The Yelm Tornados punched their ticket to the 3A state semifinals after defeating the Mount Tahoma Thunderbirds, 29-12, in a contest filled with smash-mouth football on Nov. 17. With the victory, Yelm will “host” the Eastside Catholic Crusaders at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 25 at Art Crate Field in Spanaway.
The stage is set as the defending 3A state champions aim to defend their crown against the team they beat to win it: Eastside Catholic. Eastside Catholic defeated Kennewick, 17-7, to advance to the semifinal round.
“We love that we get to play on Thanksgiving weekend. We’re very blessed to be in this situation,” head coach Jason Ronquillo said. “We’ve become used to having the target on our back.”
Despite fumbling the football on its first offensive play from scrimmage, Yelm found the end zone first in the quarterfinal contest against Mount Tahoma last week. Senior quarterback Damian Aalona connected with his 6-foot-6, 250-pound tight end Jacob Tracy from 11 yards out for the first score of the contest. After a successful point after touchdown (PAT) from sophomore Sterling Temple, Yelm led 7-0.
Senior defensive lineman Kenji Scanlan, a University of Idaho football commit, had the game of his career so far against the Thunderbirds. The 6-foot-3-inch, 240-pound defensive end totaled 12 tackles throughout the contest, including two for loss. His presence was felt all game long in Mount Tahoma’s backfield as he was constantly making contact with ball carriers.
“It was all effort tonight from me and my brothers on the team. We executed our game plan and faced some adversity because Mount T is a strong team, but we held our own,” Scanlan said. “Our D-line was able to get pressure into the backfield and forced their quarterback to roll outside or even force throws. I feel like our defensive line did a great job today.”
Neither offense produced much for the rest of the half, and neither scored. Going into halftime, Yelm’s coaching staff told the Tornados they needed to execute offensively and that mistakes like the opening play fumble can’t happen.
Mount Tahoma came out of halftime and put together its best drive of the game. After pushing deep into Yelm territory, Mount Tahoma’s quarterback called his own number and plunged into the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown. Despite the score, Yelm still led in the contest, 7-6, after a missed PAT by Mount Tahoma’s kicker.
The Thunderbirds’ touchdown kick started the Tornados’ offense as Yelm found the end zone twice before the third quarter ended. The twins — Damian and Marius Aalona — connected on a 22-yard touchdown facing fourth down. A successful PAT extended Yelm’s lead to 14-6.
For the next Tornado touchdown, quarterback Damian Aalona rolled to his right and faced pressure before launching the ball across his body to a wide open Jameson Patin, who took the ball into the end zone for a 40-yard touchdown. A successful two-point try gave Yelm a 22-6 lead.
Mount Tahoma fought to stay alive in the fourth quarter and found the end zone on a 3-yard rushing touchdown to boost its chances. A failed two-point attempt had Yelm leading 22-12. Senior All-American Brayden Platt sealed the game by going untouched up the middle for an 11-yard touchdown.
“Going into this contest against Mount Tahoma, we knew we needed to stop the run. Being gap sound in a plus-one defense was absolutely on point Friday,” Ronquillo said. “Our scout teams are our unsung heroes. They do so much for us during the season. They are so incredibly valuable.”