This was supposed to be the finale but as I stated in the last part just no way to get to everything and so we will be speeding along with a couple of seasons highlighted. This means some very good years are going to be left out and for that I apologize but know and understand the T-Bird family under Coach Otton is spread wide and far and things like the Green Football and NGUNNGU will always connect each one of us whether you’re now approaching 60 years of age or are a 14-year old Freshman on this season’s team and won’t get a chance to play for Coach Otton a full 4-years.
In this part there are 2 significant events to finish the 90’s. The 1993 State Championship and then the opening of Black Hills High School that split the student body. So here we go, this will take us all the way through 1999.
1992 was a big season for the Tumwater T-Birds and was highlighted with another undefeated season and BHL League Championship. The 1992 team was significant because it showed that 1991 was not the beginning the of the end of a significant run. 1991’s expectations fell short when they were eliminated in the quarter finals. 1992 was more than a bounce back season it was truly proof that the system put in place in 1987 was more than a passing fad. It was now a full circle culture.
Coach Otton had long put in place the buy in for players as shown in so many of the previous stories but now with GATA, the Wing T and platooning this was the T-Bird machine that other programs could only hope to emulate. In some area’s they had other nicknames for Tumwater, my favorite Tumwater University. Talking with many people outside of the Tumwater program most often than not it was about how they hoped their program could be like what Tumwater had but like with any successful program, person or idea what is not known or recognized is the long hours of hard work and perseverance it takes to reach those goals and how much of a total buy in you have to have from not only the players, but all coaches, the administration and the community.
1992 solidified all those elements. They roared through the league going 9-0 and then won the crossover game. In the 1st round of the State Tournament the T-Birds rolled over Enumclaw 34-14 and then blasted Franklin 42-21 in the quarterfinals. Tumwater then had to hit the road to the Tri Cities and did not get to play the Semi-Final in the cozy comforts of the Tacoma Dome.
The site was Edgar Brown Stadium in Pasco. A bitterly cold day with an afternoon kick-off. Tumwater would fall short of getting back to the Kingbowl losing to the Mustangs in a truly magnificent game. The difference was a 99-yard fumble return by the Mustangs as the T-Birds were about to plow into the endzone. Tumwater would fight back but the dreams of a 4th Title ended on the frozen tundra of Eastern Washington with a 38-31 loss.
This loss would not be in vain as it motivated and set in motion the will to finish the job in 1993. That journey would also feature in my view, the greatest T-Bird victory in Coach Otton’s career for several reasons. Tumwater would not get revenge on the Mustangs in 1993, in fact Prosser won their 2nd straight title in 1992 only the 2nd team to do so since Tumwater did it in 1989 and 90. Tumwater would take a whole new route to the Kingbowl and their 4th State Championship as a 3A team. Tumwater in 1993 was moving up a classification and that changed many things but it did not change the inner workings of the team where only one outcome was tolerable.
1992 may have fallen short of their goal and expectation but as is with all seasons under Coach Otton they had a lasting impact and 1993 would be the benefactor.
1993 the 4th Title
The 1993 team was looking for redemption after falling short in 1992. To do so they would have to do something Tumwater had never had to do before and that was to compete at the highest classification level in the state, 3A. The T-Birds would have to go south and join the 3A Greater St. Helens League.
Gone would be the long time rivalries and traditional opponents. The T-Birds would only get to play 1 South Sound area team and that would be the Capital Cougars in an end of the season non-league match-up. No longer would Olympia, Timberline, North Thurston, Shelton, Aberdeen, Hoquiam, Centralia and Chehalis be on their schedule. Those teams were replaced with Battle Ground, Mountain View, Prairie, Evergreen, Hudson’s Bay, Fort Vancouver, Kelso and Columbia River. Outside of Kelso and Mountain View Coach Otton says they knew so little about the rest of the teams he would have a hard time identifying even their school colors.
The flip side to all this is the other schools may have heard of Tumwater and been aware of their success but they also were not familiar with the inner workings of the T-Birds. They could prepare but until you actually faced the T-Birds and experienced taking them on, it really was not possible to fully prepare and Tumwater would quickly show that the new kid on the block was the team to beat.
With that let’s get started with this amazing 1993 season…
Tumwater 49, Battle Ground 13
The T-Birds would jump out to a 35-0 lead in their debut in the GSHL and the Tigers simply could not keep up. GATA put the offense in great position time and again with 4 1st half turnovers. 2 fumbles, 1 interception and a blocked put led to the big early lead. Tumwater’s swarming defense would end up holding the Tigers to just 34 yards in the 1st half and picked up 6 sacks for the game. Offensively, Derek Lowe picked up where he left off running the ball for 86 yards and 2 TD’s in the 1st half.
Tumwater 37, Mountain View 21
Tumwater would again jump out to a huge lead and surrender the 21 points in the 4th quarter. With all the defense focused on Senior Derek Lowe this left open the door for sophomore Anthony Hicks to contribute much like Lowe did when he was a sophomore. Hicks in this game ran for 119 yards and a touchdown by halftime and finished with 184. Lowe would also take advantage of strong offensive line work up front especially from John Hendrickson and Galen Smith. Lowe ran for 124 and also had a long run after a short reception from QB Casey Doyle. Tumwater was off to a 2-0 start in the GSHL.
