Napavine has been the number one ranked 2B football team all season. A total of 10 challengers have tried to knock the Tigers off the top spot, but none of the 11 came within 11 points as they were turned away. Next up to challenge Napavine for its spot as king of the hill is Pe Ell-Willapa Valley.
The Titans and Tigers will square off at 7 p.m. on Friday at Tiger Stadium in Centralia in a state 2B quarterfinals game.
After going 2-2 to start the season, PWV has rolled off seven-straight wins and is playing some of its best football of the season, but that won’t keep the Titans from being underdogs on Friday.
“They don’t get to win just because they are ranked No. 1 and everybody says they are a better team than us,” PWV coach Josh Fluke said. “We have to play a perfect game to win, but that is why we play the game… We just have to play a good game. Confidence is number one. The second thing is that if we make a big play or someone gets a good hit, we got to have fun.”
The Titans have had fun literally running over opponents this season. PWV’s offense has been fueled by the rushing of Kaelin Jurek. The senior has racked up 715 yards and 13 touchdowns over the last four weeks, including around 130 yards and two touchdowns in the second half against Mabton on Saturday.
Along with the power running of Jurek, the Titans bring some speed out of the backfield with senior Tyler Justice and junior Ever Gutierrez. Last week, PWV showed off another wrinkle with four long passes to Gutierrez. Ryan Shepherd has also proved himself as a sure-handed target for PWV quarterback Matt Pearson.
Napavine has no shortage of weapons to match the Titans including the Associated Press 2015 2B Co-Player of the Year Wyatt Stanley at quarterback. The senior threw for 309 yards against Kalama last week, going 17-for-24 and throwing three touchdowns to three different receivers. The Tigers jumped out to a 27-0 lead at halftime before cruising to a 41-3 win over the Chinooks.
“They definitely like to spread the football,” Fluke said. “It is not just Wyatt Stanley, it’s the receivers and some other young kids. They have athletes all over. They are fast. When they are not throwing, they have a really good inside trap and when Stanley gets in the open field he is a big kid and he is hard to bring down.”
Defensively, the Tigers feature a 5-3 or 3-3 stack formation, Fluke said. Napavine’s defense has just as much speed as its offense with a defensive line that is quick to hit holes and a linebacker and defensive back corps that swarms to the football.
Overall, Fluke said the key to a PWV victory boils down to winning the turnover margin and controlling the big plays in the contest.
“We have to play sound football,” Fluke said. “We need to take care of the football, we need to get some turnovers and we need at least a couple big plays… We have to have the big hits and get them to turn the ball over. Another thing that is important is to have a little bit of luck on our side.”