Maybe not in the Class 2A State Playoff quarterfinals, but No. 2-ranked Squalicum has been waiting for this opportunity.
A chance to redeem itself against Tumwater — the culprit behind the Storm’s 2014 history-making season coming to a screeching halt.
Squalicum last year traveled to Tumwater District Stadium during the state quarters to face the Thunderbirds and left with a 59-33 defeat.
The loss offered motivation throughout the offseason, and now the Storm gets another shot at top-ranked Tumwater at 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 21, at Civic Stadium.
“We have been looking forward to this game ever since we stepped off the field and lost to them last year,” standout junior linebacker Jack Wendling said. “It’s one of those games you mark on the calender and what we’ve been preparing for kind of all year.”
But the Storm (11-0) knows how potent the Thunderbirds’ Wing-T offense is and how stingy their defense can be. Squalicum learned last year, and the Thunderbirds (11-0) again have met little resistance while averaging 47.5 points per game.
Fortunately, Squalicum’s Damek Mitchell, Creighton Kaui and Wendling supply the Storm one of the area’s more talented linebacking corps.
And Squalicum will need a big game from the trio Saturday.
“We knew coming into the year it’s a talented group,” Storm coach Nick Lucey said. “They all played last year and played really well. They have gotten better every week and have made a lot of big plays when it counts.”
While each linebacker has displayed an innate ability to track the football, different paths have molded them into the players they are today.
Wendling, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound junior strong-side backer in Squalicum’s 4-3 base defense, has started since the early part of his sophomore season and has ascended into one of the Northwest Conference’s top linebackers.
He’s developed a pattern of creating big plays on a weekly basis.
“If somebody is making a play, and you’re not sure who it is, there is a decent chance it’s Jack,” Lucey said.
Manning the middle is Kaui, a senior 6-foot-1, 210-pound inside linebacker who has returned to form after suffering a gruesome broken leg during a game against Lynden last season.
Kaui has been instrumental in helping the Storm limit offenses to 3.6 yards per rush and will be key in stopping Tumwater’s effective lead play to power back Jarid Barrett.
“He’s getting better every week and has done an awesome job,” said Lucey of Kaui. “He’s really playing his best ball lately.”
Mitchell rounds out the group. The 5-foot-10, 185-pound junior weak-side linebacker is used in a variety of ways, and he is effective in coverage and shows a fearlessness facing the run.
“He is an athletic guy and a really savvy ball player,” Lucey said. “He makes a lot of big plays and can play in space. We still blitz him quite a bit, but he is athletic in space.”
Wendling credited Squalicum’s linebackers and overall defensive success to two parts — preparedness and the strength of his defensive line.
Former Squalicum defensive coordinator Doug Trainor departed during the offseason to take a job coaching at Everett High School, but Lucey, who Wendling said specializes on offense, has done an impressive job with the defense this fall.
Meanwhile, linemen such as Caleb Starovich, Jake Burns, Andrew Napier, Jacob Burgoon defensive end/linebacker Brian Pullman have done an exceptional job making live easier for Kaui, Mitchell and Wendling.