Tumwater 55, Prairie 20
Tumwater easily rolled to their 3rd win over the Falcons and improved 3-0 on the season.
Tumwater 57, Evergreen 6
It was a total team effort in this game against the Plainsman as GATA picked off 3 passes and forced 4 fumbles. The offense clearly did not waste the opportunities. Jesse Lambert who was the top ball hawk on defense for GATA with 9 interceptions on the season tying the team record set by Scott Gurnsey was also effective on offense as a receiver and caught the 2nd touchdown of the game with a spectacular diving catch from QB Casey Doyle to make it 14-0.
Derek Lowe also exploded in this game running for 172 yards and scoring on a spectacular 82-yard run. Lowe was famous for being the only one to wear white cleats and was referred to as “white lightning”. Whether or not Lowe knew this but white cleats were the norm back in the 70’s and early 80’s. Lowe may have been an early pioneer of the current “throwback” craze.
Doyle was deadly in this contest tossing the rock for 160 yards and 2 TD’s. Chet Doughty hauled in a 63-yard strike from Doyle down to the 2 leaving it up to Lowe to plow into the endzone for the 1st TD of the game. The T-Birds had now run off 4 straight and if there was any question if the T-Birds could compete at the 3A level the question had now been answered with an emphatic yes.
Tumwater 39, Columbia River 0
GATA came up with one of their best efforts of the season against the Chieftains with the shut-out. The defense made up for a slow start for the Tumwater offense picking off a pass in the 1st quarter denying CR a chance to score first. After leading only 12-0 at the half the T-Birds scored on 4 of the first 5 possessions of the 2nd half.
While the defense was getting their usual support from the offense this freed them up to be even more devastating holding the Chieftains on their side of the 50 throughout the 2nd half until the final drive of the night which they also stuffed on the 5-yard line preserving the shut-out. The T-Birds were now 5-0 in GSHL play.
Tumwater 36, Hudson’s Bay 6
The T-Birds run through the GSHL continued in week 6 when they took on the Eagles of Hudson’s Bay. The drama of would Derek Lowe takeover as the school’s all-time rushing leader was also answered in this game as Lowe racked up 195 yards on 26 carries to surpass Kevin Clark at the top of the list. Lowe’s total was now an amazing 3, 259 yards, 3 more than Clark. Lowe also scored 4 times pacing the offense.
Tumwater’s defense gave up the one score early on but JD Cowan blocked the PAT. Cowan was also a T-Bird ball hawk with 8 interceptions of his own and combined with Lambert for a total of 17 on the season. In this game Devon Harmia added to the pick-off total setting up one of the Tumwater touchdowns. The T-Birds were now 6-0 and ranked 3rd in the state triple A polls.
Tumwater 41, Fort Vancouver 7
The Wing-T triple threat was on full tilt as Lowe, Anthony Hicks and Chet Doughty all combined for 224 yards on the ground and 5 touchdowns. Doyle added a 26-yard TD pass to Adam Hannukaine and Tumwater rolled to a 35-0 halftime lead. The win was the 7th straight of the season and set up a showdown with the Kelso Hilanders for the League Championship.
Tumwater 24, Kelso 22
The 1993 team would likely have had no idea of the significance of playing at Kelso with the season on the line. Both came in with perfect 7-0 records and despite both being assured of a State Play-off berth the outright league Championship and #1 seed which meant hosting the 1st 2 rounds of State Play-off games were at stake.
These 2 teams faced off in a similar situation exactly 10 years ago in 1983 but with even more on the line in the opening round of the State Play-offs. The famous phantom field goal game gave the Hilanders a 10-7 win over the T-Birds and ended Tumwater’s season. Kelso would go on to easily win the State Championship. The stage was set for sweet revenge or bitter disappointment for the T-Birds as they returned to the scene of the crime from 10-years prior at Kelso’s Schroeder Field.
Tumwater was known for their 3-headed monster Wing-T running attack and Kelso was geared toward stopping that machine with an 8-man front so the T-Birds turned to the passing game. Casey Doyle had a career night throwing for 247 yards and 3 touchdowns.
It looked like the long awaited showdown in front of an estimated crowd of 8,000+ would be another typical Tumwater blow-out and for 3 quarters that is what it was, at least on the scoreboard. The T-Birds struck first when Doyle hit JD Cowan in the flat and Cowan, known as a fierce hitting safety, turned the short pass into a 52-yard touchdown and the Birds were quickly up 7-0.
Kelso would refuse to allow the Tumwater running game get going and continued overloading the box which left the T-Bird receivers in 1-on-1 coverage. Despite being outnumbered up front the offensive line gave Doyle plenty of time to throw as he hit 9 of his first 10 attempts. The defense was also stingy and on the next series Ed Marson recovered a key Hilander fumble. Doyle would then hit Chet Doughty on a 37-yard strike to the 5, Doughty then broke a tackle and finished off the play in the endzone and Tumwater held a 14-0 lead.
