TACOMA – The Ferris Saxons abandoned their base 4-3 defense and rolled out a dime.
The Saxons didn’t stop the Skyline Spartans on a dime, to be sure. But they didn’t give up the big plays like they did a year ago.
The defense, coupled with an offense that took advantage of some opportunities, provided the winning formula for the Saxons as third-ranked Ferris upset the No. 1-ranked and defending state champion Spartans 24-16 Saturday afternoon at the Tacoma Dome.
The two games prior to the final went down to the last minutes for Ferris, and the Saxons needed two more defensive stops to finish the job this time.
“I have to give all the credit to our coaches,” Saxons senior free safety Riley Stockton said. “They put a great game plan together in a short amount of time. Not a lot of people gave us a chance but we pulled it out.”
The Ferris defense, sparked by senior safety Cody Sorenson and a pair of junior linebacker, Cole Lemer and Kurtis Karstetter, threw a shutout for nearly 3½ quarters before Skyline broke through.
The Saxons (14-0) took out a down lineman, using just three, and inserted an extra safety, allowing Stockton to spy on arguably the state’s best player, University of Waashington-bound wide receiver Kasen Williams. The objective was to not let him single-footedly beat them like he did last year (45-21). He finished with a pedestrian three catches for 40 yards.
“Grady (Emmerson, defensive coordinator) dialed it up,” Ferris coach Jim Sharkey said. “We’ve worked on it all year.”
The Saxons didn’t show it until Saturday.
“Basically we bracketed Riley on Kasen (Williams) all night,” Emmerson, the former North Central head coach, said. “We told our guys, he’s not going to beat us. If the other guys beat us, good for them. You’ve got to play better than the other guys. For about 3½ quarters we did pretty well. We told our secondary you act like Riley’s not in the game. All of our other rules apply, but Riley is double-teaming Kasen. We knew we were losing our guy (Riley), so the emphasis was we had to rally to the football.”
Lemer had an interception that set up the Saxons’ first touchdown in the first half. He also had two key knock-downs. Sorensen, who got beat three times in last year’s title game, had two interceptions including the title-sealing pick with 1:28 remaining.
“This (the Tacoma Dome) was Cody’s ‘House of Horrors’ last year,” Sharkey said. “At the end of the game he made the play when he got into position he needed to be. For him to come back after (last year) is amazing.”
Several Saxons had grins wider than the width of a football, but none were bigger than Sorenson’s afterward.
“It’s the best feeling ever,” Sorensen said. “I’ve never been this happy.”
Stockton, too, knew how much the title meant to his friend.
“I’m so happy for him. He worked the hardest, probably, out of everybody,” Stockton said.
Few plays were bigger than the one that Karstetter and Lemer combined on with Skyline facing fourth-and-10 from the Saxons’ 17-yard line with 3:22 to go. Emmerson called a double blitz on both edges, sending Karstetter and Lemer. Skyline sophomore quarterback Max Browne stepped up, trying to avoid the pressure but Karstetter grabbed his arm. Lemer finished the play with a tackle.
“Kurtis got there first and I cleaned it up,” Lemer said.
Is it any wonder that the Saxons were able to scrap their usual defensive scheme and install something new with three days of preparation after beating Bellarmine Prep in the semifinals on Monday in Tacoma?
The Saxons, you see, captured two state titles Saturday. They were honored at halftime as academic state champs.
“Who has won the state academic and state football title in the same year?” Sharkey asked rhetorically. “I’d like to see that one. It’s a neat group.”
Skyline coach Mat Taylor, whose team (12-2) had won the last two 4A titles to go with a 3A championship three years ago, complimented the Saxons.
“Bottom line, in the first half, they made some plays and we didn’t,” Taylor said. “We had some really big plays that we could have capitalized on. It just didn’t work out for us tonight.”