Friday Harbor High School’s football team takes the field against Pe Ell-Willapa Valley at noon Saturday, Nov. 11 at Willapa Valley High School in the opening round of the state tourney. At the start of this season even the most fervent Friday Harbor fan would not have predicted the Wolverines — who forfeited their first game — would be playing in their first state football playoff in more than a decade come November.
First-year head coach Brock Hauck and his Wolverine players believed they could be among the Class 2B’s last 16, though. “The goal from the beginning was to make the playoffs,” Hauck said. “Having this opportunity is a big deal. The players are pretty excited … It’s been 11 years.”
Experiencing the thrill of the post-season seemed highly unlikely for the Wolverines in September. Only 11 players could suit up for Friday Harbor’s first scheduled game and Hauck wasn’t comfortable competing without any reserves. The Wolverines fielded 14 players the next week and finished with 12 in a 45-16 loss to eventual Northwest 2B/1B League Champion Concrete. The third game of the season Friday Harbor started with 15 players and concluded the 47-13 loss to Raymond with only 11.
“It was a rough beginning,” said Hauck acknowledged.
The Wolverines kept battling, knowing they could be competitive. Some of the injured players healed and a few more became eligible. Being “disciplined” in their preparation helped the Wolverines shut out La Conner 14-0 in a much-celebrated victory in front of the home fans.
“After the Raymond game we really turned the corner,” Hauck said. “We’ve improved every week and turned into a good football team.”
South Whidbey, a Class A school, edged Friday Harbor 20-19 in a non-conference nail-biter. Darrington forfeited the next week and the Wolverines played Concrete much tougher in a road contest but the Lions prevailed 20-10.
Lummi Nation, an eight-man powerhouse, put three more players on the field at Friday Harbor for a non-conference homecoming contest. Prognosticators predicted the high-flying Blackhawks, who beat Concrete a couple of weeks earlier, would outscore the Wolverines by 25 points. Friday Harbor’s defense was the dominant squad though as the Wolverines prevailed 23-6.
“That was a great win for us. It got the kids believing that they can compete with just about anybody,” Hauck said.
Lummi (5-3) finishes among Class 1B’s best nearly every year. South Whidbey (7-2) dropped their first two contests but then won the rest of their games. Raymond (4-6) finished third in the consistently competitive Pacific 2B League.
“We played a fairly tough non-league schedule and that has helped us,” Hauck said.
The Wolverines’ non-conference contests provided a boost in their regular-season finale: A 23-0 blanking at La Conner. With the rare road win over their longtime rival the Wolverines clinched a second-place finish in the Northwest 2B/1B League with a 3-2 record and secured a state tourney berth.
“Our players have earned it,” Hauck said of the post-season appearance. “I’m really proud of this team.”
With the shutout, Friday Harbor’s defense limited their final to foes to six points. “Our defense is really good,” Hauck said.
On the other side of the ball, the Wolverine offense grinds down opponents. “We’re not a high-scoring team,” Hauck said. “We really pound the ball and try to keep it away from our opponent’s offense. It’s a good recipe for winning.”
Friday Harbor’s seniors — Jackson Briggs, Wade Swirtz, Noe Lopez, Dakota Gabler-Brown, Benn Webb, Claudio Ochoa and Isaac Mayer — were prime ingredients in the Wolverines’ turnaround season. “The seniors have come a long ways,” Hauck said. “I’m really proud of them.”
Hauck asked more of his upper-most classmen than they were expected in previous seasons and they met the challenge. “They really bought in and it’s really helped bring the team together,” Hauck said. “We couldn’t have had success without them doing that. I’m really happy for them.”
Friday Harbor (4-4) will need their veterans’ leadership against Pe Ell-Willapa Valley: The Titans (8-2) won their final five games of the season with a punishing ground game. They captured the Pacific 2B League Coastal Division crown with a 5-0 record.
“This is definitely our toughest challenge so far this year,” Hauck said. “We definitely need to come ready to stop their running attack.”
The winner of the Wolverines’ and Titans’ contest will advance to a quarterfinal against the Adna-Kalama victor.