The T-Birds were on the march again and penetrated the Kelso side of the field to the 5 when the Scots got a boost they needed to stay in the game by returning a rare Tumwater fumble 95 yards for a touchdown cutting the deficit in half 14-7 and that’s the way it would stand to the break.
The T-Birds again threatened to put this contest away in the 3rd quarter putting up another 10 points on Doyle’s 3rd TD pass and 2nd to Cowan from the 12 yard line. Kyle Grunenfelder also hit a 30-yard field goal pushing the total to 24-7 as they entered the 4th and final quarter.
**Sidenote: Grunenfelder missed his 1st attempt but a penalty gave him a 2nd chance. The funny thing is the penalty was on Tumwater for a false start it’s an automatic penalty, Kelso did not have the option of declining it and gave Grunenfelder another chance from 5-yards further back and he split the uprights. Hmmm…24-3 is 21 and Kelso finished with 22, so simple math tells you whoever false started should have gotten the MVP trophy for that game.
Kelso was a very good team and they had no intention of taking a loss without putting up a fight and they came roaring back in a hurry. The momentum swing began with a punt that pinned the T-Birds back on their own 1-yard line which they turned into a safety tackling Lowe in the endzone.
After a short free kick the Hilanders were in business again and a reverse caught the T-Bird defense flat footed giving up a 31-yard TD run to Kelso’s Jeff Davis. The Hilanders would go for 2 trying to pull within 7 but GATA would hold and it was 24-15.
After holding the T-Birds, Kelso would get the ball back and go on another scoring drive set up by a 38-yard pass play down to the Tumwater 4 yard line. The Scots would push into the endzone and connect on the PAT making it 24-22 with still 6-minutes to play in the game. Although the offense would fail to score again they did take quite a bit of time off the clock but left Kelso one last chance to complete their comeback. Jesse Lambert would pick off a critical pass, his 2nd INT of the game to squish the Hilander dreams and Tumwater finished the GSHL league season 8-0 and Champions. Not bad for a team playing at the 3A level for the 1st time in it’s history.
Tumwater knew they would get to host the 1st 2 rounds of the State Play-offs if they could keep winning but prior to the play-offs there would be a non-league match-up with Capital.
Capital 35, Tumwater 29
Considering the importance of the game the Birds just played and pulled off the most important win of the season and knowing this was a non-league game sandwiched in between qualifying for the State Tournament and 1st round action it is easy to spot this as a potential let down and it was as the motivated Cougars handed the T-Birds their only loss of the year. The old cliche that some believe in and some don’t of sometimes there is such thing as a good loss, this gave validation to those who do believe.
The loss took off the pressure of being perfect and also re-focused the team to a Championship level. The T-Birds now had evidence they were not invincible and better bring their A game to reach their goal and boy did they ever. To emphasize this Coach Otton remembers gathering the team leaders following the Monday practice out at Coach Gary Taylor’s house. Otton said they took all the news clippings, video tape of the game and an audio cassette recording of the broadcast and burned it all. Otton says this cleaned the slate and clearly was a great motivational moment for the team as they “circled the wagons” and got ready for their 1st trip through the 3A Play-offs.
1st Round State Tumwater 41, Bellevue 6
The Bellevue Wolverines may be famous for winning 11 State Titles and setting all sorts of records in the 2000’s and of course more famous for maybe how they achieved those grand marks, but we won’t go into that here. The one thing the most ardent Bellevue fan can’t say is they ever beat Tumwater. The T-Birds are 2-0 against the much ballyhooed program with this pasting in 1993 and then this season 5 weeks ago when the Noah Andrews hit Cade Otton on the last play of the game for the win.
In the 2nd half Tumwater’s career rushing leader, Derek Lowe would kick it into overdrive. After a slow couple of weeks (at least for Lowe) he was ready to turn up the heat. He did not wear his regular white shoes and borrowed a pair of soccer cleats from David Johnson who was a senior on the 92 team.
**Sidenote: David Johnson and his older brother Corey Johnson are the son’s of Tumwater teacher and T-Bird Freshman Football coach for many years Cliff Johnson. Cliff was a stud running back for his Dad and T-Bird Head Coach Rip Johnson back in the early 70’s. Rip Johnson was the coach just prior to Otton taking over in 1974. The Johnson’s have their own legacy in T-bird football and again this is another significant part of T-Bird history that will not get its fair attention in this series.
Back to blasting Bellevue (that just feels good to say doesn’t it?), Lowe ran wild for 203 yards but was quick to give his hosses up front all the credit. Lowe says the job Galen Smith, Joe Burkley, Anthony Brown, Mitch McManus, John Hendrickson and tight end Adam Hannukaine did all season was spectacular. Lowe combined with Doughty and Anthony Hicks running for a combined 349 yards and scored 3 more touchdowns in the 2nd half to pull away for the easy 1st round win.
Quarterfinals Tumwater 49, Auburn 7
In the Quarter Finals another total team domination sent the team from the largest High School in the State packing with their tails between their legs, if they had a tail left. Coach Otton said this was as complete of a game a Tumwater team had played for quite some time. The T-Birds handed the Trojans their worst defeat in 30 years.
