Keith Stamps makes no bones about it.
If his Deer Park football team wants to continue playing beyond on Saturday – read Tacoma and the state final the week after – than it must continue to play the stingy defense that has carried the Stags thus far.
The opportunistic Stags struck again, handling the Zillah Leopards 24-6 in a State 1A quarterfinal Saturday at Gonzaga Prep.
Deer Park (10-1) takes on defending state champ and No. 1-ranked Royal (11-0) on Saturday in the semifinals. The site, which will be decided Monday by the WIAA, will be either G-Prep or Albi Stadium.
Royal defeated La Salle 42-12 on Friday.
The Stags limited Zillah running back Ryan Slack, the South Central Athletic Conference’s most valuable player, to 56 yards on 18 carries.
“Just another tremendous defensive effort,” Stamps said. “We got stop after stop. The kids just believe in what we’re doing. We tackled well.”
The game was scoreless for the nearly 22 minutes and both teams had four possessions.
Finally, Deer Park put together a four-play drive, culminating with a Trayton Bird 49-yard touchdown reception from Conner O’Dea to put the Stags up 7-0 with 2 minutes, 7 seconds to go before halftime.
Bird reached over a smaller defender, secured the ball and then ambled into the end zone.
Bird, whose family moved to Deer Park from Soldotna, Alaska, before the season, intercepted a pass and returned it 56 yards for a 14-0 lead with 59 seconds before intermission.
“I know he’s only a junior, but he’s one of the best players I’ve coached (in 13 years),” Stamps said.
Bird said he saw the opportunity for the interception based on film study.
“We watched a lot of film. I just waited for it,” Bird said.
The Stags’ lead grew in the second.
Deer Park probably should have had a bigger lead going into the third quarter. Zillah had three first-half turnovers.
Zillah threatened to pull within a touchdown on its second drive of the third period. The Leopards moved to the Stags’ 4-yard line and faced a fourth-and-1. But Deer Park sniffed out a quarterback sneak for a 1-yard loss and a turnover on downs.
The Stags made it hurt. They drove 95 yards on 10 plays to extend the lead to 21-0. On second-and-7 in the red zone, O’Dea rolled left then threw back to fullback Dean Lockwood, who sneaked out of the back field undetected up the left sideline for a 19-yard TD connection with 1:07 remaining before the fourth period.
Zillah (10-2) turned the ball over on downs again on its next possession, giving the Stags superb field position at the Leopards’ 31.
The Stags drove to the 9 and settled for a 28-yard field goal from Carter Countryman for a 24-0 lead with 10:09 remaining.
Zillah second two minutes later, but Deer Park chewed up time on its next two possessions to end the game.
The Leopards slowed down usually productive Stags running back Tyson Lim. But they had difficulty defending Bird, who finished with five receptions for 118 yards.
Stamps is looking forward to playing Royal.
“They’re obviously Goliath, defending state champions,” Stamps said. “It’s going to be a great challenge for our defense. We have a lot of respect for them. That’s a program we want to be like.”
There will be no fear, Bird said.
“We ain’t scared,” Bird said. “We’re a good team, they’re a good team. It’s going to be a heckua football game.”
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