Not to take away from what the Fife High School football team had accomplished without standout running back Austin Woods this season, but the Trojans are at whole other level with him.
Woods had 13 carries for 118 yards and two touchdowns, intercepted a pass on defense, and led Fife to a 21-0 victory at Liberty on Friday to send the Trojans to the 2A state tournament.
Woods returned in full force from a bruised thigh that had limited him to eight carries and 231 yards prior to the game.
“It’s what I’ve been dreaming of,” Woods said of his performance. “The whole team did this, though. It’s a collective effort. I can’t put it on me.”
Indeed. Especially considering Fife (7-3, 5-2 2A South Puget Sound League) shut out a team that had previously been held scoreless only by six-time reigning 3A state champion Bellevue.
The Trojans will face Tumwater in the first round of the state tournament Nov. 14 or 15.
“We talked about us this week, really emphasized us,” said Trojans coach Kent Nevin. “We didn’t want to worry about them. We knew they were a good team. Their line is just beastly, they are big, they are strong, they are physical, but our kids focused on us and it was fun to watch that unfold.”
Liberty moved the ball efficiently to start the game.
Handoff after handoff, Liberty had been chipping away at Fife’s defense, mixing Drew Hall’s charging bursts up the middle with sweeps to Preston Mitsui and Marquel Ellis.
But then, a game changer.
Hall was stripped of the ball and Fife’s Cornelius Polo caught it midair and ran it back 44 yards before being tackled at the 13. Omar Murillo connected on a 33-yard field goal to put the Trojans ahead.
Liberty followed with a 16-play drive … that resulted in nothing. The Patriots reached the 12, got a delay-of-game penalty, a pair of negative runs and ultimately tried and missed a 38-yard field goal.
“We just couldn’t finish out drives,” said Liberty coach Steve Valach. “We just never got into an offensive rhythm.”
But Fife did as Tanner Knapp bulldozed for 25 yards on a handoff, Austin Woods ran for 12 yards and the next play Woods took it 25 yards for his third touchdown of the season and a Trojans 11-0 lead after converting the 2-point conversion.
“It’s phenomenal to have him back. He’s a huge asset to our team,” said Fife quarterback Kyle Mozzone. “Losing him was detrimental to this team, but having him back adds a huge weapon to our arsenal on offense.”
And Fife continued to take the air out of Liberty from there. The Trojans forced three turnovers, got another field goal from Murillo and later Woods’ second TD run — a 29-yard burst set up by Knapp’s 15-yard run up the middle.
“He changes the dynamic of the game,” Nevin said. “They have to know where he is at all the time, as I’m sure Tumwater will and that’s OK. Even if they know, he’s an entity that’s really tough to stop.”
Nevin told his team afterward that he believed C.J. Cooper, the Trojans’ assistant who unexpectedly died in September, was watching this game. And was proud of them.
“He’s a big inspiration for us. It’s been really hard for our team, but it has brought us together,” Nevin said. “We say his sayings every week. They’re posted all over our locker room still. Nov. 16 we are having a memorial service for him at Columbia Junior High and our kids are really excited about that just to celebrate his life.”
Just like he’d be celebrating this win.