Temperatures in the low 40s, a steady breeze and a light rain falling during warmups, didn’t make for great conditions to sling the ball around on Saturday.
It was the perfect setting for Mt. Spokane’s defense – one of the toughest in the state.
The Wildcats generated six sacks and three interceptions – two on back-to-back possessions and one returned for a touchdown – and shut out Gig Harbor 20-0 at Union Stadium to advance to the 16-team State 3A bracket.
Mt. Spokane (7-2) will find out its round-of-16 opponent Sunday evening.
Aiden Prado returned an interception 60 yards for a TD, Ethan Williamson had a pair of sacks and Sean Washington had a sack and an interception to lead the stingy Wildcats defense.
“They’re very similar style offenses,” Prado said, comparing the two teams. “Very big-play offense. They like to throw it deep and throw it often. Their run game we knew we could take control of up front. We just had to make sure we didn’t let them get over the top of us.”
Mt. Spokane limited Gig Harbor quarterback Will Landram to 12-of-30 passing for 93 yards and three interceptions.
“This is the way we wanted to start the playoffs,” Williamson said. “We wanted to show everyone in the state who we are and defensively we did that.”
Williamson missed last week’s game to an undisclosed ailment.
“It’s huge having Ethan Williamson back this week,” Mt. Spokane coach Terry Cloer said. “He’s the anchor of our front and you know we missed him huge last week.
“We played good in the secondary. They’ve got a couple of big receivers that are good football players and one’s going to WSU so yeah, the secondary did a great job and guys up front were stopping the run. All phases of our defense played well today.”
Mt. Spokane quarterback Kellen Flanigan finished 20 of 32 for 232 yards.
The teams traded three-and-outs on their first possessions. Mt. Spokane got it back at midfield after the Tides (6-4) had to punt from their end zone.
The Wildcats picked up a first down, but not another, and they settled for a 48-yard field-goal attempt by Ethan Moczulski. The hold was short of the mark though, and Moczulski’s line-drive effort was considerably short.
The defenses flexed for most of the rest of the half, with Mt. Spokane picking up sacks from Jalen Person, Washington and Williamson. Gig Harbor came away with an interception by Christian Parrish.
On fourth-and-2 at the Gig Harbor 33 with 2:41 left in the half, the Wildcats lined up for a 50-yard field-goal attempt. Cloer called timeout to think it over, then sent out his heavy formation, with two extra lineman, and Tyler Alm plowed for 4 yards and the first down.
“I’ve got a great O-line,” Alm said. “I got guys I can trust and block for me and I’m just happy they’re on my team.”
Flanigan hit Sands for 13 yards down to the 14, but the drive stalled again. Moczulski nailed the field-goal attempt from 27 yards to put Mt. Spokane ahead 3-0 at halftime.
On Gig Harbor’s first drive of the second half, Landram floated a pass attempt into the hands of Prado, who then went down the sideline 60 yards for a touchdown to put the Wildcats up 10-0.
“I was in zone coverage on that and all week (on scout team) we ran that play, ran that play, and I bit up on it,” Prado said. “I had to be self-disciplined and draw back. Then I just made a play on it.”
“It’s something that we practice a lot and focus on,” Cloer said. “When we get a pick, we have to turn it into offense. So we did that.”
On third-and 15 from the 15, Landram tried a sideline route but Jordan Sands ran under it for the pick and he returned it to the Gig Harbor 24. A pair of holding penalties stalled the drive and Moczulski’s kick was good from 30 yards. The Wildcats led 13-0 with just over 6 minutes left in the third quarter.
After a punt, Mt. Spokane got the ball back at its 19. A screen to Prado went 59 yards to the Tides’ 14. On fourth-and-1 at the 5, Alm picked up 4 yards to extend the drive. After switching ends at the end of the quarter, Alm pounded it in for a 20-0 lead.
Down the stretch, Jerom Liljenquist sacked Landram to end one Gig Harbor series and Washington’s pick with 2:30 remaining sealed the win.
“The offense struggled just a teeny bit, but that’s what happens sometimes,” Williamson said. “Defensively, we just came together and really stopped them.”