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Lee: Champion Saxons stand alone

A few final thoughts on fall sports, particularly about the Ferris football team’s magical season, and an answer to a question I posed earlier this fall.

About midway through the fall, I wondered aloud which team in the area was best – Ferris or Coeur d’Alene. I’ve come to a conclusion, but you’ll have to read on.

It was time for a breakthrough for Ferris at Tacoma last Saturday. The Saxons’ 14-0 ride, culminating in their first state championship, is something that won’t soon be duplicated. I’m not saying Ferris won’t win another state title soon. The Saxons aren’t likely to run the table like they did this fall.

State titles are rare and, obviously, special. Even rarer yet are undefeated seasons.

Ferris coach Jim Sharkey was retrieving his coaching bag after his Saxons had exited the Tacoma Dome turf and were hugging family and friends. Sharkey looked at his laminated play chart and said aloud, for nobody in particular to hear, “I should probably frame this.”

What must be honored in some way, however, was the game plan that defensive coordinator Grady Emmerson concocted.

You have to have a lot of faith in your athletes to abandon what got you to the state title game for a plan that hadn’t been tested, and a scheme that was prepared after winning a Monday semifinal. It was a leap of faith, and the Saxons came through.

Ferris switched from its base 4-3 defense to a three-man front, dropping essentially three linebackers and five others in the secondary. Senior free safety Riley Stockton was assigned to spy Skyline senior wide receiver Kasen Williams, who was the key reason the Spartans manhandled the Saxons the year before in the state final.

It worked perfectly.

What made the Saxons’ defense more effective was an offense that dominated time of possession. Ferris had the ball for 31 minutes and 37 seconds to Skyline’s 16:23. Especially key was the fact the Saxons took 6:20 off the clock on the opening drive of the third quarter.

Two key contributions came from juniors, linebackers Cole Lemer and Kurtis Karstetter. On the key defensive play of the game late in the fourth quarter – fourth-and-10 at the Saxons’ 17-yard line – Karstetter and Lemer both blitzed from the edge. Karstetter got to Skyline quarterback Max Browne first, grabbing his arm. Lemer finished off the tackle.

“We brought everyone we could,” Emmerson said. “We’d been coming inside a little bit so we switched it up a little bit and came on the outside.”

Another brilliant decision.

The Saxons also were awarded a plaque on Saturday for winning the academic state title with a team grade-point average of 3.4.

Which caused Sharkey to ask a rhetorical question.

“Who has won the state academic and state football title in the same year?”

Ferris graduates some talented players but had just 13 seniors, so a number of talented players return. To name a few: Lemer, Karstetter, running back Kole Heidinger, quarterback Ben Goodwin.

The Saxons’ system will put them in position to defend their league title next fall.So back to the original question I posed mid-fall. The short answer is: Ferris.

It’s quite special to have state titles from two states within 32 miles of each other. In my mythical matchup between the teams, the Saxons’ defense would stop CdA’s high-powered offense. It would be a good game.

I saw the Saxons stop a similar offense in Skyline. And I didn’t think that was possible.