The Class 4A state football trophy has returned to the South Sound.
Saturday night in front of a roaring crowd in Tacoma, the Graham-Kapowsin High School Eagles secured their first state championship win in program history with a 44-7 victory over Lake Stevens.
The state’s top-ranked program completed an undefeated season with the dominant win, in which they piled up six touchdowns, rushed for a record-breaking 524 yards and held their high-scoring opponent to a season-low seven points.
But, this Graham-Kapowsin program did even more than that on this chilly night at Mount Tahoma Stadium.
It also became the first South Sound school to win a 4A state title in nearly two decades — the last local program to win was Kentwood, which won back-to-back championships over Pasco and Capital in 2001-02, capping a stretch when South Sound schools won the 4A crown in nine of 16 seasons.
“It goes in cycles,” Eagles coach Eric Kurle said. “Hopefully we can keep it up here, and keep it local.”
The 4A trophy has certainly traveled throughout the state since a local school last brought it home. What happened in the seasons since the last time the South Sound won it all in 4A?
The Greater St. Helens League produced three champions — including Camas, which was the defending 4A champion, Union and Evergreen of Vancouver.
The Mid-Columbia Conference also had three winners in Richland, Chiawana and Pasco, as did the Greater Spokane League in Gonzaga Prep, Ferris and Lewis and Clark.
The KingCo produced two — including Skyline’s dominant run, and Bothell. The Wesco had one in Oak Harbor.
Skyline (five) and Camas (two) won multiple championships during that nearly two-decade stretch.
At long last, though, the trophy is back in the South Sound — and it belongs to a Graham-Kapowsin team that posted convincing victories over each of its 14 opponents.
“We’re a tough program,” Eagles senior quarterback Joshua Wood said. “We get everyone together. We get a brotherhood going. And once you get that going, it turned out into a state championship.”
Graham-Kapowsin — which has advanced to the 4A state playoffs each of the past seven seasons and eight times since its first season in 2005 — is also the first South Sound school to advance to the 4A title game since Bellarmine Prep lost to Skyline in 2012.
The Eagles are also the first Pierce County program — and 4A South Puget Sound League team — to win a 4A state title since Curtis won consecutive championships over Kamiakin (1995) and Richland (1996).
Ten South Sound schools have now won football titles at the 4A level, including Graham-Kapowsin, Kentwood (2001, 2002), Curtis (1989, 1990, 1995, 1996), South Kitsap (1994), Tumwater (1993), Puyallup (1987), Mount Tahoma (1979, 1980), Sumner (1977), Foss (1975) and Kentridge (1973).
KURLE SECURES FIRST CHAMPIONSHIP
Kurle, in his 26th season as a high school football coach, not only secured career win No. 246 with this victory, he also won his first state championship.
“It’s a great feeling,” Kurle said. “And it’s a great group of seniors to go win this with as a group. And we’ve got great teams coming up.”
Throughout his career, Kurle’s teams have been competitive at the state level. Eight of his teams have reached the state quarterfinals and four have reached the semifinals. In 2000, he coached Bethel to a 4A state title game appearance. And now, he’s coached Graham-Kapowsin, in his 16th season with the program, to a championship.
“I always feel like I’m going to get here — it just hasn’t happened until today,” Kurle said with a smile. “I feel like we have good teams every year, and I feel like we can compete every year.
“This is was probably the most complete team I’ve ever had. They’re great kids. Worked hard in the weight room all season. It’s been a long year, and they deserve every bit of this.”
Kurle’s career record is now 246-74 in his career between Graham-Kapowsin, Bethel and Clover Park.
EAGLES REWRITE RUSHING RECORD
Graham-Kapowsin has long been known for its relentless rushing attack — and now that rushing attack is in the record book.
The Eagles piled up 524 rushing yards in the win, which outpaced the previous high of 521 in the 4A championship game, set by Gonzaga Prep in its win over Skyline in 2015.
As the rain poured at Mount Tahoma Stadium, the Eagles rushed on 60 of their 67 offensive plays, and averaged 8.7 yards per carry.
The five Eagles who tallied multiple carries — Zack Lee (20 carries, 192 yards), Wood (11 carries, 173 yards), Jalen Davenport (nine carries, 78 yards), Michael Toa (eight carries, 40 yards) and Khalil Yarbo (seven carries, 32 yards) — each picked up 4.6 or more yards per attempt.
Lee, Wood and Toa also combined for Graham-Kapowsin’s six touchdowns — all of which were on the ground.
Lee gave the Eagles a lead they never lost late in the first quarter with a 49-yard burst, and added another 5-yard scoring run late in the third. Wood scored the longest touchdown of the game on a 51-yard keeper midway through the second quarter, and had another 14-yard touchdown run in the third. Toa scored on a 3-yard run early on in the second, and capped scoring with a 7-yard run moments into the fourth.
Graham-Kapowsin finished one yard shy of tying the game record for total yards with 563. Gonzaga Prep piled up 564 in that same win in 2015.
‘NO. 1 O-LINE IN THE STATE’
How did the Eagles rush for 4,080 yards this season?
It started up front.
“No. 1 O-line in the state — hands down,” said Lee, who led the Eagles with 1,172 yards on the ground this season. “And it shows now. There’s no questioning it, no doubting it.”
Wood had a similar assessment of Graham-Kapowsin’s front five — which was anchored by starters Vega Ioane, Austin Siitia, Joshua Holder, Curtis Hill and Hunter Hill.
Behind their sturdy offensive line, the Eagles finished the season with 6,398 yards of total offense — including the 4,080 on the ground and 2,318 on the ground. They averaged 8.2 yards per carry and 14.6 yards per completion.
“They’re the best line in the state,” Wood said. “That’s all I’ve got to say.”
EAGLES DEFENSE SHUTS DOWN VIKINGS
The seven points Graham-Kapowsin held Lake Stevens to in Saturday’s win was the fewest allowed in the 4A championship game since 2011, when Skyline topped Skyview, 38-7.
It was also a season-low total for Lake Stevens, which had scored 20 or more points in each of its first 11 games this season, and was averaging 47.3.
Graham-Kapowsin also limited the Vikings to seven first downs and 131 total yards — 88 rushing and 43 passing — on their 37 offensive plays.
The Eagles also came up with the game’s only two turnovers.
Moments after Graham-Kapowin’s first touchdown drive, junior Caden Smith scooped up a Lake Stevens fumble on the ensuing kickoff. Early in the fourth quarter, sophomore Jabez Woods hauled in his first career interception to stymie another Vikings drive.
Staff writer Jon Manley contributed to this report.