The Grand conversion was a success to say the least resulting in the 1st State Football Championship in Tumwater High School History. Up next was what every coach hopes they can accomplish and that is to build a dynasty. Coach Otton and his staff had their eyes on 1988 way back in 1985 when this group of seniors were freshman. Larry Quartano was back at QB with a full season of the Wing T under his belt. Casey Lowe, Dan Jones, Eric Morrissette, Noel West were just a few names associated with the class of 88.
1988 was also the beginning of the Lowe dynasty so to speak with Casey. Casey Lowe was the 1st of 3 brothers who would leave an incredible legacy for any family to follow. Casey, his brothers Bryan and Derek would all at one time hold one of the school rushing records. More on Bryan in 1989 and Derek in 1993. Casey contributed more on defense during the 1987 state championship run than on the offensive side.
Sticking with the platoon system Casey would switch to offense for his senior season and set the single game rushing record with 196 yards.
Despite the optimism 1988 would not finish with a State Title but would fall short again in the Semi-Finals.
*Side Note: If this had happened earlier in the history of T-Bird Football I would have explored it a lot more than I am going to. I am simply running out of time and have many seasons still to get to so for that I apologize for not going more in depth into this season. Regardless of the fact they fell short of their goal the strides they made working with the Wing T would be a huge benefit to the following 2 seasons that would bring back to back titles.
I did talk with current Tumwater offensive coordinator Jamie Weeks about this team. Weeks was the offensive line coach at this time and he tells us they did make a lot of progress in 1988 as far as really understanding the ins and outs of the Wing T. Weeks says in 1987 they basically had only 2 packages the offense truly understood and perfected by the end of the season.
Weeks says it was 1988 where the offense really began to understand and perform the nuances of the Wing T. He says they were able to nearly triple the offensive options of the Wing T in 1988. If you look at the scores of the Tumwater season you can see the increase in offensive productivity as the season progresses. Weeks says not only were the players more comfortable with the new system, more importantly the coaches were.
It is difficult for me to write this about 1988 because it feels like it was a failure when 1988 was anything but that for Tumwater. This season actually in many ways set the stage for the monsoon that was about to hit the BHL and the state for the next 10 seasons.
This team ran off 11 straight wins before coming up short to a very good Liberty team who would go on to win the State Championship.
*CRAZY STAT Side Note: The T-Birds have qualified for the State Tournament 26 times under Coach Otton. Out of the 26 appearances of course they have 5 State Championships. But just how close were they to winning even more Titles? Consider this…18 of the 26 years the T-Birds were in the play-off’s they either won it or lost to the eventual State Champion. Here’s the list: 1980 Centralia, 1983 Kelso, 1986 Burlington-Edison, 1987 CHAMPS, 1988 Liberty, 1989 CHAMPS, 1990 CHAMPS, 1992 Prosser, 1993 CHAMPS, 1995 Curtis, 1996 Curtis, 1999 Prosser, 2006 Lynden, 2010 CHAMPS, 2012 Lynden, 2013 Lynden, 2014 Sedro Woolley, 2015 Prosser. This works out to nearly 70% of all Tumwater Play-off runs ended in a title or a direct loss to the team who did win it.
1988 Season Results
Tumwater 26, Centralia 6 (Non-League game)
Tumwater 20, Olympia 14
Tumwater 24, North Thurston 6
Tumwater 34, Timberline 13
Tumwater, 35, Aberdeen 0
Tumwater 30, Elma 0
Tumwater 31, Capital 6
Tumwater 48, Centralia 0
Tumwater 47, Shelton 7
Tumwater 26, Mark Morris 19
Tumwater 36, Gig Harbor 12
Liberty of Issaquah 24, Tumwater 14 (State Semi-Finals)
Liberty went on to win the state championship.
I have had several former players on some of the other T-Bird teams dispute this claim I am making that 1989 was indeed the Greatest Tumwater team of all time and for me personally I would put this team up against any other team as the Best in State History. I make this claim after more than 40 years of playing, watching and broadcasting more than 500 high school football games.
1989 was not stacked with a ton of D-1 players, they were stacked with players who believed totally in the coaches, the system and the T-Bird way which was established far before Bill Belechick created the Patriot way. In this review of the Greatest, we will see the incredible numbers posted by this team and the majority of the stats created before it was halftime. I doubt there is a stat for this but I would claim this team won more games and a State Title with their starters playing the fewest amount of minutes.
