Pe Ell-Willapa Valley takes on state second-seed Okanogan in state semifinal matchup

Nov. 24—And then there was one.

With a 34-13 victory over Pacific County rival Raymond-South Bend on Friday, Pe Ell-Willapa Valley secured its first spot in the 2B State semifinal round since 2015 and is the last remaining Twin Harbors prep football team alive in the playoffs.

But no game is easy at this point of the season and if the Titans are to advance to the title game, they'll have to beat one of the pre-season favorites.


When and where: Noon on Saturday at Apple Bowl, Wenatchee

Players to watch: PWV — Kolten Fluke QB/LB, Blake Howard RB/LB, Cody Strozyk RB/LB. Okanogan — Carter Kuchenbuch QB/DE, Johnny Swartsel RB/LB, Taggert Grooms RB/DB.

Since before the season began, prognosticators were clear about which two teams they felt would be playing for a state title three months later.

None of them picked the Pe Ell-Willapa Valley Titans.

If PWV is to punch a ticket to the state-title game and prove the "experts" wrong, it will have to do so by beating one of those teams pre-ordained to make the final — the Okanogan Bulldogs.

When the Titans (9-3 overall) square off against the Bulldogs (11-0) on Saturday in Wenatchee, PWV will face its toughest test since facing the team expected to win it all — the Napavine Tigers — back on Sept. 23.

Okanogan has a sparkling 11-0 record and has not played in a close game this season, routing its opponents by an average score of 52-8 this season.

The Bulldogs have smashed their opponents this season.

Okanogan has scored 45 or more points in nine games this season and has scored at least 55 points in each of its past four games, including a 55-0 drubbing over No. 10 Onalaska in last week's state-quarterfinal round.

Led by senior running back Johnny Swartsel and a big, physical offensive line, the Bulldogs had rushed for 3,444 yards this season entering the state tournament and were averaging 9.1 yards-per-carry.

The Bulldogs' size presents a considerable problem for any team it faces, with senior linemen Tristian Shiflett (6-5, 330 pounds) and Jamal Nance (6-3, 300 lbs.) leading an offensive front that has dominated the trenches this season.

Okanagan typically runs a read-option offense, with Swartsel and senior running back Taggert Grooms getting the bulk of the carries.

The Bulldogs don't allow opposing defenses to focus in on one or two players, as five different players on the roster had at least 40 carries entering last week's game.

Bulldogs quarterback Carter Kuchenbuch has shown himself to be a very capable passer and runner this season. Standing at 6-foot-5, the sophomore signal-caller has a strong arm and is tough to take down once he takes off.

Entering last week's state quarterfinal, Kuchenbuch was 55-for-109 for 882 yards and an impressive 15 touchdowns to one interception for a quarterback rating of 113.6.

So faced against all that, what chance does PWV have?

In its wins this season, PWV has emerged victorious by first, being more physical than its opponent and second, tackling well.

Even in its season-opening 20-7 loss to Tenino — the eventual 1A Evergreen champs and a team that qualified for the 1A State Tournament — it can be argued PWV played a more physical game of football against the notoriously physical Beavers than any team on Tenino's schedule this season.

The Titans like to play physical football. It's their bread-and-butter. You see it up and down the roster.

PWV likes to run the football in various areas of the field, be it up the middle through the A-gaps, on the edges using sweeps, or — as they showed last week against Raymond-South Bend, off-tackle to chew up clock and keep the game close.

The Titans use a bevy of ball carriers on offense, led by junior running back Blake Howard, who has become a feature back for PWV with 116 carries and 648 yards in the Titans' nine games this season, both team bests.

Senior quarterback Kolten Fluke, senior running back Wil Clements, sophomore tight end Cody Strozyk and senior running back Derek Fluke also figure into the offensive mix, with each carrying the football at least 34 times this season, which keeps opposing defenses guessing to whom and where the ball is going to go.

The game might come down to what happens in the trenches, and despite solid line play from senior Garrett Keeton, sophomore Connor "Cheese" Keeton and senior Owen Little this season, PWV is giving up a lot of size up front.

PWV will have to find a way to neutralize Okanogan's size advantage and find a way to sustain drives on offense and get points on the board, whether it be via touchdowns or field goals off the talented right foot of all-league kicker Garrett Keeton.

If the game is close late, PWV has a chance.

Keeping the game close until then may be the tough part.