TUMWATER - The agonizing pain Jaimie Bryant felt in his lower back was as instantaneous as his teammates' celebration.
It was Sept. 22 at Olympia's Ingersoll Stadium, inside three minutes left in regulation in what turned out to be Tumwater's wild 35-28 double-overtime win over then No. 1-ranked Capital. Lying on his back in the end zone, Bryant just caught a two-point conversion pass from quarterback Jayden Croft in what's been labeled as "The Bouquet Toss" when Croft, with his back turned to the play after taking the snap from center, flipped the football over his head and a leaping 6-foot-5 Bryant went up for the grab. Bryant came down hard on his back, but he hangs on to the football.
Tie ballgame at 21-all.
Moments earlier, Bryant had his fourth catch of the game for a 4-yard touchdown that eventually set up game-tying two-point conversion that drew national attention on Deadspin and ESPN and has more than a half-million views on YouTube.
"I remember going up and holding onto the ball for dear life," Bryant said, "and (my back) hurt immediately."
Tumwater went onto beat the Cougars, as Bryant watched from the sideline for the rest of regulation and the two overtimes; his back too badly hurt to return or even play in the following week's 21-20 win over Chehalis W.F. West. But that win over the Cougars in the teams' 2A Evergreen Conference opener made for a big turning point in the T-Birds' season. And now, No. 4-ranked Tumwater will face second-ranked Lynden for the Class 2A state title at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 1, at the Tacoma Dome, looking for its second state title in the past three seasons and sixth overall in school history.
"After Capital," senior linebacker David Durden said, "that boosted a lot of our guys up."
Tumwater coach Sid Otton credited Bryant for helping get the youthful team's tempo going early, especially after its season-opening 42-21 loss to Class 3A Shelton on the road. Bryant, along with fellow seniors Andrew Brown and Hunter Shaner, were the team's only starters back from the 2011 season (7-2 overall). Since Week 1, Tumwater hasn't lost and turned early-season doubters into believers.
"He set the bar high and he got others to follow," Otton said of Bryant.
Bryant, a University of Washington commit, also is the only starter on the 2012 team that also was a starter on Tumwater's 2010 state title-winning team. On its road to the winning the title that season, Tumwater topped Lynden, 21-10, in Bellingham in the first round of the 2A state playoffs. Then a sophomore, Bryant was a starting defensive tackle on a veteran line and had a big postseason, which caught the attention of the UW coaching staff. In the 2A state title game against Archbishop Murphy, Bryant pushed the starting center backward and almost single handedly prevented the Wildcats from executing their Wing-T offense. The T-Birds won, 34-14.
"He destroyed their offense," defensive coordinator Pat Alexander recalled.
To best utilize Bryant's talents, he's played all over the defensive line - tackle, nose guard and defensive end and ranks fourth on the team in tackles with 75 (six tackles for loss). His size, speed and strength has made him a big offensive target, too, with eight touchdowns through 13 games. As a tight end, he has four catches for 44 yards and two touchdowns and as a halfback, has 39 yards on 21 carries and two touchdowns.
Although he's used to the defense, Bryant, the EvCo's defensive MVP, said he's completely fine with his number being called for offense, too. Bryant has dropped 25 pounds since mid-August and it's not like he tried to lose weight. It just happened. Now, a svelte Bryant is playing at 240 pounds after entering August at 265.
"I feel like I can move everywhere now," he said.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2271.