Coach Otton and his staff had painstakingly built this program to this point where it was ready to explode. Compare it to Mt St Helens, prior to 1980 the Mountain rumbled, served notice that a huge explosion was about to occur. In 1987 many thought that was the explosion when in fact it was just a warm-up for what was about to happen. An unprecedented run of 13 games that saw the Tumwater program cement itself into Washington State Football lore.
Here is the telling stat, it took Coach Otton 18 and half years to get his 100th win. It took him 9 more to reach 200. That should tell you what kind of ride T-Bird Nation was about to begin.
As the 1989 season began there was an air about this squad. Some may confuse the supreme confidence with arrogance but this team had tasted both the thrill of winning it all as sophomores and defeat as juniors and there was no comparison as to what tasted better.
So this group of 27 Senior’s led by 2 time All-State defensive back Scott Gurnsey were ready to put their stamp on this program. Brad Otton would take over at QB, Lance Martin was the defensive QB at linebacker. Big Aron Abrahamson would anchor an otherwise rather small in stature offensive line and the talent ran deep. In all 11 of the 27 seniors would earn 1st team All-League honors.
Let’s get started with this magical season.
Tumwater 42, Elma 0
The opener set the tone for the 89 season that would be repeated over and over again. The Offense would strike hard and fast while the defense was shut down from the beginning. All the points would be scored in the first half and the 2nd and 3rd strings would finish the game.
Brad Otton was 6 for 7 for 135 yards and 4 TD’s connecting with 3 different receivers, 2 to TE Jason Hicks with Tony Doughty and Scott Gurnsey each catching 1. The T-Birds would rack up 259 yards on the ground but no one would top 100 yards and the T-Bird offense would finish with 394 yards. This would be the 1st of 4 defensive shut-outs for GATA.
Tumwater 39, Chehalis 8
As usual for T-Bird football you never know which phase of the game, offense, defense and special teams would lead the way. In this contest the punting game of all things was the difference. Allen Miller got things started for the T-Birds blocking a 1st quarter punt. Karl Pfaff would take advantage of the opportunity capping off a 6-play drive to go up 7-0. The Bearcats would then take a safety and on their next possession would punt it deep to Gurnsey who took it 85 yards to the endzone. After a bad snap on yet another punt Tumwater’s Bryan Lowe would finish it off to make it 22-0.
The Bearcats would then have another bad snap on punt attempt and the T-Birds would score again before halftime on a 3-play drive featuring Gurnsey from his Wing back position with a 37-yard counter play and then a 13-yard pass from Otton.
Tumwater 40, Olympia 8
This game turned out to be pretty special. After Tumwater struck first with a 10-yard Karl Pfaff TD to take a 7-0 lead, the Bears would score on a 9-play, 51-yard drive capped with a 3-yard plunge by Kevin Gunther. Gunther then flipped the ball to shawn McManus on a fake PAT kick to score 2 and take an 8-7 lead. Gunther is now the receivers coach for the Olympia Bears his son Scott plays for Oly right now and has scored 22 TD’s in 6 games.
The 8-7 lead would be the 1st of only 2 times the 1989 T-Birds would ever trail in a game the entire season. After getting off to a sluggish start the defense was a stone wall and the offense cranked it up with the running game logging more than 300 yards rushing and Otton added 100 through the air for more than 400 yards of total offense.
Gurnsey would get the lead back for good on a 50-yard counter play and Tumwater led 13-8. That was the halftime score and one of the few times the T-Bird starters had a game on their hands coming out after halftime. Bryan Lowe led the well balanced rushing attack with 106 yards and a TD while Casey Taylor on the defense had one of his team 7 interceptions setting up an Otton TD pass. The Birds were 3-0 and with a bit of a wake-up call from the Bears kicked this monster into another gear.
Tumwater 54, Centralia 7
Maybe the Lewis County locals were remembering 1980 when the upstart T-Birds had their season snuffed out by the hometown Tigers and then went on go win the State Championship. Maybe it was that game that gave them the confidence that they could not only compete with this T-Bird team but maybe knock off the top ranked team. Afterall both teams were 3-0 and this was going to give the winner an inside track to the League Title.
Those thoughts and that confidence were quickly doused as Tumwater dismantled the Tigers on the Tigers home field. Centralia Chronicle Sports Editor Sam Bakotich wrote “The Tumwater T-Birds completed their death march through the Twin Cities by mauling Centralia in a battle of BHL unbeatens.”
