3A FIRST ROUND
FERNDALE AT BELLEVUE
Time: 7 pm.
Site: Bellevue High School
Golden Eagles update: No. 7 Ferndale (9-1) enters as the Northwest District No. 3 seed after finishing second in the Northwest Conference 2A/3A and coming back to beat Hazen 22-16 in last week's crossover playoffs. The Golden Eagles return to state after a one-year absence and made 14 of the past 16 years, but are seeking their first win since they beat West Seattle in 2008. Running back Alex Conley gave Ferndale its first lead of the game last week with 40 seconds to play on a 1-yard TD run. He also had a team-high 128 yards, giving him 1,303 and 26 TDs on 137 carries (9.5 average). Richmond Baardson (605 yards, 6 TDs) and Hank Hilts (651, 9 TDs) provide the Golden Eagles good balance in the running game, though they have only passed for 384 yards this year. Ferndale is extremely talented and experienced in the defensive secondary, with Conley and Baardson at the safeties and Cooper Clark and Joey Akers at the corners. They have combined to limit opponents to 860 yards and 7 TDs through the air, while intercepting 10 passes.
Wolverines update: No. 1 Bellevue (10-0), which is ranked the sixth-best team nationally by MaxPreps.com and has won 36 straight games, enters as the Sea-King District No. 1 seed after winning the 2A/3A Kingco title and beating Lincoln 45-0 in last week's crossover playoffs. The four-time defending state champions are making their 12th straight appearance in the state playoffs and have not lost in the first round since 1995. Bellevue is a run-oriented team that uses plenty of deception and has rushed for 1,278 yards this season. John Nguyen (721 yards, 11 TDs) is the Wolverines' top rusher so far, while Jack Meggs directs the offense at quarterback. The Wolverines have shined on defense, where they've limited opponents to 87.5 yards per game and only 22 points in the first three quarters of games. In fact, Bellevue has not allowed a point in more than its past eight quarters of play. Overall, Bellevue has outscored opponents 495-59 this year and has shut out four opponents, including two straight.
Key to the game: Ferndale can't allow Bellevue to operate on a short field, and that means they can't afford to turn the ball over. A pair of turnovers in Hazen territory certainly hurt the Golden Eagles last week, but the Highlanders returned the favor. The Wolverines aren't likely to do the same.
Player to watch: Not only is Clark able to break off big runs on offense, he's capable of making big plays from the cornerback spot on defense. None was bigger than the third-down stop he had against Hazen that forced the Highlanders to punt and gave the Golden Eagles a chance to drive for the winning score.
1A FIRST ROUND
WOODLAND AT MOUNT BAKER
Time: 7 p.m.
Site: Civic Stadium
Beavers update: Woodland (8-2) finished second to La Center in the Trico League and enters as the No. 3 seed out of the Southwest District after a 28-3 win over Tenino last week. The Beavers are making their first state appearance since 2005 and are seeking their first state playoff win since 1984. Woodland is led by a pair of strong running backs, who just happen to be brothers. Cy Whitmire rushed for 117 yards and three touchdowns of 23, 27 and 54 yards on just nine carries in last week's win over Tenino, while Eli Whitmire added 44 yards and a 2-yard TD on 10 carries. Quarterback Hunter Huddleston rushed for 53 yards on nine carries and also passed for 50 yards on a wet and muddy night. Troy Flanagan and Huddleston are run stuffers for a strong Beavers defense that has allowed only 11.7 points per game and has shut out three opponents. The offense, meanwhile, has averaged 38.0 points per game. Woodland's only losses came to Montesano and No. 5 La Center, which are both in the round of 16.
Mountaineers update: No. 8 Mount Baker (8-1) enters as the No. 2 seed out the tri-district after having won the Northwest Conference 1A title. The Mountaineers received a bye last week and have not taken the field since a 30-8 win over Meridian on Oct. 25. Mount Baker is making its first state playoff appearance since 2005 and is seeking its first state win since 1999. Running back Jake Schleimer rushed for 169 yards and four second-half touchdowns against Meridian, boosting his season total to 1,248 yards and 21 scores. Izaiha Schwinden has provided a valuable second running option, as he's gained 685 yards and nine TDs on 71 carries (9.6 average). Quarterback Andrew Zender has passed for 617 yards and seven TDs, as Zan Roman has been his go-to guy with 380 yards and three touchdowns receiving. Linebacker Tyrel Cronk is at the center of a stingy Mountaineers defense that has allowed only 4.0 yards per carry this season and 12.5 points per game during Mount Baker's current six-game win streak.
Key to the game: It's been 15 days since Mount Baker laced it up for real against Meridian, so there is a chance there might be some rust early. But if the Mountaineers can fight through that and get things going early, it should have a good shot to stay perfect at Civic Stadium in state playoff games - it beat Castle Rock 7-0 in the 2A first round in 1998 and Cedarcrest 36-16 in the 1A first round in 1994.
Player to watch: Mount Baker tight end Dalton Munsell only has four catches so far this year, but half of them have ended in the end zone. When he's not sneaking out on pass routes, Munsell is a solid blocker on the edge and downfield for Mount Baker's run game and a solid linebacker on defense.
