TACOMA — Titus Pascua and Keaton Hawkins embraced amid a throng of supporters crammed together in a cramped corner of the Tacoma Dome.
The two Neah Bay seniors wept into each other’s shoulder pads, unable to contain their joy as the circled crowd serenaded them with an old tribal song.
The Makah call it their
“No. 1” song. And no time was it more appropriate than at that moment.
After knocking off Almira Coulee Hartline 36-28 in Friday night’s Class 1B eight-man football title game, the Neah Bay Red Devils were state champions for the first time in school history.
“It’s a love song, from the community to us,” Pascua said. “They were just showing their support, showing that they love us.”
It’s easy to understand how they could have fallen in love with these Red Devils (12-2 overall).
Over the course of one magical month, they had won five straight playoff games hundreds of miles away from their home at the edge of the Earth.
Two weeks ago, they rallied from a 20-0 deficit to drop long-time tormentor Lummi in Bellingham. One week later, they rolled past Odessa-Harrington in Moses Lake.
And on Friday night, they willed their way past the second-ranked Warriors (13-1) the same way they had the rest, behind a dominating ball-control offense that could not be stopped.
The win ended a three-game losing streak for the Red Devils in the Tacoma Dome, including back-to-back 1B semifinal setbacks the past two years to Lummi.
“We had two goals this year. One was to make it here and the second one was to win it. That’s what we did,” Neah Bay coach Tony McCaulley said.
“That was a good football team we were playing. They were really good and tested us right to the maximum.
“That could have went either way and I’m just so proud of the kids, especially our seniors really gave it up for us tonight.”
Neah Bay ripped off 247 yards on the ground and 323 total while holding onto the ball for more than 33 out of 48 minutes.
The Red Devils ran the ball 55 times, grinding the Warriors’ defense down with each carry as they scored touchdowns on four straight possessions in the second half.
Pascua turned in a courageous performance at running back, rumbling for 186 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries despite spraining his elbow midway through the game.
Sophomore quarterback Josiah Greene ran for 122 yards and two touchdowns as well and shook off an early interception to complete his final three passes for 76 yards and one touchdown.
Two of those passes went to his cousin, Zeke Greene, for 36 yards and a touchdown, while the other was caught by Tyler McCaulley for a 40-yard gain.
Combined with an inspired defensive effort that limited the Warriors to a season-low 28 points, it was more than enough to deliver the Red Devils their first championship game victory in three tries (Neah Bay lost in 1989 and ’99).
“That’s a good football team,” Almira Coulee Hartline coach Brandon Walsh said.
“They were very physical, and what they did as far as running the football they did better than anyone we played all year.”
Neah Bay put together three drives that spanned six minutes or more.
The first, coming on the team’s opening possession of the game, set the tone as Pascua and Josiah Greene took turns chewing up chunks of Tacoma Dome turf on 11 straight runs.
The last one salted the game away in the fourth quarter, as the Red Devils marched 77 yards on 15 plays to kill more than eight and a half minutes.
The drive, aided by a defensive holding call on fourth-and-4 near midfield, ended with a one-yard run from Tyler McCaulley on fourth-and-goal.
He had been nursing a shoulder injury all game, but the 5-foot-8, 266-pound fullback still managed to muscle his way into the end zone and put Neah Bay ahead by two scores with 3:11 to go.
“My right shoulder was hurting the whole game,” Tyler McCaulley said.
“I didn’t feel it at all [on that last play]. I just kept driving my legs and hit the goal-line into the end zone.
“That felt amazing, the best thing I ever felt.”
The sophomore two-way star wasn’t the only one who was hurting, however.
Pascua injured his right elbow late in the first half and spent most of the 20-minute break getting it taped up.
Three plays into the Red Devils’ first drive of the second half, he busted loose for a 73-yard touchdown run that helped put Neah Bay ahead 16-8.
Later on, after the Warriors cut the lead to 36-28, he closed out the game with three straight runs for a first down.
“They told me I sprained my elbow, but that wasn’t going to stop me from playing,” Pascua said.
“I didn’t even think about it. It’s the state championship. It hurt, but you just got to play through it.”
On the other side of the ball, Neah Bay bottled up Warrior quarterback Derek Isaak most of the night.
With sophomore linebacker Cody Cummins shadowing him throughout, Isaak had just three runs that went for more than 8 yards.
On one key play early in the second quarter, the senior signal caller was stuffed for no gain by senior defensive lineman Michael Dulik on fourth-and-1 at the Red Devil 20-yard line.
And while Isaak threw for 150 yards and two touchdowns on 9-for-17 passing, 70 of those came in the final three minutes after Neah Bay was ahead by two touchdowns.
“That was the difference in the game I believe, [Cummins] played outstanding for us,” coach McCaulley said.
“I got to give it up for my defensive coordinator [T.J. Greene], he did a heck of a job, he had the right guys in the right spot, and it came out good for us.”
Neah Bay’s special teams came up big as well, recovering two onside kicks; one of their own and the other by the Warriors late in the game.
The Red Devils caught the Warriors by surprise with theirs, which came after Josiah Greene hit Zeke Greene for a 13-yard touchdown pass to go up 22-14 midway through the third quarter.
Dulik pooch-kicked the ensuing kickoff down the left sideline, sophomore Mitchell McGee ran onto the ball and dived to snatch it before any of the Warriors could get to it.
Two plays later, Greene scored on a 39-yard run and the Red Devils were ahead 28-14.
The Warriors answered with Isaak hitting Colin Deyarmin for a 37-yard touchdown strike on third-and-long, but Neah Bay came back with its long, grinding 15-play possession to go up 36-22.
Isaak would have one more long scoring pass, a 29-yarder to Thunder Wellhausen with two minutes remaining, but Neah Bay’s Leyton Doherty recovered the following onside kick.
All the Red Devils needed after that was three straight Pascua runs for a first down, and they had their first state championship of any kind.
“I’ve been dreaming about this since I was 6 years old, since I first started playing football,” Pascua said.
“This is what I’ve been looking forward to all my life and to finally get it, I’m proud of my team, the community, the fans, everybody that came and supported us throughout the season.
“We were underdogs the whole state playoffs, and we came out on top.”
Finally, the Red Devils are No. 1.
Neah Bay 36, ACH 28
ACH 8 0 6 14— 28
Neah Bay 8 0 20 8— 36
NB—J. Greene 2 run (Pascua run)
ACH—Isaak 24 run (Wellhausen pass from Isaak)
NB—Pascua 73 run (J. Greene run)
ACH—Isaak 58 run (Deyarmin run failed)
NB—Z. Greene 13 pass from J. Greene (J. Greene run failed)
NB—J. Greene 38 run (pass failed)
ACH—Deyarmin 37 pass from Isaak (Isaak run)
NB—McCaulley 1 run (Z. Greene pass from J. Greene)
ACH—Wellhausen 29 pass from Isaak (pass failed)
Rushing— NB: Pascua 30-186, J. Greene 15-122, Cummins 7-28, McCaulley 3-11. ACH: Isaak 12-115, Deyarmin 4-3, Streeter 2-5.
Passing—NB: J. Greene 3-4-1, 76. ACH: Isaak 9-17-0, 150; Deyarmin 0-1-0, 0.Receiving—NB: McCaulley 1-40, Z. Greene 2-36. ACH: Deyarmin 6-99, Wellhausen 2-45, Hunt 1-6.