THERE WERE FEW secrets regarding the Neah Bay football team this fall.
The Red Devils were going to run first, second and third. And if that didn’t work, they’d probably run it again.
As the Almira Coulee Hartline Warriors learned Friday night in the Tacoma Dome, sometimes it doesn’t matter if you know what’s coming.
Thanks to the Red Devils’ toughness and depth — as well as an offensive scheme that had elements imported from rival Clallam Bay — they were able to will themselves past team after team on their way to a first-ever state championship.
“We run the ball, and we run it well,” said senior running back Titus Pascua, who had 186 of the Red Devils’ 247 rushing yards in Friday night’s 36-28 title-clinching victory.
“That’s always been Neah Bay football, run and gun, slam it down their throat. [ACH] couldn’t stop it, nobody could stop it.
“That’s how we beat [top-ranked] Lummi, that’s how we beat every team in the playoffs.”
Indeed, for five straight games, the Red Devils pounded teams into submission with a dominating run game.
It was a scheme that was eerily similar to the one Neah Bay head coach Tony McCaulley played in as a member of Clallam Bay’s B-8 state championship team back in 1980.
Those Bruins ran power run after power run on the way to their first and only title.
After his playing career ended, McCaulley spent a few years as an assistant to legendary Bruins head coach Andy Ritter.
The things he picked up were eventually installed into the Neah Bay program when he took over in 2009.
“He taught me a lot about how to deal with the kids and stuff,” McCaulley said of the now-retired Ritter.
“I run some of that system still to this day, a lot of the stuff we ran tonight is that system. There’s a lot of stuff we’ve mixed into it with the spread and this and that, but we’re still based around it.”
The Warriors certainly got a heavy dose of it Friday night.
Neah Bay ran the ball on 55 of 59 plays, often out of sets that included five players on the line.
Given the luxury of depth, McCaulley played all three of his offensive linemen — freshman tackle John Reamer, senior center Rufus Arnold and junior tackle Dale Dawson — one way all season.
What happened Friday night was similar to how things had played out for Neah Bay the entire fall.
The three hogs up front and 266-pound fullback Tyler McCaulley wore down the Warriors’ defensive front, and Pascua and quarterback Josiah Greene piled up the yardage.
After scoring just one touchdown in the first two quarters, the Red Devils found the end zone on each of their first four possessions in the second half to pull away.
“Our physicality really takes care of itself,” coach McCaulley said. “Our big fullback [Tyler McCaulley] running up in there and hitting guys on every play kind of wears on teams.
“We only play [the linemen] one way so they stay fresh, and really probably the key to the game was to keep our linemen fresh against Lummi [in the 1B quarterfinals] . . . when we came back to win.
“And this game, I saw their linemen were getting tired and a lot of those guys played both ways.
“It’s nice to have that kind of depth.”
Added Josiah Greene, “We’re just a big team. We push and push and drive and trust in our offensive line to get that push.”
All told, the Red Devils totaled 16 first downs on the game and controlled the ball for more than 33 minutes Friday night.
It was a decisive showing from a physical team; one that left Almira Coulee Hartline head coach Brandon Walsh singing the Red Devils’ praises.
“They were very physical, and what they did as far as running the football they did better than anyone we played all year,” Walsh said.
“They block really well up front. It all really starts right there, and those kids run hard.”
More to come?
The scary thing for the rest of the teams in Class 1B: Neah Bay might just be getting started.
The Red Devils will lose just five players off this year’s championship team, with Titus Pascua, Rufus Arnold, Michael Dulik, Keaton Hawkins and Willy Parker all graduating in the spring.
Most of the team’s core players are sophomores or juniors, including sophomore quarterback Josiah Greene, who racked up 198 yards of offense and had a hand in three touchdowns Friday night.
“We got a lot of these guys back,” coach McCaulley said.
“Josiah Greene is going to be awesome next year, he’s getting bigger, Tyler [McCaulley] is getting bigger. [Sophomore] Cody Cummins came in today and played one heck of a game defensively, came in and spelled Titus at tailback, which we’ll be doing next year.
“I’m looking for big things out of this group for the next couple of years.”
Anthony Rascon, a former standout on the line who played on the 2009 1B semifinal team, said he saw this coming with this team two years ago.
“When I was a senior there were a lot of young players that started,” Rascon said. “I knew they were going to be really good. I just didn’t think they were going to be this good this quick.”
Title game, Part Deux
For many of the Red Devils in Friday night’s contest, this was the second championship game in less than a year.
The Neah Bay boys basketball team reached the 1B title tilt against Sunnyside Christian last spring in Spokane, only to lose 55-50.
Obviously, the feeling was a whole lot different this time around for those who took part in both games.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Zeke Greene, the point guard on last year’s basketball team. “We’ve been working hard in the offseason and [during the] season. It feels great.”
Friday’s win gave Neah Bay its first team state title in the history of Red Devil athletics.
The football team went to the B-8 championship game twice in 1989 and 1999 only to lose, while the boys basketball team’s 2011 appearance was that program’s first.
Only two other football teams on the North Olympic Peninsula have won state titles.
The Clallam Bay Bruins took the 1980 B-8 crown, while the Crescent Loggers were the 1996 champions.
“We’ve been trying to get to the state championship for years,” said Pascua, a starting guard on the basketball team. “We finally got the shot and we took advantage of it and brought it home.”
Hopefully the last person turned out the lights when they left Neah Bay on Friday afternoon.
Just about the entire Makah Reservation came out to watch their Red Devils take on Almira Coulee Hartline that night.
Banging on traditional Indian drums and letting loose with a few tribal chants, the Tacoma Dome had a distinctly Makah feel during and after the 1B championship.
“I don’t know if anybody is left at home, we’re here,” said Michael Lawrence, a former Neah Bay boys basketball coach. “We’re just so excited. It’s for all of us, the whole community.”
Those who witnessed the Neah Bay faithful sing the “No. 1” song to their players following the win certainly got a taste for how special this win was for the community.
Players, family members and coaches cried, and everyone around them snapped photos and drank in the moment.
“It’s not just a win for the football team, the school, the players, it’s for the whole community,” said Rascon.
“We’re one big family, and as you can tell, there’s probably no one in our town [right now].
“It’s just great to see everybody here and celebrating.”
________Matt Schubert is the outdoors and sports columnist for the Peninsula Daily News. His column regularly appears on Thursdays and Fridays. He can be reached at [email protected]