1A FIRST ROUND
MERIDIAN AT LA CENTER
Time: 1 p.m.
Site: Battle Ground District Stadium
Trojans update: Meridian (8-4) enters as the No. 4 seed out of the tri-district after beating Eatonville 26-15 last week. The Trojans had to survive a three-team tiebreaker and beat Coupeville 34-6 and Blaine 15-14 in the 1A Northwest District Playoffs just to advance to the tri-district playoffs. This marks Meridian's fourth straight trip to state and its 20th overall. Meridian used a balanced running game against Eatonville, getting 86 yards and a touchdown from quarterback Max McGuinn, 81 yards and a TD from Letrez Jones and 81 yards from Junior Castro. Castro leads the team with 619 yards, while McGuinn and Jones each have a team-high six rushing TDs. McGuinn also passed for 94 yards and hit Jeremy Brockman for a 2-yard TD pass. Relijah McMillen is the team's top receiver with 645 yards and 10 TDs. Meridian has only outscored opponents 282-249 so far this year, but the Trojans keep finding a way to win. During the district and tri-district playoffs, which amounts to two full games, Meridian allowed only 403 yards of total offense.
Wildcats update: No. 5 La Center enters at the Southwest District No. 1 seed after winning the Trico League title and beating Elma 48-14 last week. It is the Wildcats' third trip to state in four years, but they are seeking their first win since beating Mount Baker 24-8 in the first round of the 2004 2A State Playoffs. La Center jumped out quick against Elma, scoring on its first four possessions and using three special teams turnovers to grab a 34-0 lead. Wyatt Aguirre rushed for 143 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries in the game, while Conner Fulton had 136 and had two 50-plus yard TDs on seven carries. In all, the Wildcats rushed for 383 yards while holding Elma to 74 yards on the ground. Elma did pass for 224 yards and two TDs, though. La Center quarterback Dylan King tossed a TD and had 109 yards passing, including 67 to AJ Myers. The Wildcats have scored at least 28 points in all 10 games this year, averaging 43.0, while the defense has limited opponents to 11.1 per game, though that average swells to 22.3 in the last three games.
Key to the game: Fatigue has again got to be a factor for Meridian. This will be the Trojans' fifth time suiting up 17 days with the new 1A playoff format. Last week, that may have played a part in four turnovers and eight penalties for 55 yards going against Meridian. Add in a 41/2-hour bus trip to Battle Ground, and the Trojans need to make sure they are sharp.
Player to watch: Facing a team that rushed for 383 yards last week in its Southwest District Playoff, Meridian needs to be physical up front, and they don't get anymore physical than Meridian's standout defensive linemen Spencer Blackburn.
2A FIRST ROUND
MARK MORRIS AT LYNDEN
Time: 5 p.m.
Site: Civic Stadium
Monarchs update: Mark Morris (9-1) enters as the Southwest District's No. 3 seed after winning the Greater St. Helens League title and beating Chehalis W.F. West 35-14 last week. The Monarchs are back in the state playoffs after missing last year, but have made it to state four of five seasons and advanced to the 2010 2A state semifinals. Mark Morris looked strong defensively last week, intercepting W.F. West quarterback Tanner Gueller four times in the first half thanks in part to some outstanding communication in the Monarch's Cover-2 defense and strong pressure on the Gueller. The first three picks set up touchdowns, including one that Brady Rukkilla returned 38 yards for a TD, and a 21-0 lead. Mark Morris attempted only four passes in the game, as Keigan Baker rushed for 84 yards and a TD and Austin Johnson had 62 and a TD. Rukkila added a couple of fourth-quarter TD runs to put the game away. The Monarch's lone loss came in Week 1 to Kelso, and their defense has allowed only 8.7 points per game and has two shut outs.
Lions update: No. 2 Lynden (9-1) enters as the Northwest District's No. 2 seed after winning the Northwest Conference 2A/3A title and beating Sultan 47-28 last week in the district playoffs. The Lions are in the state playoffs for a seventh straight year and are seeking their fifth state title during that span. Running back Luke Christianson led the way last week, as he rushed for 154 yards and four first-half TDs on 11 carries and scored a fifth on a 67-yard blocked field goal return, as Lynden raced to a 47-0 halftime lead. Christianson now has 1,093 yards and 16 TDs in nine games this year. The defense was outstanding in the first half, as it allowed only 13 yards in the first quarter and did not allow the Turks a first down through the first 15 minutes of the game. All-state receiver Zach Vis has caught 21 passes for 316 yards and four TDs since returning from a broken collarbone in Week 6, while Dak Shagren leads the team with 412 yards and five TD receptions and Jalani Phelps has 387 yards and four TD catches.
Key to the game: Since suffering a three-point loss to King's in the season opener, Lynden has won its last nine games by an average of 34.1 points per game. The Lions haven't been tested in quite a while, but this is a veteran club that knows how to win, whether it's in a blowout or a nail-biter.
Player to watch: Any quarterback has got to take notice when he goes up against a defense that intercepted four passes a week ago, and you know Lynden's Josh Kraght has been made aware of that. Kraght hit all six of his pass attempts for 52 yards and rushed for 65 more on two carries in limited action last week, and he has rushed for 678 yards and passed for 1,566 so far this year.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2271.