The 3A football playoffs haven’t been kind to the Kelso Hilanders.
Kelso is in the middling of enrollment numbers in the 3A ranks but is one of the smaller towns in the classification. So it has run into perennial powers such as O’Dea, Eastside Catholic and Bishop Blanchet in recent years, playing the likes of former UW star tailback Myles Gaskin and others.
This year, though, they get something of a break. The installation of a turf playing surface at Schroeder Field finally allows them to host a playoff game Friday, when they host Spanaway Lake in a 7 p.m. crossover tilt.
“It all comes down to your guys,” Kelso coach Steve Amrine said. “I never felt like we were out of position, it’s just at times you run into a better football team. You tip your cap, move along.”
The home aspect of the game is special. Amrine noted that without voter approval of last year’s $98.6 million school bond, the Hilanders wouldn’t have turf and they’d be playing away, because the WIAA requires playoff games to be played on turf.
“Thank you to all the people that voted a year ago to pass the bond over in Kelso that, you know what, now this opportunity is here for us,” Amrine said. “That’s awesome. It’s paid off that our voters took care of our schools and stuff and made it a priority to be able to host something like this.”
Home cooking is a welcome respite for the Scotties. Since 2004, when the Hilanders ran into a Jake Locker-led Ferndale team in the semifinals, Kelso is just 2-10 in the playoffs.
Included are close losses to Mercer Island on a missed point after. There was a four-point loss to Meadowdale when Kelso got to the 1 and couldn’t score. The Hilanders lost to Rainier Beach by 10 a year ago.
There also have been drubbings: Kelso lost in two straight years to those O’Dea Fighting Irish by a combined total of 91-7. It was part of a run where they played Eastside, O’Dea then Blanchet and lost those games by combined scores of 203-20. All those games were on the road with vastly superior athletes.
Kelso now thinks it has the juice to compete, at least initially.
“We’re capable of taking it pretty far,” senior Seth Sutherby said. “This team is young and hungry, and we’ve played against good teams. We’re about to face good teams in the playoffs like this week. The other teams just better be ready.”
But the Spanaway Lake Sentinels aren’t to be trifled with. They are athletic and have played tough games against good teams. Furthermore, you can’t draw conclusions from their 4-5 record.
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The Sentinels have a pair of quarterbacks — junior Braden Robinson and freshman James Dempsey. Robinson has played seven games with 508 passing yards with six touchdowns and four picks, and James has played six games and passed for 907 yards with 10 TDs and five INTs.
Amrine doesn’t know which will play, but that seems irrelevant because the Sentinels have players everywhere.
There’s junior running back Jonathan Shannon-Cordova, who has rushed for 634 yards and six touchdowns.
There’s Deonte Hayes, who’s caught 42 passes for 575 yards and nine touchdowns. There’s Taeshawn Cummings, who has caught 29 passes for 348 touchdowns and five scores.
It’s a potentially explosive group.
“Fundamentally sound. Athletic,” Amrine said of the Sentinels. “Pretty good football team that’s had some tough games against some good people.”
The Sentinel defense has held good offenses like Lakes and Bethel to 12 and 23 points, respectively.
“We need to take care of the football and play sound D and not do anything that gives them a chance,” Amrine said. “Stay of the front end of the chains. Do a good job of taking care of the ball. And playing penalty-free and play the way we can play. There’s no question that we’ll come out fired up and aggressive. That won’t be an issue.”
Kelso comes in hot. Since falling to co-league champ Prairie 38-22 on Oct. 4, Kelso has won three of four, the only loss coming to Hockinson in a game Kelso missed several scoring opportunities and had a chance to tie at the end.
The miraculous comeback over Mountain View and the drubbing of Hudson’s Bay in the finale sent Kelso into the playoffs on a high note..
“We’ve been playing good football against some good teams,” Sutherby said. “Hockinson is a good team. Mountain View is a good team. Of course, Mountain View took us to the wire. We’ve been playing good football, and I’m so happy that we’re playing it at the end of the season right when playoffs start.”