COULEE CITY — The Almira/Coulee-Hartline Warriors won a 1B state championship two years ago in 2015, but this year’s team has a different character and the season has a different feel to it, head coach Brandon Walsh said.
“The core group of our seniors this year were a part of that (2015) team, so they know what it’s like,” Walsh explained. “But with the 2015 team we were coming off a 2-win season the year before, and it was a surprise that we won it all.
“This year feels like more of an expectation. We had high expectations at the beginning of the year and it’s fun to achieve some of those expectations. We’ve done the work to get here, no doubt.”
The Warriors (10-2) go into Saturday’s 1B semifinal game against the Lummi Nation school (9-3) riding high on a 60-point first-half scoring production in last week’s quarterfinal. They are looking to do the same thing at Civic Stadium in Bellingham.
“We always want to start fast every game. If we win the toss, we always elect to receive. We feel like if we can get off to a good start offensively, everything builds off of that,” Walsh said. “Last week against Naselle, we fully expected them to run the football. When we forced them to throw it 40 times, because we got out on them early and that played into our strength a little bit.”
The Blackhawks are another run-first offense led by quarterback Noah Toby and running back Jermaine Toby. Lummi had 400 yards of rushing earlier in the season in a win over Tacoma Baptist.
ACH held Naselle to just one yard rushing last week and really amped up its run defense since losing to Odessa in the league championship, Walsh said.
“The kids were sort of embarrassed about not being able to stop the inside run against Odessa,” said Walsh, whose team beat Lummi 46-42 in the 2015 championship game. “We’ve certainly stressed it in practice and worked hard on getting off blocks, tackling better and getting to the football as a group.
“As a coaching staff, we have schemed it better to have some different looks to throw at them to take them out of their game plan a little bit.”
Warriors quarterback Maguire Isaak is coming off a career highlight game last week, rushing for 228 yards and two touchdowns to go along with 155 passing yards with three TDs. He had touchdown runs of 83 and 90 in the first five minutes of the quarterfinal game.
Hayden Loomis added 128 yards rushing. Payton Nielsen finished with 110 yards receiving with two touchdowns. Loomis caught two balls for 36 yards and a touchdown.
“As a play-caller, I’m always looking to run the ball first. We use the pass to balance things out and keep them honest, but we’re looking to run it more than we pass,” Walsh said. “Our outside receivers (Gage Burchill and Nielsen) are a deep threat, and our running backs are too. (Parker) Zappone is our secret weapon in the pass game. He leads the team in receiving touchdowns out of the backfield. He’s wide open all over the field because teams put their best cover guys on Gage and Payton. Zappone runs away from linebackers, so he’s wide open.”
ACH lost twice during the regular season and the good news is that both of those teams play each other in the other semifinal. Sunnyside Christian (12-0) and Odessa (11-0) are both unbeaten. The winner will continue to the Tacoma Dome and the loser will be eliminated.
The Warriors, who held second-half leads against both teams, are looking to play on the big stage in the final game of the season at the Tacoma Dome next week.