The distraction is ancient history now.
Yes, the Ferris football team must make its second trip to Tacoma in six days. But it could turn out to be a blessing, not a curse in more ways than one.
Going from practicing in sub-freezing temperatures to playing in a climate-controlled, 70-degree indoor stadium takes some acclimation.
So count the Saxons acclimated.
Third-ranked Ferris also is pleased with the 4A state championship matchup. The Saxons (13-0) take on the No. 1-ranked Skyline Spartans (12-1), winners of the past two 4A state championships and the 3A title in their final year in that classification. Kickoff on Saturday in the Tacoma Dome is at 4.
To beat the team that handled them 45-21 in the final last year, the Saxons must rely on what has carried them the past two weeks – defense.
“That’s been the key,” Ferris coach Jim Sharkey said. “Our red zone defense has been phenomenal the last few weeks. There have been times we’ve had a little bend and had to make plays.”
Defensive coordinator Grady Emmerson senses the Saxons aren’t just satisfied to get to the final as they may have been a year ago.
“Our kids are hungry,” Emmerson said. “They’ve wanted this rematch all year long. They want to prove to themselves they belong. They don’t like losing and we’ve lost to them each of the past two years.”
So there’s plenty of motivation. But motivation can only get a team to the opening kickoff. At that point, athletes have to make plays.
That’s where the Saxons’ defense hopes to keep an ultra-talented Skyline team in check.
The Spartans are led by University of Washington-bound wide receiver/defensive back Kasen Williams, a man child at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds. Skyline trailed 28-7 to Curtis last week, but Williams led the comeback that resulted in a 35-34 win.
“Kasen Williams has taken over the playoffs,” Sharkey said. “They’ve been tied or behind in every playoff game. He’s going to make plays. The big thing is we have to limit them and tackle him when we get a chance.”
And the Saxons can’t become so focused on Williams that they forget to defend the Spartans’ other playmakers.
“The key is we just have to stay disciplined and everyone must be focused on their own job and not trying to do the jobs of others,” Saxons senior linebacker Grant Livingston said.
Said senior free safety Riley Stockton: “We have to get a lot of guys to the ball and not let them break tackles.”
The Saxons have much respect for Skyline.
“We have all the respect in the world for them,” Livingston said. “They’re a great team with a great tradition.”
At the same time, though, the Saxons don’t believe they’ll be awestruck by the Spartans as they were last year. They don’t believe it’s a David vs. Goliath-type matchup.
“We’re going in with the mentality that we respect them a lot, but at the same time we don’t fear them,” senior defensive end Dillon Beschel said. “They were bigger, stronger, faster than us all the way around last year. They still have a lot of guys who can play, but our guys have gotten bigger, stronger, faster since last year.”
The Saxons believe it will take nothing less than their best to beat Skyline.
“We’re definitely going to have to play better than (Monday),” Beschel said.
“We’re not hoping for a miracle, but we know we’re going to have to play our best game of the year if we want to win,” he said. “We’ve been close. We still haven’t touched it yet so that’s encouraging.”
The Saxons are the 4A academic state champions with an average grade-point average of 3.4. Ferris will be presented a plaque in the title game. “This is a special breed of kids,” Emmerson said. … Here are the Saxons’ statistical leaders: running back Kole Heidinger (1,150 yards, 12 touchdowns); quarterback Ben Goodwin (155 of 208; 1,956 yards; 23 TDs and five interceptions); wide receivers Jordan Tonani (58 catches, 652 yards), Stockton (44/707, 10 TDs) and Beau Bozett (25/377). … Here are Skyline’s statistical leaders: QB Max Browne (3,883 yards, 48 TDs, 10 interceptions) and wide receivers Williams (83/1,538 and 21 TDs) and Jordan Simone (53/1,024 and 15 TDs). … Williams was named Washington’s Gatorade Player of the Year on Thursday.