The T-Bird defense had not scored a TD all season until the win over Bellevue in the opening round of the play-offs. They began to make up for it big time against the Trojans scoring twice. Jim McDaniel got things started with a fumble scoop and run 13-yards into the endzone. The other score came when John Eusson blocked a punt and Jeff Finney swept it up and returned it 46 yards to make it 14-0.
The offense took over after that and rolled up 35 points to take a 49-0 lead only giving up a very late touchdown as Auburn avoided the shut out. With the win Tumwater advanced to the Semi-Finals as they did in 1992 but this season they were set to finish the job. This set up a collision course with a very powerful Newport team in the Tacoma Dome.
Semi-Finals Tumwater 31, Newport 30 (2 OT)
If 1989 is the Greatest team in T-Bird history, the 1993 Semi-Final game between Tumwater and Newport is my selection as the greatest game in Tumwater history. The T-Birds would have to go to 2 overtimes to pull out a win and they would never lead in this game until winning it on the final play of the game a Chet Doughty PAT.
There was an intensity to this game like no other. Newport was the defending 3A Champs and although they lost their opener they had reeled off 10 straight wins and were in position to defend their title. They showed they meant business on the 1st drive of the game covering 64 yards in just 3 plays. Jason Mark did the damage on a 3rd and 7 going 61-yards around the end to give the Knights a 7-0 lead.
On Tumwater’s 2nd series they would put in the apparent equalizer when Lowe pushed in from the 1 capping a 9-play 59-yard drive. Kyle Grunenfelder, came on for the PAT but missed and the Knights led 7-6. On the kick-off Newport really stepped on the gas pedal as Mark’s returned the kick 68-yards to the Tumwater 22. Ryan Kupfer scored on the 5th play and Newport stretched their lead to 14-6.
After GATA held the Knights on the T-Bird 32, the offense would strike back as this heavyweight fight would ding-dong back and forth. It took Tumwater 3 plays to chew up 68 yards and score pulling Tumwater within 2 at 14-12. Casey Doyle on the 2nd play hit Chet Doughty on a 21-yard completion to the Newport 39. Derek Lowe would carry the rest with a 39-yard sprint off the right side of the T-Bird O-line. Doyle then hit big Adam Hannukaine for a 2-point conversion to tie the game at 14 and that is how the game would go to half.
Despite being tied it felt like the Knights were in control of this game and that Tumwater was playing catch-up the entire game. This would continue as the game entered the 3rd quarter. Newport would re-take the lead with 6:50 left to play in the 3rd when Steve Jacobsen hit a 33-yard field goal to make it 17-14.
The T-Birds countered and marched down the field to the Knights 18 where the drive stalled and Grunenfelder attempted a 35-yard field goal that fell short and Newport held on to the 3-point lead.
GATA defense got into the act next giving the offense their next chance when they threw Mark for a 3-yard loss on a 4th and 3 on the Tumwater 37. Tumwater would get the offense rolling again but the bend but don’t break defense of Newport in the 3rd quarter against held the T-Birds to a 4th and long from the 15-yard line and Coach Otton made a crucial decision. He sent Sr Chet Doughty out to kick the field goal as Grunenfelder who was tremendous all season was dealing with an injury he thought he could kick through. Doughty had not kicked in a game all season but had been practicing because of Grunenfelder’s injury, stepped up and drilled it through to tie the game at 17 with just 3:51 to play in the game.
Newport then reloaded, ready to win this game in the final moments and began a drive that eventually would push into T-Bird territory. As they approached the red zone Knights QB Tom Wagner dropped back and looked for a receiver down near the 20 but Tumwater’s version of Kam Chancellor, Jesse Lambert was there for the pick and took off up the sideline. It looked like he would outrun everyone to the endzone for the potential winning touchdown but apparently stepped out on the Newport 23.
The T-Birds worked the ball down to the Knights 7 and with only 3-seconds to play sent Doughty out to win the game on the final play of the game. Little did he know he was destined to do that, but what he didn’t know was this was not the time as he pulled it to the left and missed.
So off to overtime we went and Coach Otton was a bit concerned the miss might take some of the wind out of the sails of his squad and maybe it did because Newport did not waste any time in scoring from the 25 as Chris Dixon ran the ball 4 straight times slamming it in to go up 7 with the PAT. The T-Birds Lowe then went to work and in just 3 runs behind his beastly O-Line got down to the 1 but after a procedure penalty pushed them back to the 6 yard-line, a beautiful play action pass from Casey Doyle to JD Cowan put the Birds a point away from tying it and forcing a 2nd overtime. Coach Otton said there was no talk of going for 2 at this point. Doughty came on and hit the PAT forcing the 2nd OT with the teams tied at 24-24.
Newport started first again, and again it was Dixon who was running like a man possessed and scored from the 10-yard line on the 4th play of the 2nd Kansas OT. Jacobsen lined up for the PAT and it is hard to pinpoint a play of the game but this one would be in the running when a speedy JD Cowan hit the edge and blocked the PAT attempt and now Newport led only by 6, 30-24.