The T-Bird 3-headed monster all struck in a row Pfaff, Gurnsey and Bryan Lowe to give the T-Birds a 20-0 lead before the Tigers could take a breath. Centralia got on the board on a 1-play, 69-yard screen pass to make it 20-7. Any hope of a comeback was answered with 3 more 2nd quarter touchdowns as Lowe and Gurnsey each scored again and Lance Martin got in on the action scoring a final time prior to the half. Gurnsey’s touchdown was set up by the ball hawking defense, this time it was Aaron Palmen’s interception that gave the Birds the ball on the Tiger 20. Tumwater led 41-7 at the half.
In the 2nd half Tumwater then gave a preview of what was to come when sophomore’s Kevin and Keith Clark ran for nearly 120 yards with Kevin scoring a TD and finishing with 86 yards. The T-Birds rolled up more than 500 yards of offense with 190 from Otton through the air and 321 on the ground. There was no doubt who was in control of the BHL.
*Side Note: We talked earlier of the Lowe family dynasty during this time, it didn’t hurt the T-Bird depth with the arrival of the Clark brothers who had transferred from Shelton. Before anyone thinks this was some kind of pre-planned move, the Clark family had a long tradition of playing in Shelton. Keith and Kevin’s 3 older brothers played for the Highclimbers including Kelly who was a big part of the 1985 State Champion Highclimbers. Family circumstances caused the move and Coach Otton was more than pleased to welcome the Clark’s to the T-Bird family.
Tumwater 57, Capital 7
The T-Birds were in high gear now and completely dominated the Cougars. The T-Birds took care of the Cougs in the 1st half in every phase. 2 more interceptions by the Birds along with 2 fumble recoveries allowed the offense to put up 21 1st quarter points. Lowe added a 91-yard punt return but the play of the game came on another Casey Taylor interception who lateralled the ball to Gurnsey who ran it down to the Capital 17. Karl Pfaff scored 1 of his 3 TD’s on this opportunity. Capital’s only score came late in the game trailing 57-0. The T-Birds improved to 5-0.
Tumwater 45, White River 21
This was the one non-league game in the middle of the season and good chance to face competition from another league but it did not matter. It may look like this was a close game in some ways but scores are deceiving since the 21 points all came in the 4th quarter against reserves and the T-Birds had already sprinted out to a 45-0 lead.
Otton led the attack throwing for 125 yards and an 11-18 performance with 3 TD’s, 2 going to Gurnsey. Bryan Lowe topped 100 yards again as a gaggle of T-Bird running backs got action in this game running for nearly 300 yards. GATA was as rock solid as ever giving up only 26 1st half yards.
Tumwater 61, Aberdeen 0
After the White River game Coach Otton expressed some disappointment in the readiness he thought his team should have at this point of the season. Well he got their attention with this devastating performance against the Bobcats. Tumwater’s offense again deadly with 473 yards of total offense and there were huge performances but this re-cap belongs to the defense.
This was the 2nd shut out and after a 35-0 halftime score the 2nd and 3rd stringers were ready to step up and not give up any late points. Believe it or not giving up 21 points to White River was a big deal even though it was b y the back-ups. Keith Clark who played more on defense remembers Coach Alexander making this a point of contention. GATA had specific goals each week and it didn’t matter who was on the field, who they were playing or what the score was it was the responsibility of whoever was on the field to fulfill the goals.
Clark said when they were handed such a huge lead there was no way they were going to give up anything after their “embarassing” performance. GATA finished the game with 6 turnovers to their credit including a 24-yard TD interception return from Chad Stussy. The punishing defense caused 9 fumbles and recovered 5 of them and the Birds were now 7-0.
Tumwater 60, Hoquiam 6
When the final whistle blew in this one the Birds had rung up 121 points and gave up 6 over their past 8 quarters of football. It was the ground and pound attack in this game where Lowe and Pfaff combined for 201 yards and 5 touchdowns. This is a great time to talk about how the offensive line had clearly grasped the Wing T concept. The starters, Aron Abrahamson, Curtis Sumrok, John Elliott, Chris Martin and Rich Munro with Tight End Jason Hicks and others perfected the blocking scheme of the Wing T.
