TACOMA — Despite this being Quilcene’s first visit to the Class 1B state football championship, the upstart Rangers have a little championship experience on their side(line).
When Quilcene faces off with six-time state champ Almira/Coulee-Hartline at noon Saturday at Mount Tahoma High School, the Rangers will have Byron Wilson, a three-time state title winning coach at Service High School in Anchorage, Alaska, coaching up the defense.
Wilson led Service to a 56-13 record in seven seasons as a head coach, including three straight state championships from 1997-99.
He later coached at Hazen High School in Renton before taking on the Quilcene head coaching job and then swapping positions with his former pupil, current Quilcene head coach Trey Beathard, when Beathard moved from Texas to Brinnon.
Beathard, whose father worked in the oil industry in Alaska, was coached by Wilson some 40-plus years ago at Service and played on the same line as Wilson’s younger brother.
Wilson built Service into a powerhouse program, much like Warriors coach Brandon Walsh has in winning three titles in his 23 years in charge of the team (2007, 2015 and 2017).
“It’s emotion against the machine,” Wilson said of his team’s matchup before winning the 1999 state championship.
“Their emotion against our machine. Not that emotion doesn’t win sometimes. You get small schools that win.”
The Rangers have built their own machine, one that has claimed five straight SeaTac League titles and produced a 49-8 record in Beathard’s six seasons in charge with a trip to the state semifinals in 2018 and other state appearances.
To stop ACH and take home the top trophy, Quilcene will have to shut down a potent Warriors rushing attack.
Three ACH players have gained more than 750 yards on the ground this season: Grady Murray, who has 927 yards and 16 TDs rushing, Carter Pitts, with 83 carries for 778 yards and 16 scores, and quarterback Dane Isaak, who has rushed 41 times for 766 yards and 14 TDs.
Murray also has caught 11 passes for 264 yards and eight TDs and returned five of his six interceptions for touchdowns.
Knowing where Murray is on the field and getting help stopping defensive lineman Reece Isaak, who has 51 tackles, including 13 tackles for loss, will be key for the Rangers’ offensive attack.
Quilcene also will need to help out bruising back Bishop Budnek, who totaled 240 yards on 37 carries and four TDs in the Rangers’ 36-12 semifinal win over Odessa. Budnek, who has nearly 900 yards in three postseason games, was honored for his efforts on Thursday with a WIAA Athlete of the Week award.
Tickets for the game are $16 for adults, $11 for students and senior citizens, and they are available only in advance at www.tinyurl.com/PDN-QuilceneTickets. The contest also will be livestreamed for a fee of $10 through the NFHS Network at www.tinyurl.com/PDN-QuilceneGame.
Quilcene will hold a pep rally for the team today at 1:20 p.m. and a public sendoff for the team, complete with horns, bells and whistles, is planned for 8:15 a.m. Saturday from the school parking lot.
Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-406-0674 or [email protected] news.com.