When it comes to playoff football, Freeman has a Royal pain.
In six appearances in the state Class 1A football playoffs, the Scotties have seen their season ended by Royal four times – a fact that makes today’s state quarterfinal showdown between the teams all the more interesting.
“We have an interesting history with Royal,” Freeman coach Jim Wood laughed. “But I have beaten them – twice while I was defensive coordinator at Okanogan.”
The challenge for Freeman goes deeper than a rivalry with the Knights, however. The challenge is the powerful South Central Athletic Conference.
In the 13 state Class 1A championship games played since 2000, 12 SCAC teams have appeared in the championship game – including 2007, when both Royal and Connell reached the final.
In that span the SCAC has been absent from the last game of the season only twice, when the Northeast A League’s Colfax beat Tacoma Baptist in 2001, and in 2008, when the Caribou Trail League’s Cashmere beat Cascade Christian of Puyallup.
Royal has won five state championships in that span and lost in the championship game three more times – including a loss last year to Montesano. Connell has reached the state championship game five times in the past five years, winning a pair of titles.
“(Royal’s) a really good program,” Wood said. “They’re well coached. They’re tough. They play aggressive football.”
Royal comes into today’s game with an 8-3 record after shutting out Riverside last week, 42-0. The Knights got into the first round of the state playoffs by knocking off No. 1-ranked Zillah, 17-7, in a play-in game – taking advantage of a pair of early turnovers to pull off the upset and avenging a 45-14 rout by the Leopards in September.
The Scotties come into today’s game with arguably their best playoff team yet and with a win over a SCAC team already under their belts – a 55-19 win over River View Saturday at Gonzaga Prep.
Freeman’s defense plays with the same intensity and aggression that Royal typically displays. Offensively, the Scotties are extraordinarily difficult for defenses to stop.
“We’re bigger up front than we’ve ever been, that’s for sure,” Wood said. “I have back-up tackles who weigh 190 pounds and that’s never happened before. And we have two tailbacks with totally different styles of running and we start them both in the same backfield.”
And that dual backfield identity is what makes Freeman a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators. It’s football’s version of having a powerful right cross and a lethal left hook and an ability to knock out an opponent with either.
Senior Max Laib is a prototypical tailback, with breakaway speed to the outside and an ability to cut back on a dime to dodge would-be tacklers.
Junior Markus Goldbach is a 195-pound beast of a tailback who is more likely to run through defenders than around them – and do it with the same speed as his backfield mate.
“Most teams, when they change out their tailback, they do it after 15 or 20 plays and they have to make a substitution to do it,” Wood said. “We don’t do that. We put them in the same backfield and can run either one of them on any given play.”
If that weren’t enough, the Scotties have developed a passing game to keep defenses from over-playing the run.
Quarterback Preston Hoppman has a pair of outstanding outside receivers in Kian Genteman and Jesse Kitterman.
At 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds Genteman is a difficult matchup for most defensive backs and he has exceptional hands and an athletic body to go with it. Kitterman isn’t big, but he catches whatever is thrown in his direction.
“It’s all about Hoppy getting the ball where it needs to go,” Wood said. “We don’t need him to make perfect throws, but we do want him to be as perfect as he can be on every play – we ask that of everyone. He’s come a long way this year and he handles the pressure.”