Offensive line coach Jamie Weeks says the platoon system had a lot to do with the relative quick growth of the line. Weeks said being able to practice each and every day only on the offense was a huge factor in this squad jelling for the 89 season and at this point in time they were hitting their stride like nobody’s business. The win pushed the T-Birds to 8-0 and were set to meet the 7-1 Shelton Highclimbers with the BHL title on the line.
Tumwater 47, Shelton 0
The team had a theme each week and in the finale it was “Leave No Doubt”. A 47-0 shut-out win over the 8th ranked team in the state certainly did just that. It was a shellacking as the Highclimbers fumbled 8 times only losing 2. The downpour they played in certainly had an impact on that number, but when they could get the snap and hold on to the ball that was about all they could do as the defense chalked up their 3rd shut out of the season.
All 3 phases would score in this game underscoring the complete domination. Led by the former Sheltonites, Keith Clark had a huge impact against his former team scoring 2 touchdowns returning a fumble 40 yards after Kelly Luhr intercepted the Climbers but fumbled it running it up the field, Keith Clark scooped it up and ran it in the rest of the way. Clark then blocked a punt and returned it 8 yards for a score.
Gurnsey returned a punt for a touchdown, and Otton and the offense did the rest. The numbers were not eye catching due mostly to the opportunities the defense handed over to the offense they did not have far to capitalize. Tumwater put up 253 yards of total offense. Otton would sneak in the 1st score followed by TD’s from Lance Martin, Scott Gurnsey and Karl Pfaff. Tumwater led 34-0 at the half.
The T-Birds finished the season 9-0 and BHL Champions for the 4th consecutive year. They would open the Play-offs hosting North Kitsap. With the loss Shelton had their season come to an end as they tied with WF West but the Bearcats defeated the Climbers in their regular season match-up to earn the 2nd play-off birth.
1st Round Tumwater 52, North Kitsap 0
The T-Birds were set for a 4 game run to finish this season off like they intended. The Vikings came to town also undefeated but when the ball was kicked-off the field was clearly tilted toward the Tumwater side. GATA again set the table for the offense to jump on NK in a hurry and the Offense did not let them down.
Lance Martin forced a fumble that Allen Grover recovered on the Vikings 12. Martin then got to run it in from the 5 for the 1st score. Up next Casey Taylor continued his ball hawk ways with another pick. Brad Otton quickly turned that into 6 with a TD pass to Scott Gurnsey for a 13-0 lead.
Martin would score again on a 1-yard plunge as the T-Bird short yardage back and then Karl Pfaff was unleashed on the Vikings scoring 3 TD’s on 128 yards rushing. Kevin Clark finished off the scoring with a 52-yard dash. After 3 it was 52-0 and the T-Birds secured their 4th shut-out of the season.
The T-Birds were constantly in the Vikings backfield. Aaron Palmen and Dan Olson were exceptional from the ends and combining on a big play in the 2nd quarter when Olson sacked and jarred loose the NK quarterback and Palmen recovered the fumble on the Viking 12 setting up Martin’s 2nd score.
The T-Birds were now 10-0 and set to face Renton in the quarterfinals.
Quarterfinals Tumwater 41, Renton 15
This was the 2nd and final time this team ever trailed. Renton jumped out to a 7-0 start on the opening drive but Tumwater would counter. Renton hung in with the T-Birds for the 1st half but couldn’t hold on to the lead. the T-Birds got on the board in the 1st on a leaping catch from Gurnsey. Gurnsey would come through again just before halftime when he made a great defensive play while on offense.
The Indians defender moved on a long pass from Otton toward Gurnsey . Gurnsey saw the ball coming in short and hit the defender knocking the ball up and Gurnsey caught the ball at the 4-yard line. Otton then hit Kevin Clark on a short pass to score as time expired for halftime with Tumwater leading 14-7.
As the 3rd quarter began it was all Tumwater beginning with Otton hitting Tony Doughty on a 49-yard strike. Karl Pfaff punched in a 1-yard TD plunge followed by a defensive score from Casey Taylor who picked off another pass and this time and returned it 31-yards to paydirt. Kevin Clark would run in the final Tumwater TD as the T-Birds took a 41-7 lead and then gave up a late score for the final tally.
Otton had his best night of the season connecting on 12 of 17 passes for 244 yards and 3 touchdowns with no turnovers. Tumwater improved to 11-0 and were back in the Tacoma Dome and the Semi-Finals for the 4th straight year.