Coach Otton admitted prior to that they had already discussed possibly going for 2 if they Newport scored again. Well the play by Cowan took that decision off the table and now it was a matter of getting into the endzone. A determined Derek Lowe who had told reporters after the game that he had a dream this game would come down to a final play and that he would be involved. In an eerie sequence Doughty would run the first down play to the 20. On 2nd and 5 Doyle gave the ball to Lowe and dream indeed came true as he blasted 20 yards into the endzone and now it came down to an extra point kick.
Doughty came trotting back out and the Knights tried to ice him calling 2 consecutive time-outs. When play finally resumed, Doughty was calm, cool and collected and booted the ball right down the middle and indeed would win the game with his leg on the final play of the game. This was also the 1st and only time the T-Birds would lead winning it 31-30. Tumwater would advance to the State Championship game for the 4th time in 7 years and the 1st time as a Triple A team.
Kingbowl Tumwater 33, Inglemoor 7
This is difficult to say but the Kingbowl was somewhat of a letdown after that crazy Semi-Final game. It was pretty well known that the “real” State Championship game was played in the Tacoma Dome and the only thing that may keep this close was a Semi-Final hangover. This is exactly the point of saying sometimes there is such a thing as a good loss.
This team still had that Capital loss fresh in their minds and they did not fight through all the challenges of this season that included jumping to the highest classification in the state, having to leave behind decades of rivalries and known opponents to play in a league filled with teams you’ve only heard of or read about. Long bus trips to Vancouver instead of across town. Running the table in the GSHL including holding on against Kelso to clinch the title and #1 seed and then surviving against Newport to only fall short now against an Inglemoor team that no doubt was a good team but they were not a Newport or even a Kelso.
This group of leaders that included Lowe,Doyle, Doughty, Cowan, Lambert, Hicks, Gentry Taylor, Jim McDaniel, John Eussen, Ty Martin, Jeff Finney and more would not allow it. They would not have another Capital game.
I’m not going to go into deep particulars in this re-cap other than to say the Defense was spectacular with Cowan stripping a ball out of the hands of an Inglemoor receiver in the endzone for an interception and Jesse Lambert picking off a school tying record 9th interception and setting a Kingbowl record returning it 81 yards for the final touchdown.
The offense was led by the usual suspects, Lowe had 166 yards and 2 TD’s, Doyle threw another TD, Hicks ran for for 107 and a TD and Villalobos ran a short one in. Yes Inglemoor hung around in this game until the T-Birds buried them with a 21-point 4th quarter but it never felt like the game was in doubt.
1993 was a redemption year for this team and they finished the job. It was an incredible run and clearly distinguished themselves apart from the other Title teams. Although a basic format of solid defense with an offense based on the ground game was followed by all 4 Title teams the character of each squad was so different and in 93 they were certainly their own team and left their own legacy. Just like each team they broke new ground under Coach Otton and did it the T-Bird way.
JD Cowan was voted the GSHL’s Defensive Player of the Year and was nice enough to add his thoughts to this tremendous season:
By JD Cowan
T-Birds Road to the 1993 State Championship
1993 Tumwater’s winning football season was a very special season that brought us a lot of challenges to overcome. Without the best coaching staff in the state and a bunch of extremely resilient and talented men on the team, there is no way we could have won the championship that year. 1993 was the T-Birds first year as AAA competitors and I cannot think of a better way to show the biggest schools in the state that it was where we belonged! We were picked to finish 3rd or 4th in the Greater St Helens league standings, obviously they had no idea that Coach Otton and his staff were the most dedicated and talented staff you could ever ask for.
We breezed through the first part of the season without any real threats until the league championship game against, also undefeated, Kelso. In front of 10,000 fans at their stadium, we jumped on them early for a quick 14-0 score. Unfortunately, we let off the gas and let them right back into the game, turnovers and blown coverages allowed Kelso to threaten our perfect season and league championship. The 2nd half was a battle but we ended up coming out on top for a 24-22 win.
Before heading into the playoffs we had a showdown with crosstown rivals the Capital Cougars, also undefeated in AA Black Hills league Conference. We were obviously riding a pretty big high and thought there was no way Capital was going to come into our house and beat us. Well our cockiness got the better of us and we were smacked in the mouth early and hard. Although we made a hell of an effort and lived up to the T-Bird Motto NEVER GIVE UP NEVER NEVER GIVE UP (NGUNNGU), we ran out of time and ended up losing 35-28 after being down 35-7 in the 2nd half.
Looking back I think that was the best thing that could have happened to us. It taught us we were not invincible and had to work hard to get where we wanted. After watching the game film on Monday night our coaching staff and team had a bonfire and burned every game film. We needed to completely flush that game out of our system and have a fresh start heading into the AAA playoffs.
First up came Bellevue High, a talented group but we knew if we played solid, disciplined T-Bird football and stuck to the coaches game plan then we would advance to the 2nd round. We were right, we won 33-7 and advanced to the next round. Next up was Auburn who was extremely big, fast, tough and on film they posed a serious threat to us. We were always the smaller team on the field but Coach Otton and his staff knew how to make us play as one and that is definitely one of the biggest reasons we ended where we did. We came out strong and really took it to Auburn, we scored on Offense, Defense and Special Teams. It was an amazing called game by our Coaches and executed to perfection by everyone wearing a T-Birds Jersey.
