TACOMA – It’s hard to imagine a state football title game providing more entertainment.
Two 13-0 teams. A 14-point comeback. A back-and-forth second half between a ground-and-pound team and a quick-scoring, high-flying offense. A late touchdown for a one-point lead. A victory-sealing interception.
The only thing that was missing was a win for the local team.
Elijah Haynes scored a 16-yard touchdown on a draw with 2 minutes, 31 seconds left and the Kalama Chinooks held off one last comeback attempt by the Liberty Lancers for a 28-27 victory in the State 2B title game on Saturday at the Tacoma Dome.
It’s Kalama’s first state football championship since 1998, when it was 1A champ.
Liberty, which entered looking for its third state title and first since 1992, fell for the second consecutive year in the 2B championship game, unable to avenge a 34-16 loss to Napavine in 2016.
“We came up one point short,” Liberty coach Mike Dewey said. “I’m really proud of our kids and our coaching staff.
“Sometimes in life you come up short, but that doesn’t mean you lost.”
Kalama jumped out to an early 14-point lead, but the Lancers pounded fullback James Heer between the tackles and Jawuan Nave on the outside to battle back and eventually lead late in the fourth before Kalama’s deciding drive.
Heer finished with 113 yards on 29 carries while Nave had 89 yards on 13 carries. Both backs had two touchdown runs apiece.
“Both of them played absolutely great,” Dewey said. “Ton of courage from both those kids. Super proud of them.”
“It was a hard-fought game,” Heer said. “We just came up a little short.”
“We’ve played hard and together all season,” Nave said. “I’m really proud of my guys.”
Asked if he could take anything away from the one-point loss, Nave said, “It’s a learning experience. We came a long way from summer lifting weights together. We just came up short.”
After Liberty went three-and-out on its first possession, Kalama started at its 32 and used a short-pass attack to make its way into Lancers territory. Facing third-and-10 at the 25, Alex Dyer hit Tucker Wetmore with a slant for a first down at the Liberty 11.
On the next play, Dyer found Jacob Herz on a swing pass to the left and Herz ticked the pylon before getting knocked out of bounds for the first score of the game.
The Lancers failed to pick up a first down on their second possession as well and kicked it back to Kalama. The Chinooks marched down the field – aided by a 12-yard sweep by Herz – but Liberty forced another third-and-long. Dyer lofted a long pass to the back left corner of the end zone, where Wetmore settled under it for a 30-yard touchdown catch and a 14-0 lead with 3:26 left in the first.
This time, the Lancers answered. After a misdirection pitch on the kickoff return set up Liberty at the Kalama 44, a steady diet of Heer took Liberty to fourth-and-5 at the 25.
Heer carried off tackle for 10 yards and ran twice more to get the Lancers to first-and-goal at the 5. On his sixth consecutive carry – and 12th of the game – Heer pounded it off-tackle and into the end zone to make it 14-6.
“It would have been really easy to fold up there when we were down early, but we came back,” Dewey said.
Kalama was called for encroachment on the extra-point attempt and Dewey elected to go for two, but Heer was met immediately in the interior line for no gain.
The Lancers made their second consecutive stop and after a punt got the ball back at their 15. Heer and Nave traded carries until Liberty had first-and-10 at the Kalama 35.
Nave found the corner on a sweep right, made an explosive cut, and went the distance. The extra point made it a one-point game at 14-13 with 2:42 left in the half.
Kalama took a short kickoff at its 45 and moved to the Liberty 25. A sack by Liberty’s Tyson Schenk gave the Chinooks fourth-and-18 with 8 seconds in the half.
Dyer’s pass to the right corner of the end zone was broken up by Liberty’s Brandon Holling and Kalama turned it over on downs and went to the locker with a 14-13 lead at intermission.
Heer had 69 yards rushing on 16 carries at the break.
On the first play of the second half, Dyer was forced from the pocket then broke containment and scrambled 31 yards to the Liberty 20.
The Lancers stiffened. Schenk picked up his second sack of the game and on fourth-and-14 Nave broke up a pass in the end zone to give Liberty the ball back at its 24.
Nave found the corner again for a gain of 27 out to the Chinook 45. Alec Fletcher hooked up with Heer on a 17-yard catch on third-and-14 and again on third-and 5 with a diving catch at the 12 to set up first-and-goal at the 7.
Two plays later, Nave took a sweep left and cut back up the middle for a 4-yard touchdown run. The two-point pass attempt was incomplete and Liberty took its first lead of the game at 19-14 with 4 minutes left in the third.
Kalama came right back. Wetmore took the kick out to the 45. On second down, Dyer was pressured but sidearmed it to Herz, who went 21 yards with it. On second-and-14, Dyer’s pass was tipped in the secondary, but Wetmore pulled the loose ball down and went to the sideline 37 yards for a touchdown. Kalama went back up 21-19 with 1:40 left in the third.
Liberty got the ball back at its 31 and went back to the ground attack with Heer and Nave. An unsportsmanlike penalty on the Kalama bench gave the Lancers an extra 15 yards into Kalama territory. Faced with fourth-and-12 at the 23, Fletcher connected with Nave short of the first down, but a roughing the passer gave Liberty a first down at the 6.
Two plays later, Heer barreled in from the 3 and picked up the two-point conversion right up the middle to give the Lancers a 27-21 lead with 5:37 to go. All told, it was a 17-play drive that lasted just more than 8 minutes.
“It showed how hard we wanted it,” Heer said of the dominant drive. “How badly we wanted it, how hard we worked for it.”
Kalama took the ball at its 30 and Dyer hit Grant Vanderberg for 18 yards to the 46. Haynes carried 11 yards to the 28 and Dyer got Wetmore on a swing pass down to the 19.
Two plays later, Haynes went up the middle with a draw, then busted outside and outran the defenders to the goal line for the game-tying touchdown. Logan Jones’ extra-point attempt was true and the Chinooks took a one-point lead with 2:31 to go.
“We fought back to take the lead and they just made one more play that we did coming down the stretch,” Dewey said.
Liberty got the ball back at its 27, but a rushed pass by Fletcher ended up in the hands of a Kalama defensive back and the Chinooks killed the rest of the clock for their first 2B title.
Dyer finished 11 of 23 for 188 yards and three TD passes, and rushed for 76 yards on 10 carries. Wetmore had five catches for 97 yards with two TDs.
“It was a great ride,” Fletcher said of his team’s 13-1 season. “It’s hard to come up short by one point. There were some plays that could have gone the other way, but at the end of the day I love my teammates. I love my team. Awesome ride.”
Subscribe to The Spokesman-Review’s sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.