tre Horner has caught 10 passes for 220 yards and four touchdowns.
With so many different options, it’s sometimes tough for McDonald to adequately spread the wealth — not that you’ll hear him complaining.
“Guys will come up to me and say, ‘Yo, man, I’m open, get me the ball,’” McDonald said. “I just tell them to wait their turn and I’ll get it to everybody. In our offense, you never know who’s going to have the big game on any given day.”
And for Egbuka, he’s happy to see his teammates succeed when teams key on him.
“They’ve just been waiting for a chance and an opportunity like this,” he said. “They took full advantage of it. They see the matchups they get and they’re able to make plays. Everyone on this team knows they’re capable. They’re able to show other people what they’re able to do.”
The scheme and talent around him certainly help, but Davies said McDonald deserves just as much of the credit, even if the junior signal-caller is quick to deflect credit to his receivers after wins.
“He knows that none of this is possible without those guys around him, but at the same time, he’s really talented,” Davies said. “He can spin that thing, he’s making good decisions and he’s very accurate with the football. I think it’s great that he honors his teammates in that way but as a coach, he deserves a huge amount of credit, along with those other guys. The offense is doing what its doing, the team is doing what it’s doing because of every single piece and he’s a huge part of it.”
Maybe the most important part of all — which is why Davies and offensive coordinator Greg Herd are harder on McDonald than they are on other players.
“We talk to him differently than the other guys, because we know how important he is to the offense’s success,” Davies said. “You just have to take our coaching, we’re going to rip you and get after you because we know how important you are and how good you could be. You’re the general out here, you’re the leader out here, so you have to be an extension of us. He understands that now.”
Steilacoom has all the tools to make a deep run through the Class 2A state tournament, with the team’s run defense improved significantly since its loss to Lynden.
“We thought last year we could make a run,” Egbuka said. “We came up a little short. We think it’s long overdue. We’re going to be looking to go really far this year.”
McDonald will be front in center through all of it, leading one of the state’s most explosive passing offenses.
“I’m just staying humble and just knowing that every week, you have something to prove,” he said.
Steilacoom continues its season with a matchup against SPSL 2A Valley champion Orting at 7 p.m. on Friday (Nov. 1) at home.