1B state football championship features two of the best quarterbacks in the state

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Connor Vanderweyst/Columbia Basin Herald Almira/Coulee-Hartline head coach Brandon Walsh addresses his team after the state semifinals.

COULEE CITY — Football fans love looking at the numbers, but the only one that really matters at the end of the day is having one more than the other guy and that’s the approach the Almira/Coulee-Hartline Warriors will take into the 1B state championship game.

The No. 5 Warriors (11-2) have a rematch with No. 1 Sunnyside Christian (13-0) in the 4 p.m. game in the Tacoma Dome on Friday.

The Warriors lost two games this season and gave up second-half leads in both of them. One of those was to Sunnyside Christian in the season opener. They have since shored some things up on defense and plan to beat the Knights when it matters most.

“They beat us and they’ve earned the right to be called the best team in the state to this point. But I feel like we have a chance to win this thing. I like the way we’re playing right now,” ACH coach Brandon Walsh said. “We’re going to have to do a few things better than we did the first time.

“We have to be able to stop the (inside) run, which killed us back in Week 1. We’re doing a better job of that right now and hopefully it carries over into Friday’s game.”

The Warriors lost the 34-20 non-conference game in the season opener, where they took a 20-12 lead into the fourth quarter. Sunnyside switched from trying to challenge the ACH speed to power football and the run game produced 22 fourth-quarter points and the victory.

Walsh and his staff have made some adjustments in the defensive scheme and the players have taken it upon themselves to play a tougher brand of ball, Walsh said.

“We typically play with our defensive ends standing up outside of their tight ends. We’ve put in a three down-linemen look,” said Walsh, whose team broke up the Neah Bay domination (2013-14-16) with a state title in 2015. “We’ll put our defensive ends in the B-gaps to clog up the middle a little bit.

“It puts more outside contain responsibilities on our linebackers. What killed us back in Week 1 was that we didn’t get off the blocks very well. We were giving up four-to-six yards a carry and that adds up.”

ACH holds the running game advantage, averaging 270.2 yards per game to Sunnyside Christian’s 180.1. But the Knights can sling it around pretty good, averaging 252.5 yards passing to the Warriors’ 138.6. Both offenses generate about the same in total yards. Sunnyside Christian holds the slight edge with 432.6 to 408.8.

Knights running back Kyler Marsh goes into the game with 1,241 yards on 103 carries with an average of 12 yards per carry. Quarterback Chance Marsh has completed 158-of-253 passes for 2,906 yards and 48 touchdowns. Lane Marsh is the favorite target with 77 receptions for 1,319 yards and 21 touchdowns. The also have Luke Wagenaar, who hauled in 36 passes for 733 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Maguire Isaak is 83-of-122 passing for 1,793 yards and 35 touchdowns. The 6-foot, 175-pound ACH junior has just one interception this season and finished the regular season with an average quarterback rating of 147.0.

But where he is most difficult to defend is his ability to get to the edge and go the distance from anywhere on the field. Isaak ran for 90 and 83 yards in the quarterfinal game against Naselle. He finished up with 1,172 yards on 177 carries and 17 touchdowns. Hayden Loomis rushed for 127 yards and added 122 in receiving yards last week against Lummi Nation. Payton Nielsen goes into the game with 506 yards and 10 touchdowns.

“This is going to be a matchup of two great quarterbacks. We have to get pressure on their kid and stop the inside run,” Walsh said. “We can’t afford to make the little mistakes. If we take care of the football, I think we’ll be OK.”

Rodney Harwood is a sports writer with the Columbia Basin Herald and can be reached at rharwood@columbiabasinherald.com

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