Semi-Finals Tumwater 41, O’Dea 13
O’Dea came into this game with a hot offense and ready to take down the #1 ranked team. Well the flame the Irish burned was quickly doused by an aggressive defense and Tumwater’s answer offensivley Bryan Lowe who ran wild nearly reaching 170 yards. Amazingly Lowe did not score a touchdown in this game. Karl Pfaff added 99 yards for a deadly duo combination of 266 yards and a TD. Otton was red hot as well throwing 3 touchdown passes for 140 yards 2 of them to Gurnsey.
But leave no doubt it was the swarming defense of the T-Birds that left the Irish flat-footed. O’Dea was led by the State’s leading scorer Chuck Welch but was stopped for just 35 yards. Welch was dealing with a turf toe which slowed him down a bit but the speed of the T-Birds took full advantage of Welch’s issue. O’Dea finished the game with 216 yards scoring 2 2nd half touchdowns to avoid the shut out.
O’Dea got into the game in the 3rd quarter when they scored to cut the lead to 13-7. The T-Birds bounced right back with 2 more touchdowns to stretch their lead to 27-7. O’Dea would score with about 5 minutes to play in the game but Tumwater would emphasize the win answering with Pfaff’s TD and a defensive TD when Barrett Burbidge picked off a pass and took it to the house. The T-Birds improved to 12-0 and were headed back to the Kingdome for the 2nd time in 3 years.
KINGBOWL Tumwater 27, Cheney 7
How does a 2-time All-State player finish his High School career? For Scott Gurnsey more of the same. Yes the Tumwater T-Birds were a platoon team but there are exceptions for every rule and one exception was to make sure Gurnsey got his hands on the ball through-out the game. His final totals in the Championship game were 4 catches for 112 yards and a touchdown, 5 carries for 81 yards and defensively he picked off his 19th career interception, a school record and tied him for 5th on the State’s All-Time list and most importantly a State Championship.
The T-Birds once again took charge early and this time took their foot off the gas somewhat and cruised to the title. GATA set the tone forcing 2 early turnovers by Cheney that the offense quickly took advantage of. Allen Miller jumped on a loose ball on the Blackhawks 36. Karl Pfaff would surge in behind the quick hitting O-Line from the 2 to go up 7-0.
After forcing Cheney to punt the T-Birds then had their own 3 and out but the out was a touchdown. The Tumwater offense covered 66 yards with 54 of them on a bomb from Otton to Gurnsey and quickly the Birds led 14-0 and the Blackhawks were in trouble.
Cheney did try to get back into it and drove to the T-Bird 14 when the defense locked down denying them any further real estate and a field goal attempt would miss wide. Chad Stussy would get another turnover for the defense recovering a fumble near mid-field with 4-minutes to play. After a long run by Gurnsey, Otton dropped back to pass and hit Tony Doughty on a 4-yard pass to push the halftime lead to 20-0.
Tumwater began the 2nd half with an impressive opening drive traveling 67 yards in 15 plays taking a ton of time off the clock. Tumwater found themselves in a big hole after a holding call and faced a 2nd and 30 when Otton and Gurnsey would connect on back to back passes of 12 and 23 yards. Kevin Clark would finish off the drive with a 1-yard run and it was 27-0.
The Blackhawks just could not get anything going but did score late in the game to avoid the shutout but that was a small consolation. Defensive Coordinator Pat Alexander was proud of his squad and says they came in with a goal of 2 sacks and finished the game with 7. He says that just shows the kind of pressure GATA was putting on the Blackhawks which created those early opportunities.
The T-Birds finished their mission, 13-0 and dominating State Champions. This journey was far different than 1987. The expectations were there and the T-Birds fulfilled each one of them from start to finish in one of the most dominating season’s in State football history.
Up next both Scott Gurnsey and Brad Otton have written a piece on their thoughts, memories and reactions to this season. You’d think both would have quite similar views, but you are going to be surprised and in the end both make total sense. We thank both Scott and Brad for taking time to be part of this story.
By Scott Gurnsey
I can remember the end of the 1988 season vividly. It entails Tumwater getting beaten handily by Aaron Armstrong and Liberty High School in the State Semi-finals. On the bus ride home from the Tacoma Dome, it was silent, except for the occasional sob or tear coming from the players. I don’t know whether I was crying more for the loss or from seeing the heartbreak in the face of our seniors.
