West Valley safety/linebacker and wide receiver Mitch Peterson attributes his football ability to the time spent chasing the ample football footsteps of his older brother, Bryan.
“When I was little and first starting, my brother was playing tackle and I was playing touch,” he said. “I loved going hitting them, the little guy mixing it up. I think maybe I was trying to prove myself to my brother.”
Younger brother is experiencing something his record-setting quarterback brother didn’t – three postseason playoff victories and a trip to the state finals.
The Eagles (13-0) play Lynden for the State 2A title at 10 a.m. Saturday at Gridiron Classic in the Tacoma Dome. It is WV’s fourth appearance in the finals and they’ve won one more game than the unbeaten AA state champions (what is now 3A) of 1976.
Like his brother, when football ends, Mitch’s eggs will be placed in the baseball basket. Bryan signed a professional baseball contract after graduating in 2008. Mitch this fall signed his letter of intent to play the outfield and pitch for Washington State University.
He missed most of last football season.
“He tweaked his knee in Game 3 and we lost him for the rest of the year,” coach Craig Whitney said. “He was a difference-maker.”
Whitney believes that Peterson (105 tackles) and linebackers Sam Schoesler (135 as the all-league defensive Most Valuable Player), and Tyler Poldervart (112) were the top three defenders in the Great Northern League.
“Mitch is kind of a hybrid player who allows us to do things,” Whitney said. “He’s important to how the defense sets up.”
If it’s an obvious passing situation, Peterson lays back. After a defensive set is called and the play changes, however, he can roll up to become an outside linebacker, which eliminates having to substitute or be caught with the wrong personnel on the field.
“With Mitch, he automatically adjusts,” Whitney said. “It’s a luxury to have a kid like that.”
Whitney said Peterson is the team prankster, a happy-go-lucky athlete who keeps players loose in the locker room, seems impervious to pressure, yet is a fierce competitor.
Those traits seem to define this year’s Eagles who have remained resilient – a term Whitney has used often – in games this year, no matter what’s been thrown at them.
Peterson was two-way first-team All-GNL along with Schoesler (also tight end). Quarterback Drew Clausen is two-time offensive MVP. Nick Brown (second team on defense) and Dan Garbe are first-team offensive linemen; Poldervart (second-team offensive line) and lineman Hovik Melkonyan are first-team defenders. Second-team linebacker Austin Watson had 128 tackles as a sophomore.
“I’m probably more of a defender,” said Peterson, who caught 17 passes for 343 yards and six touchdowns. “I do different roles on defense. On offense I do as much as I can.”
He also had a big punt return for a touchdown that keyed a first-round victory against Selah.
He echoes what other players have said about West Valley’s determination to succeed. It was the summer when everyone dedicated themselves to preparation and togetherness that produced an unbeaten season.
A stretch of three wins in succession against Deer Park, Colville and Pullman affirmed the hard work, he said.
Those were the only games during the regular season that the defense allowed double-digit points.
“We knew we were going to be good,” he said. “The mindset the whole year was we were going to do this.”
In the postseason the Eagles have defeated Selah, Othello in overtime and unbeaten Ellensburg. They have outscored 13 foes 417-136.
“I think we’ve had really good schemes on offense and defense and just consistent play by everyone,” Peterson said. “We all have really good chemistry, because we’ve been in our roles two or three years now. We kind of know what each other is going to do.”
It will take all that against Lynden, which has the advantage of playing last weekend in the Tacoma Dome and two state titles in the past three years.
Quarterback Jordan Hastings is the leading rusher and passer. Receiver Blair Bomber is a Washington State University commit.
“They have a couple of tailbacks along with the quarterback who are not afraid to run anybody over,” Whitney said.
But Whitney isn’t selling the Eagles short.
“If we play as well as we did (last) Saturday, we will give ourselves the best chance possible to win,” he said.