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State Championship Football

Hard-nosed 'Nooks: Kalama's veteran line steels itself for one last ride

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Kalama line

From left to right: Cody Snyder, Seth Hoseney, Gino Santi, and Preston Armstrong pose for a photo after Kalama's practice on Nov. 30. The four seniors have led the Chinooks' defensive front to a bounce back season, allowing just four 100-yard rushers all season.

The operating word as the Kalama football team broke its Tuesday practice, with just three days remaining before its 2B State title matchup against Napavine, wasn’t “Score.” The Chinooks didn’t cheer for “Speed,” or “Tempo,” or “Four Verts,” or “70-Yard Touchdowns.” Instead, when the team bunched together around head coach Sean McDonald, the word yelled with the helmets held in the air was “Physicality.”

It’s one thing to say a word in unison, of course. This season, though, the Chinooks have been living out the message in the trenches, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

“It’s always been talk about how the front has to be tough, and I just think we’re really showing that this year,” lineman Gino Santi said. “Practicing hard, and we’ve been proving that. We’re not really big, but we’re physical up front.”

Just look at how the winter season got this calendar year started. The Chinooks went 2-3, and those three losses had a pretty common theme:

In a season-opening 49-32 loss to Napavine on Feb. 20, Laythan Demarest ran for 244 yards, the Tigers racked up 384 on the ground, and when Kalama’s offense failed to find the end zone on two straight drives, it spelled doom.

Three weeks later, Onalaska poured out 431 rushing yards, with Marshall Haight gashing the Chinooks up the middle for 288, and the Kalama offense couldn’t quite keep up in a 68-58 shootout.

The next time on the field, Kalama gave up 512 total yards to Forks, and when the Spartans figured out how to stop the Chinook offense, it led to a blowout of a second half.

“I think it just takes a lot of practices to be a disciplined, tough football team,” McDonald said. “When you don’t have that many and you’re just kind of winging it and doing the offense and defense that we do, it takes a lot of reps and a lot of game time preparation to get to where we are.

“This year, we had the summer, and we had the seven-on-seven, and we had the preseason. I think that really has led to us being more disciplined, and with that, being able to be more physical. And then we just have a lot of seniors, a lot of dudes that have been here before and have done the fight before.”

That senior group — led by Santi, Preston Armstrong, Cody Snyder, and Seth Hoseney — has turned the Kalama front completely around in a dominant fall season.

It’s a group that’s stayed together by and large their entire high school careers — and for many, even longer.

Armstrong is the relative newcomer to the group; he moved north from Battle Ground before his freshman year. Santi moved to the area from Utah a year before that. Snyder and Hoseney, meanwhile, have been manning the trenches together since they were in elementary school.

“It’s just a brotherhood and family,” Hoseney said. “We’ve been there with each other forever. We all understand each other, we know each other’s weaknesses and strengths, and we try to help bring out the best in each other.”

They certainly have done that, and it’s only gotten better as the season has progressed. On one side of the ball, the line has let Kalama’s high-flying offense stay in rhythm and put up all the points it’s famous for. But on the other, the defensive front has quietly become the unit that’s turned back-and-forth shootouts into one-side blowouts.

“Mainly it’s mentality,” Armstrong said. “At the start of the season, I will say we were pretty cocky, like ‘We’ve got this in the bag.’ But as things got on and we got more serious, we’re coming down to our last game, why not leave it all on the field? That’s what contributed the most to our physicality.”

The difference has been clear as day and stark as a Kalama sunset. Following a 57-20 rout of 2A Woodland and a 32-26 win over 1A La Center to star the season, the Chinooks went on a tear of eight straight games holding opponents under 20 points. And in a run-happy league, they’ve done so by stuffing the ground game time and time again.

In the season-opening 8-Mile War, Woodland’s Daymon Gressett ran for 109 yards against the Kalama front. After that, the Chinooks went the entire regular season before they allowed another opponent into triple-digits; the season-high against the Kalama defense is Haight’s 175 yards last week in the semifinals, the bulk of which came late when the game was well in hand and multiple Chinook starters were on the sideline.

“I really think it’s just been us working together, realizing that every man has an assignment, every person stepping up and getting the job done,” Snyder said.

Now, the Kalama seniors up front will get one last test up front, looming large between them and their second State title.

Napavine will meet the Chinooks at Harry E. Lang Stadium riding the momentum of a 42-10 demolition of No. 3 Okanogan. The Tigers come in with a three-headed monster on the ground of Ashton Demarest — Laythan’s younger brother — Gavin Parker, and Lucas Dahl, running behind a line led by USC commit Keith Olson.

“We look at Napavine and we see these spread formations, and they do sling it a little bit more than their average teams, but they’re a running team,” McDonald said. “They have some big dudes up front, they have a physical running back. It’s really going to come down to who’s more physical on Saturday, and who’s going to be the most disciplined as well.”

After four quarters of play Saturday, somebody’s going to be hoisting a championship trophy. In the months that follow, the Kalama coaching staff will have to focus on retooling nearly the entire line. But for the next couple of days, it’s all about getting the most out of the most veteran and underrated position group the Chinooks have, for one last battle.

“I’m excited getting ready for it,” Hoseney said. “It’s the final game of our last season. We’ve had this group for a really long time, we’ve been together through thick and thin, and we’re ready to hopefully get another State ring for our group of seniors.”

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