Washington head football coach Chad Stadem knew what he had with this year’s team. Or at least he knew part of it.
“We’re really young,” he said on the first day of fall practice. That was true. The Warriors won the Class 11AAA state championship behind the contributions of players like Matt Farniok, Ty Smith and Jack Schelhaas. All three graduated in 2016, as did many more contributors.
But being young, it turned out, was not mutually exclusive with being good, perhaps the best in the state. The Warriors beat a senior-stocked Roosevelt team 35-28 on Thursday night at Howard Wood Field to end the regular season with a 9-0 record and earn a top seed in the upcoming state playoffs. The way they did it made the win even more impressive and special: Without their starting quarterback, without their two top cornerbacks, without their best defensive player on defense, without one of their two top running backs. No matter.
“I went to Nate (Freese, a sophomore who filled in at cornerback) tonight and he was sitting there … and I walked up to him and I go, ‘I believe in you,'” Stadem said. “‘You’re out there because we believe in you, and you’re going to do fine.’ And he did. He kept everything in front, he made tackles and he played wonderfully.”
The Warriors opened the scoring in the first quarter with an eight-yard fade from Seth Benson to Logan Uttecht, the Warriors’ star junior receiver. Benson, also a junior, was starting at quarterback in place of the injured Jayden Johannsen and had relinquished his spot at middle linebacker for the game. It was his only touchdown pass of the game, but not his only important throw of the night, as the junior finished 11 completions on 20 attempts for 118 yards.
Washington’s most important offensive contributor might have been sophomore running back Tupak Kpeayeh, who finished with 166 rushing yards on 30 carries. During the season, he typically played every other series, alternating with Sean Oromo, but with Oromo being rested with a sore hamstring, the burden was all Kpeayeh’s.
“He’d just keep grinding,” Benson said. “I’d tell him, ‘You’ve just got to hit that hole fast,’ and he goes, ‘All right,’ and he hits the hole fast.”
He also scored on a quarterback sneak to give Washington its second touchdown of the night, putting them up 14-0 at the beginning of the second quarter. The Warriors’ other two touchdowns came from one of their seniors, as Thuro Reisdorfer has three-yard and one-yard runs for scores.
Roosevelt, who carried an 8-0 record in to the game and will have the No. 2 seed in the playoffs, certainly wasn’t toothless on offense, topping Washington in that category by a wide margin with 502 yards to the Warriors’ 335. Senior quarterback Torren Devericks had another prolific showing, with 402 passing yards on 37 completions.
But the Rough Riders failed in some crucial spots, converting just once on four fourth-down tries. They extended one eventual Warrior touchdown drive on a roughing the kicker penalty and fumbled in their own territory to give Washington a short field on what would wind up being another touchdown.
Roosevelt had an opportunity for a late score to tie or take the lead after recovering an onside kick, but Devericks’ desperation heave on fourth and 20 fell incomplete.
A team filled with seniors comes with certain benefits, few of which Washington enjoys. But after a full season of games, the Warriors’ underclassmen are something more, no longer the green group they began the year as. Whether the stellar results they’ve won so far carry into the playoffs remains to be decided.
“I’m really happy with our young guys,” Stadem said. “We’ve got some players. We’ve got some guys. It’s really exciting.”
Follow Ian Frazer on Twitter at @IanMcFrazer .