In those final frantic moments, Jaden Sheffey dropped back to pass. The Woodinville quarterback flung the ball deep down the field. But when it nestled into the arms of Richland’s Adam Weissenfels, the Bomber defensive back ran a few steps before sliding to the Tacoma Dome turf. For the Richland Bombers, the State Championship celebration was on. For the Woodinville Falcons, a special season brimming with memories, came to an end.
Such was the scene in Tacoma last Saturday night. A statewide audience watched on ROOT-TV, as Richland held off Woodinville 28-21 in the 2017 Gridiron Classic. Richland finished the season 14-0, while Woodinville wrapped up at 13-1.
“A lot of emotion, you know?” Woodinville coach Wayne Maxwell said as he struggled to compose himself. “These guys are great kids. They do everything the coaches ask. We work them hard... I told them in the final huddle that they’re winners. They believed in each other. They never turned their backs on each other. They came out and fought their hearts out. It’s just a sign of what they’ve done this year. They’re going to win in life. I’m unbelievably proud of these guys.”
Electricity filled the Tacoma Dome at the start of the game. The Woodinville student section began cheering “WE CAN’T HEAR YOU!” toward their Richland counterparts across the way. Falcon wide receiver Noah Stifle was wide-eyed in the moment.
“Right when I walked in, it was amazing,” Stifle said. “I was like – WOW! Half the dome was filled [with Woodinville fans] to see us play.”
Equally amazing, and hard to process, was watching Richland dominate the Falcons in the first half. The Bombers built a 28-0 halftime lead, against a Woodinville team that had never trailed after the first quarter all season. The Woodinville defense didn’t look itself, giving up ground and chunks of yardage. And the Falcon offense struggled, with a couple of brutal turnovers that led directly to Bomber points.
“It was a gut check at halftime,” Maxwell said. “The first half was not a good one. Everything went wrong that could have gone wrong. Nobody outside our locker room believed we were going to do anything about coming back. But there was never any doubt. I never lost any belief in those kids. Never will. They showed who they are in that second half.”
On the opening drive of the third quarter, the Falcons finally cracked the ice. On a critical third down and two from the Richland forty-yard line, Sheffey scrambled for 23 yards and a first down.
Moments later, Brett Accimus plunged through the line for a 1-yard score. This made it 28-7.
The Woodinville defense forced a three-and-out to give the ball back to the offense. A few plays later, Sheffey threw a lateral pass to Noah Stifle, who then wound up and fired deep to a wide open Tyler Owens for a 38-yard touchdown. This energized the Woodinville crowd and cut the deficit to 28-14.
In the fourth quarter, Sheffey scrambled for a relentless 9-yard touchdown run. This made the score 28 to 21. But that’s as close as the Falcons would get.
“Jaden just fought his heart out there in the second half,” Maxwell said. “Just running our offense, making things happen when they weren’t there. Way to fight back. So proud of that kid in terms of the type of leader he is on our team.”
But as Sheffey’s final throw as a Falcon was picked off by Weissenfels, the party was on for the folks from the Tri-Cities. The ebullient Bomber student section began chanting “CAN YOU HEAR US NOW?”
“I knew we would battle in the second half,” Woodinville defensive end Dylan Lewis said. “I knew we weren’t going to give up. I just knew we would come back because that’s what this team does. But in that first half, we struggled to figure their team out. Their snap [count], their run scheme, and you need to figure those things out and it cost us the game.”
“Pressure situation, state championship game on TV in the Dome,” coach Maxwell said. “Give credit to those kids from Richland, they played a great game. And we made some mistakes and it cost us.”