Tumwater wasn’t used to losing like that. We had just rattled off 19 straight wins, including the 1987 State AA Championship the previous season, and were 11-0 heading into that Semi-final game. I would never forget that feeling on that bus and neither would the rest of that junior class, as we vowed not to let that happen to us.
You could see the greatness of our class early on in the 7th and 8th grade. We had great coaches who were already starting to instill the T-Bird way in us. Coaches Hancock, Keister, VanHoose, and Haynie. Those were the years when you started hanging out at your buddie’s houses. Inevitably, it was usually at Coach Otton’s. I can’t even begin to count how many hours I spent with Brad Otton and Casey Taylor over there. One step into the family room and you knew what was expected of you if you wanted to be a part of Tumwater Winning Football. The photos, the teams, the sayings, the trophies, were everywhere. You knew every line and saying before you were even a part of it!
We continued into our freshman year with and undefeated season. We were chomping at the bit to play at the Varsity level. We knew that in order to play at that level that it was going to take a lot of hard work. Work that started in the mornings at Zero-Hour weight training, all the way through conditioning at the end of practices, and camps in the Summer.
Not only were we striving to become a team, but we were coming together as a part of the T-Bird family. The work we put in was hard! But it was work that we put in together! Not only were we learning how to become football players, but we were learning how to be men! Team, team, team! NGUNNGU! Bobby Muchaka!!
We went into Unity camp and two-a-days for the 1989 season with a great attitude! We knew that we had the
potential for greatness. But we also knew that nothing was going to be given to us. With super-hard work and a true team effort, we could achieve “T-Bird Greatness”. The feelings that this team had for each other will never be matched! A lot of the best memories that I have were off of the football field. We would have a pre-game meal at a Defensive teammate’s house, the pep rallies, wearing your jersey to school on game day. But the coolest memory that I will always have, is our “special” picture taken with the Defensive unit every year. Coach Alexander, GATA Coach, was huge into the military. There is no greater teamwork required than that exemplified by the military. He liked to “sprinkle” military analogies into what we were doing in football. Our Defensive team pictures were a total reflection of the military. Our Senior Defensive picture entailed the starting unit dressing up in various camouflage outfits, heading down to Tumwater Falls Park and posing in front of the greenery and falls for an awesome photo!! We were a complete team, from top to bottom. Solid in all three phases of the game! GATA, ROTA, and special teams.
Starters played a series into the 3rd quarter in most games and then we were relegated to the bench. We set numerous team records that year. I wonder how many we would have set if we had played the entire game? That is and was one of the keys to “Tumwater Winning Football”. We had so many guys with game experience, before they were even called upon to use it. It was a great team atmosphere. On most teams, the 2nd and 3rd stringers practiced hard all week and if they were lucky, would get into the game for the last series. Not at Tumwater. Our backups were into the games starting in the 2nd quarter with the starters, and then basically ran the entire second half. The best thing about it was that the backups would whoop up on the other team’s starters as well!! It was a great incentive to know that even if you weren’t a starter, if you worked hard, you were going to get some serious playing time.
I would like to tell you that the 1989 season was full of suspense and comebacks. Overcoming huge obstacles and game-winning touchdown drives. Hail Mary’s and on-sides kicks. When I tell you that our closest game of the year was in the State Championship, you get the picture. We sliced thru the Black Hills League like a hot knife thru butter! If my memory serves me correct, every starter on our team received some kind of All-League recognition. We had the BHL MVP, Offensive MVP, Defensive MVP, and Coach of the Year. When the playoffs rolled around, it was once again, steamroller city!! By the way, the score in the State Championship Game was…… Tumwater over Cheney 27-7!!
Not a day goes by that I don’t think about one of my coaches: Sid Otton, Pat Alexander, Randy Reynolds, Steve Shoun, Randy Leeper, Jamie Weeks, Gary Taylor, Merle Nelson, Rob Hinkle. These coaches, led by Coach Otton, helped to instill life-long lessons and values in all of us who put on the Green and Gold. They taught us that thru maximum effort and hard work as a team, that anything is possible!! As the years go by, I often reminisce about Tumwater and my team and my teammates. When I went to play football at the University of Montana, my new teammates and I would “brag” up our high school’s. When it came my time to brag, I would talk about Tumwater Football. I would get blank looks constantly. No one could quite grasp what I was talking about or how much T-Bird Football meant to me. After a while, I just gave up trying to explain. I feel sad for all of those guys that never got to experience Tumwater Football. If you weren’t a part of it, you will never, ever know how special the “Green Football” was…….. WE FINISHED THE JOB!!!!