On to the Semi Finals against the defending State Champions, Newport High out of Bellevue. Newport was an outstanding team with exceptional talent, they won the 1992 AAA State Championship with mostly Juniors. We were preparing to play the defending State Champs that had 10 starters back on offense and 9 back on defense, everyone outside of our locker room said we didn’t have a chance. When you have the best coaching staff in the state it doesn’t matter who you are playing; we believed we could and could beat anyone we went against. This game was one for the ages and one that I often look back on as one of the best football games to ever watch (let alone play in).
Newport was big, fast, strong and very well coached, so we had an uphill battle. The whole game was a dogfight where the score ended regulation tied 17-17. Overtime in H.S is the Kansas Tiebreaker format where each team gets the ball on the 25 yard line with a chance to score. Newport got the ball first and scored without a problem, kicking the extra point made the score 24-17. We got the ball and scored on a pass play in the corner on the end zone, the extra point was good and on to the 2nd overtime.
Newport scored with ease, but this time we blocked their extra point making the score 30-24. The pressure was on but we played all year as the underdogs and knew we could come out on top. We drove in for the score and kicked the extra point to win the game 31-30 in double OT. We did the unthinkable and were going to the State Championship Game in our first year at the AAA level.
This gives me chills just writing this. Everything we worked for all year came down to one game in the Kingdome against Inglemoor High. With how intense and exciting the Semi Final game was against Newport I had heard some ramblings that it would be easy for us to have a let down game. With the leadership we had in our locker room, there was no way that was going to happen. The first half of the game was pretty tight and we played not to lose instead of playing to win. In the 2nd half we put it to them winning the State Championship 33-7.
Looking back on this season as a Tumwater T-bird makes me extremely honored and proud to have been a part of something so special with that team and Coaches. The Coaches had won State Titles before but never at the AAA level so to be fortunate enough and be a part of a first for them also is truly humbling. That season will forever carry a special place in my heart.
**Sidenote: This is an important side note if you look up Tumwater’s Tournament history on the WIAA website. For some reason there was a thought to confuse and change history to have it fit the classification system when they added 4A. If you look the T-Birds have 3 3A State Championships (1987, 89, 90), 1 4A Championship (1993) and 1 2A Championship (2010). The titles were for some reason adjusted to what they would be when they decided to change. I never got a good answer as to why the titles couldn’t simply be for what it was when they were won. Who knows what it will be if they add or take away a classification. As you can tell I am not a fan of changing history, Tumwater should officially have 4 2A titles and 1 3A, period, rant over.
I can’t apologize enough for how fast we have to move through the years but this part alone is already about 6,000 words. In 1994 and 1995 the T-Birds continued to rule the GSHL 3A League with 2 more League Titles and 9-0 regular season wins but in both season’s they would lose in the opening round of the State Tournament and have their season come to an end with identical 9-1 records.
In 1996 the reality of the opening of Black Hills High School was truly sinking in. This would be the final season for many traditions that date back to the original opening 35 years ago in 1961. 1996 would be the last time the District would have 1 Homecoming, 1 campus and 1 history. From a sports aspect the biggest impact would be having to share T-Bird Stadium. Naturally T-Bird Stadium could not remain named T-Bird Stadium and it was changed to Tumwater District Stadium. The color of the Stadium also went to a neutral color as to not favor one school over the other.
The T-Birds of 1996 also knew that many of their current classmates and teammates would not be T-Birds in 1997 so there was a dedication to make a deep run into the post-season. 1996 would indeed do just that winning Tumwater’s 4th straight GSHL title and over their 4-year run in the GSHL never lost a league game going 36-0.
The 96 team would beat Wilson in the opening round of the play-offs 39-16. GATA set the table with 4 turnovers and contained a guy named Marcus Trufant holding him to just 25 rushing yards. Rumor has it that’s why Trufant became a defensive specialist, of course I just now started that rumor but I don’t know for sure it wasn’t the case…so we’ll go with it. QB Bryan Keister would light up the airways which was more common in 1996 than not, throwing for 153 yards with Jon Burbidge on the receiving end good for 110 of the total with 3 touchdowns. This set up a huge match-up with the 11-0 Puyallup Vikings who were coach by Mike Huard and his 3rd son Luke Huard was the QB. Puyallup was 11-0 and Tumwater 10-0.
In the quarterfinals at Puyallup the T-Birds despite being ranked higher felt like they were the underdog to the powerful Puyallup Vikings especially having to play on the Vikings home field Sparks Stadium. The Tumwater defense again set the early tone denying the Vikings any points 3 times they worked themselves inside the 25. The offense broke through finally on a Keister to Zane Case 60-yard pass completion to the 23 and then the 2 would hook up again on a 24-yard loft from Keister on a 4th down play for the early lead.
Lance Gustafson would run in the 2nd TD from the 15, that was set up from a blocked punt by Kasey Harris and Tumwater led 14-0 at the half. The Vikings did come out and score early in the 3rd to make it interesting for about 30-seconds but a 65-yard kick-off return by Gustafson and a 24-yard scoring run from Scott Taylor, Tumwater quickly answered the Puyallup score to go up 21-7.
