TACOMA — The Tacoma Baptist football team proved it can more than dabble in eight-man football.
It didn’t matter the result of Thursday’s game against perennial Class 1B power Neah Bay, even if the Crusaders were outplayed in a dominant performance by the Red Devils in a 66-26 victory in the 1B state quarterfinals on Thursday at Mount Tahoma Stadium.
The Crusaders (10-1) had won two games combined their past two years as a 2B school playing 11-man football.
They made the transition to eight-man almost look easy.
“I could not be more proud of my kids,” Tacoma Baptist coach Tim Rasmussen said. “We took over a program three years ago that was in the ashes and we rose and our seniors brought us back the whole way.”
But Thursday was ultimately a matter of experience.
And Neah Bay’s eight-man experience? It is almost unrivaled.
The Red Devils have now clinched six consecutive trips to the 1B state semifinals and nine years in a row of reaching the state playoffs.
They outgained Tacoma Baptist 341-161 on the ground behind Cole Svec, who was selected as the 1B state player of the year by statewide sportswriters two years ago and was a first-team selection last season.
Svec ran eight times for 202 yards and a touchdown and he caught three passes for another 58 yards.
“They just got big, physical linemen and a great running back,” Rasmussen said. “He’s just a special athlete.”
The first thing Neah Bay coach Tony McCaulley noticed about Tacoma Baptist was its speed.
The other was its lack of experience in marquee eight-man football matchups, where the field is like a playground for offenses and a nightmare for defenses.
The Crusaders’ defense struggled with all that open space. Neah Bay needed three plays to score its first touchdown on a 29-yard run by Svec. Then three more for its second when Rwehabura Munyagi hit Cameron Buzzell for a 12-yard score.
Tacoma Baptist forced a fourth-and-goal from the 5 on Neah Bay’s next offensive possession, but Munyagi maneuvered his way into the end zone and the Red Devils’ third consecutive two-point conversion made it 24-0.
“I just think we were really well prepared for this team,” McCaulley said. “They had some holes defensively we were seeing. We figured we could run the ball really well on them and we did.”
“That’s a good team. They got some speed. But they haven’t played a lot of eight-man before.”
And Neah Bay has played plenty.
“It’s a real factor,” McCaulley said. “We played a few 11-man games this year, so we’ve noticed the differences in things we can get away with in eight-man games that you can’t in 11-man. Playing at this level, for Tacoma Baptist, they had some really good athletes. But they have to learn to play the eight-man game, still.”
But consider where this Tacoma Baptist program was two years ago, when it didn’t even know it would be able to field a team before going on to finish 0-9, and last year when it finished 2-7. This year it won the 2B SeaTac League title and quarterback PJ Talen, who came in with 1,259 passing yards and 19 passing TDs as well as 1,401 rushing yards and 20 TDs, earned the league MVP.
“There were a couple of us who stuck it out,” Talen said. “We obviously did terrible the past few years, but we put in the work and it paid off. It was an amazing experience. Definitely didn’t expect to be here.”