By Brad Otton
There is a photo of the starting offense of the 1989 football team just before the end of the state championship game against Cheney. The photo shows us all standing on the sideline with the Kingdome scoreboard in the background, clock ticking down to the end of the game and the end of the first perfect season in Tumwater High School Football History. If you saw the picture you might wonder why all eleven us have a slight scowl on our faces. There is none of the excitement or exhilaration that you might expect to see on the face of a group of kids that had just realized a lifelong dream of winning a state championship with their childhood friends.
I have thought of a couple explanations for the less than enthusiastic looks on all of our faces that night. First, there was a slight emotional letdown that we had never been tested as a team. Throughout the 1989 season we had been ranked #1 in the state polls with Kennedy ranked #2. Most people thought there was not a close #3. All season long both teams cruised through their regular season schedule and even into the early rounds of the playoffs. All season long the media was hyping the inevitable show-down between the two best teams in the state in the Kingdome for the state championship. Almost 25 years later I still remember first hearing that Kennedy had been defeated in their semi-final matchup with Cheney. I can’t remember exactly if my reaction was more anger or disappointment, but there would be no epic match up in the Kingdom.
Although the starters were on the sidelines with the game in hand in the 4th quarter, as had been the case in every game that season, we didn’t play very well in our state championship game. I think most of us felt a bit of a letdown that we were not playing the team we had wanted to play most of the year. We had all been taught to NGUNNGU but were never given the chance. There would not be a last second game winning drive and field goal as in 1987 against Centralia to put us in the playoffs, no hail mary to beat Bellevue like a few weeks ago. The closest we would ever come to being able to show our T-Bird Never Give up Spirit would be being behind by a touchdown once in the first quarter of the state quarterfinals. Looking at that picture more than 20 years later, I can’t help but think most of us, deep down, were a bit disappointed we were never tested in 1989.
But more than that, it was as close to a literal lifelong dream for most of us as possible. Most all of us had known each other since kindergarten and in some cases even sooner. Casey Taylor and I had been water boys, ball boys and as close to the Tumwater football program as two kids could be since we were 3 years old. The core of the 1989 team had started playing football together in the 4th grade with Larry Deskins as part of the Trails End Cowboys. Even those that joined the group later in Junior High or High School were immediately part of our football family.
Although we never talked about it that night, part of the reason we did not appear to have just won a state championship in that photo is that I believe we all realized our journey together was over. There would be no more unity camps, no more practices, no more putting on our pads and the green jerseys together on Friday nights listening to Milli Vanilli over the locker room sound system. When I look at that photo I think that most of us realized that no number of wins or a state championship could mask the fact that our journey was over. While we would always be family, it would never be the same.
Two interesting takes from the same season, again thanks to both Brad and Scott for their input. A couple other notes to think about actually brought up by both Scott and Brad. What would this team had done if the Head Coach was selfish? Believe it or not this was the 1st year of rumors this was Coach Otton’s last season. Afterall his 2nd son was now finished and he has a daughter who is tearing up the Volleyball court. Why not step down on his 3rd overall State Championship?
Nothing could have been further from the truth but of course the rumor would get strong with certain personal benchmarks. Coach Otton would then retire when Tana, his daughter graduated, then it was when the District built a new High School, then when he retired, then when his wife Marjean retired, then when his 1st Grandson Jayden Croft graduated well finally the rumor mongers got it right when his 2nd Grandson, Cade graduates will indeed be the time to step down. The original rumor was only off by 27 years.
Coach Alexander must have been one of those who believed it was going to be on of those earlier natural points when he promised Coach Otton to stay with him until he retired. Coach Alexander will tell you he never thought Coach Otton would go this long but he will also say the ride they have been on is nothing he would ever trade for anything in the world.
Back to the selfish theme. Let’s say for fun’s sake Coach Otton was going to retire with Brad’s final season and he was someone who didn’t care about the future of the T-Birds and wanted to highlight his son and his friends. Can you imagine the number of TD’s and yardage Brad Otton would have cranked up in all those 2nd halfs they didn’t play? How about the point total’s, in fact I did a little exercise on the point potential just on what we know below.