Taylor and Gustafson led the rushing game that chalked up 255 yards and both would score again handing the undefeated Vikings a 34-13 thumping. This set up a re-match with the defending State Champs Curtis. Curtis beat the T-Birds in 1995 in the opening round and went on to win it all.
The Semi-Final game in the Tacoma Dome ended up being a defensive slugfest and 2 missed extra points were the difference in this game as the T-Birds fell short losing 13-12 after leading 12-7 at the half.
This loss would bring to an end a long legacy Coach Otton and his staff had established all the way back in the 70’s. There was a lot of grief not only from the loss but what this loss represented. It would be the last time many students would where Kelly Green, White and Gold whether they were a player on the T-Bird team, a cheerleader, band member or a fan in the stands. It was the last time a united Tumwater community would get to cheer in unison for one team, one mascot, one school. The reality if it had not already sunk in was there now right in front of this community and with this loss it signaled the end of an era but a new one would blossom in Tumwater with two High Schools.
**Sidenote: In earlier parts I mentioned the rumblings about Coach Otton stepping down and retiring actually began in 1989 after their perfect season. Every season thereafter it seemed as a rumor would float around that Coach Otton was about ready to step down. The only time this really maybe made sense was after 1996. Yes, they fell short of their goal of winning a 5th State Title but with the opening of Black Hills and the splitting of the student body there no doubt was going to be a backward step.
Otton could have retired after the most successful 10 years in State High School Football history. He could have cut ties at this time without having any personal family issues come into play like having Grandson’s on your team. He could have walked away knowing the next couple of seasons were going to be difficult and let someone else step in, it really was a natural point to call it quits it all looks nice and neat.
The problem is that’s not the T-Bird way. We, as a society, have this overwhelming desire to put things in boxes and round things off. For instance if Coach Otton would just coach one more year he would wrap up his career with an even 50-years and no doubt would go over the 400 win mark. There are people who don’t understand why he wouldn’t want this. The answer is simple, that’s not even close to what the last 49-years was about. The T-Bird way is not about accumulating numbers and trophies. Those are the rewards for an overall program that buys into team, sharing, looking out for each other, having each other’s back and family.
So in 1996 Coach Otton did answer those who asked but there was never any real or serious consideration in calling it a career. Coach Otton is stepping down now because it’s just something you know. You know the right time and after 49-years of creating this amazing family and the results of his work and vision I will trust the patriarch knows what he’s doing.
The Opening of Black Hills High School
The opening of Black Hills High School was not a joyful moment for many in the community and many were opposed to splitting the student body and school. But the projected growth at the time showed a definite need to expand the District’s facilities to accommodate the influx of students. I for one still would have rather had only 1 school. Certainly I wonder what this program would have been able to do had a 2nd high school never been built. The splitting of talent had an immediate impact as we will find out in 1997.
However, this I know is my emotional side. I certainly understand that doubling the district’s academics, sports and extra-curricular programs, meant that thousands of students over the years would get opportunities that one school could never offer. This is a positive for the district no question. I know there is this division between the 2 schools it’s a natural sibling rivalry like between an older brother and younger brother. There are hurt feelings at times over one school feeling they are being favored over the other one.
I am sure there are some who think this series is being overdone. Why not one story? Why carry all the Tumwater games this season? Why all the attention?
For those who have that question and are suffering from Tumwater or Otton fatigue all I can say is the man that this is all focused on is to blame. (insert smiley face emoji) Coach Otton had a vision of how to run his football team 50 years ago and the way he built this culture, the feeling of family, the loyalty built, the appreciation a player has for just having the opportunity to be part of this thing, you see, didn’t begin with the success of Tumwater Football. The life-long admiration of players for their Coach began during it’s biggest stretch of failure.
If you have not read the early parts of this story I urge you to do it and see how this whole thing came together and how these men built this program one brick at a time. I know I am repeating myself but one of the reason’s I wanted to write this was to show that this type of program isn’t built overnight. It takes years to build this kind of program whether it’s football, basketball, tennis or golf. I know some Black Hills folks are antsy for a State Football Championship but it took Tumwater 26 years to get their 1st one.
Oh by the way there is no State Boys Basketball, Wrestling, Track and Field, Baseball Team Championship banners in the Tumwater trophy case. Why do I mention this? To point out how extremely difficult it is to win it all. It is hard and if you don’t have one doesn’t mean you have or have had bad coaches, sub-par athletes or that you have not been successful, it means it’s damn hard to win it all. As detailed in this series there have been several other years Tumwater could have easily added to their Championship count.
Centralia’s Boys Basketball Coach Ron Brown has been at this for more than 55 years, he is the 3rd winningest basketball coach in State history with about 800 wins but he has 1 State Title. I doubt many would call his program a failure so the point is your program is not only about winning Championships. It is about building that culture. I was never part of a play-off team as a starter but I would not trade 1-second to play for anyone else. That feeling right there is what you hope your coach can and will develop no matter what sport or what school you’re at. It is rare and getting rarer in these times of instant gratification.