These things never happened nor would they ever be a consideration for Coach Otton. That type of thought process I don’t believe he is even capable of having. It was and is always about the future and the program or better said what’s best for the family. It is fun to think about the crazy stats that could have been but that would have meant turning his back on everything he stood for, all the work he and the coaching staff had done and that simply is not the T-Bird Way. Now you know what the T-Bird Way is.
Time now for some fun with Numbers! The stats from 1989 are mind numbing, remembering the starters played about 60% of the available time they had available this season.
The T-Birds clearly loved the 1st half this season. They scored a total of 606 points for an average of 46.6 per game. They scored 168 in the 1st quarter, 207 in the 2nd for a total of 375 points or 62% of the points were scored in the first 24 minutes. They averaged 49.4 points per game during the regular season and 40.3 for post-season.
They averaged 13 points per game in the 1st quarter, 16 in the 2nd, 12 in the 3rd quarter and 6 in the 4th. So if the Birds had simply hit their average for the 3rd and 4th quarter in the Championship where they only scored 7 their post season average would have jumped to 43 points.
On the defensive side GATA gave up a total of 92 points or 7 per game. They outscored their opponents on the season by 514 points. The defense gave up only 1 touchdown the entire season in the 4th quarter and that was to Renton in the quarter finals. They gave up 15 in the 2nd and 15 in the 3rd quarters while giving up 55 in the 4th.
If we take only the 1st 3 quarters, the quarters the starters played, the defense would have given up a total of 37 points or less than 3 points per game. The defense also had 8 shut-outs through 3 quarters. Now if we take the offensive points of for the 1st 3 quarters the time the starters played they scored 531 points.
This gives us a true look at the what the starters did they scored 531 points and gave up 37 or outscored each opponent 41-3. Let’s take the averages of these and run them through 4 quarters to see what the starters likely would have put up had they played all 4 quarters of each game.
Running those numbers the starters would have scored 708 points over 13 games or an average of 54.4 points while giving up 49 points or 3.7 points per game.The numbers would be even higher if we considered the starters actually played closer to 2.5 quarters per game than 3. But there is no way they played more than 3 so these numbers are pretty solid to the likely result.
1989 set the bar to it’s highest and although 3 more State Championships have come to the Tumwater trophy case, no one has surpassed where the 89 team placed that bar. It remains the target of each and every T-Bird team from then to now and likely for as long as we can look into the future.
Again some may argue the proclamation 1989 is the Greatest but they’re simply wrong. This was the most devastating High School team I have ever seen and those standards are still there for each class of Seniors to pursue.
No there wasn’t a nail biting win or even a game where the outcome wasn’t known by early in the 3rd quarter and that’s being generous. Many games were literally over after the 1st quarter. There were no last second field goals or goal line stands that meant the difference between winning and losing. It was as smooth a season as anyone could hope for and and they indeed finished the job they set out to do in 1988.
But you don’t reach this level of success overnight. Yes, the big trophy was already in the trophy case thanks to 1987. And as I said in Part 5, when the 87 team raised the trophy they raised it with a hand from every single team going back to 1974 on that trophy right there with them. 1989, that wasn’t the case. Don’t get me wrong as all Tumwater grads and former players know and feel we are in an exclusive club and we always have a connection to this team because of the guy at the top.
But 1989 was also the changing of the guard in some sense. Former players were there with them every step of the way but it was also clear this team didn’t need us. They didn’t need the history and the struggle of the first 13 year’s, they only needed that experience of getting to the top of the mountain in 1987 as their motivator. I am not discounting the work that went in prior to 1987 in fact it was because of that experience that 1987 occurred. All our hopes and dreams had been achieved when Jamie Land sprinted into the endzone and victory was ours.
This allowed 1989 to shift hopes and dreams to expectations. 1989 expected to be great, they expected to win and they did not need hope. That is when you know your program has arrived. 15 years after Coach Otton moved his family to Tumwater. All the work, the struggles the close calls, the gamble to completely throw out half of what y0u know and the willingness to say to yourself I just might be wrong led to this marvelous 1989 season. The 1989 T-Birds are truly the greatest team ever to put on the Green and Gold and their standard of excellence remains the target for all others to achieve.
Special thanks to Scott Gurnsey, Brad Otton and Keith Clark for sharing their materials and thoughts on 1989. Part 7 will take in the next 2 State titles from 1990 to 1993.