Coach Otton has created this monster through his leadership, his vision and it’s something thousands of people have bought into and believe in. How can there be a better message to send and celebrate. My hope is that administrators and fans will read this and understand that if you think you have the right person for the job you need to support that person and program. Revolving door coaches do nothing to build these inert sensibilities such as loyalty, commitment, dedication, empathy and love. This is the difference between a team with players and a team with family members.
1997 could not be a bigger example of this family Coach Otton created. 1997 stands out not for their success on the field but their success as T-Birds. Ten years prior 1987 shocked the world and set a snowball rolling downhill where it gobbled everything up in it’s path with a record from 1987-1996 of 109-11, that’s winning at a 90% clip with 4 State Championships, 7 Semi-Finals appearances, 10 State Tournament appearances and 10 League Championships.
1997 would mark the first losing season since 1979. Going into that season Tumwater would drop back down to 2A and were back playing in the Rivers league that included many of the old home area opponents. Craig Patti who was a Senior in 1997 and played on that team wrote this next piece and he does it better than I could ever hope. Here is a great description of 1997 from a player who experienced it.
By Craig Patti
1997 T-Birds Season
In hindsight, one could see how the season was going to be different. After three years of attending the University of Idaho Football Camp, we went to Eastern Washington’s; no big deal, but it was different. We were coming off a 3rd place finish, losing to 1996 State Champions Curtis in the Semi-Finals in the Tacoma Dome. With the exception of the 1990 team, each of the championship teams had been preceded by a 3rd place finish. We had fate on our side, or so we thought. The Seattle Times had us rated as the pre-season #1 team, and The Olympian had stated “Coach Otton and staff could take the Tumwater Middle School Team and compete for a state title.”
I remember the first day of practice and walking out from the locker room and I remember telling my best friend, Jacob Yake (#28, TE), it looked weird not having 80 players on the field. For the 1997 Season, we were no longer in the Greater St. Helens League, we were now in the North Division of the Rivers League. The North Division was comparable in make-up to the old Black Hills League: Tumwater, Capital, Olympia, Aberdeen, and Shelton. The South Division, if memory serves correctly, was made up of Camas, Centralia, WF West, Mark Morris, R.A. Long, and Washougal.
1997 was a season, more than anything, that really taught us how to live by the GREEN Football and about NGUNNGU. As a team, we saw first-hand the effects of struggling; T-Bird Stadium wasn’t sold out each game and members of the student body would mock our struggles. It was devastating to be the first team in nearly two decades to not have success on the football field. If there was a constant theme that year, it was always so close, but yet so far.
With the exception of our game against Olympia, who beat us 20-0 (first shutout in nearly two decades), we were always in a position to win games. The perfect example of this was our Homecoming game against Capital. We trailed 20-0 at halftime, but after adjustments and a good pep-talk, we came out firing, but ended up running out of time with the score 20-19; each game we fought, we NGUNNGU, but for six of our games, it wasn’t enough.
What stands out in my mind the most of that season, was how even in the face of struggles, we continued to practice hard each week, starters would attend the JV and Freshman Games to give encouragement, and we still wore our colors with tremendous pride. The moral victory of our season was our final game, which came against Shelton. Maybe it was knowing that it was the last game most of us would ever play, or maybe it was something else, but I remember a focus and determination that was special that week. We went out and beat Shelton 36-6. We played perfect T-Bird Football for 48 minutes.
Non-starters and younger players got into the game, and for that last week, that last game, we did what we set out to do. We celebrated as if we won the state championship because, in a way, we were a Tumwater Team that unlike the three season’s prior, we won our last game and went out with that elusive season ending victory.
This is the example of why Tumwater Football is more than just about winning. The 1997 team is just as accepted and cherished as the 1989 squad. Achievement and success come in varying ways. The lesson from Coach Otton is not where you finish but how you got there. This team knew it was not going to be business as usual but they never gave up and continued to get better each and every week.
Coach Otton told me that this season was not as successful on paper than other teams but the improvement and the willingness to continue to work hard to get better even at the end of the season never waivered. 1997 was an important year and could easily have been dismissed as one that didn’t measure up. 1997 did not disappoint the T-Bird family and is a shining example of when facing challenges you simply go to work.
It is 11:30 on Thursday morning October 27th. This part of the story is already late by 3 and half hours from my personal schedule I laid out for this project. But like I found out quickly what looks good on paper does not mean it will work in the real world. I mention this because these two seasons are going to get jipped on what were 2 successful seasons for different reasons.
1998 was coming off the 3-6 season and the 2nd year of the Black Hills expansion. This T-Bird team would not be down long and bounced back with a winning 5-4 season although they missed the play-offs. This was a step in the right direction and the improvement would carry over into 1999.
In 1999 the team’s absence from post-season play would end here. In 1999 the T-Birds would win a League Championship and get to the State Quarterfinals. The T-Birds were back in the mix and there they would stay. Yes there were still some stumbling blocks to get over as we flipped into the 2,000’s but the T-bird dynasty wasn’t going anywhere.
The 1990’s were a rollercoaster from the 2 State Championships to the losing season. In the end the family structure built by Coach Otton was much stronger than any outside force and remains solid as a rock today. Next week will be our final part into this incredible history of Tumwater Football. The Millennials are next!