Wildcats embrace challenge of defending their state title | Football

Archbishop Murphy retools offense with a sophomore QB
By David Pan | Sep 05, 2017
Photo by: David R Pan Senior Kyler Gordon is one of several talented skill players back for Archbishop Murphy.

Even though the circumstances are different from a year ago, the Archbishop Murphy football team is coming in with the same hunger for success.

That’s a positive development as far as coach Jerry Jensen is concerned.

Heading into the 2016 season, the Wildcats had something to prove.

Archbishop Murphy returned almost all of its players from a team that suffered a heartbreaking loss to Tumwater in the 2A state semifinals.

“The kids felt and the coaches felt that we had an opportunity to win and we didn’t,” Jensen said. “So that left a chip on the shoulders of the kids.”

Drawing motivation from the semifinal loss, the Wildcats defeated Tumwater in last year’s state quarterfinals and went on to claim the school’s third state football championship with a decisive 56-14 victory over Liberty.

The returning players aren’t dwelling on the memories of the state title run.

“We’re trying not to think about last year,” said senior co-captain Ben Hines. “2016 is in the past and we’re focused on our team now. It’s a new team. It’s new people. We’re trying to figure out what we’ve got and what we’re going to be best at this year. The past is the past and we’re just trying to think about the future.”

Senior wide receiver/defensive back and co-captain Kyler Gordon is just excited to play football again.

“I feel a little bit the same,” he said. “I just can’t wait to get out there.”

Winning a state championship took a lot of hard work and dedication, Gordon said.

“I’m looking forward to doing the same thing this year – working at every practice to get better and doing the same things we did last year.”

Jensen hopes that the Wildcats maintain that attitude.

“Keeping that chip on your shoulder, that is something our kids have to learn about,” he said. “It’s just coming out with the same intensity and desire day after day – to want to be the best.”

Hines tells his teammates to expect every opponent’s best shot.

“We’ve got to work our hardest,” he said. “Every game is going to be a fight. We need to work hard the whole way through.”

The Wildcats have some major personnel changes with the graduation of two-year starting quarterback Connor Johnson, running back Anfernee Gurley and linemen Abe Lucas and Jackson Yost, all of whom are playing college ball.

Sophomore Victor Gabalis has assumed the reins at quarterback.

While Gabalis doesn’t bring the experience or knowledge of the offense that Johnson had, he’s done all that been asked of him by the coaching staff.

“If he can keep doing that, we’re going to be A-OK,” Jensen said. “He has all the physical tools. He just needs to get the reps. With every rep, he gets better.”

Jensen said that the Wildcats’ offense isn’t as advanced as it was last year. But that’s not surprising given that Johnson came into with two years of starting experience.

Gordon likes what he’s seen from Gabalis.

“He came in strong and confident,” Gordon said. “He’s making the right reads. … All the receivers, linemen and running backs – everyone can be confident in him.”

Hines remembers Gabalis playing in some of last year’s blowout games and making an impression then.

“When he’d get in the second half of games, he was commanding the offense,” Hines said. “You could see a leader in him. He’s a super positive kid and he takes all-new information with open earns and open hands. He’s ready to learn. He’s very coachable.”

Despite of the loss of Gurley, one of the team’s most dynastic players, the Wildcats continue to have playmakers on offense.

Gordon actually caught two touchdowns and returned an interception for a score in the state championship game.

Jensen said one of the goals is to find a way to get Gordon the ball “any way we can. He’s a pretty special kid. We don’t want to overuse him. We definitely have to find a way to allow him to have the success that he’ll have.”

The backfield has experience in Hines and fellow seniors Emmanuel Osuoha and Ray Pimentel.

The Wildcats’ offensive line brings back three starters in seniors Matthew Keck, Kobe Moorhead and Martin Napeahi, who also was named a captain.

“We’re faster than we were last year,” said Napeahi, who plays center.

Under most circumstances winning a state title brings added attention on a team.

Archbishop Murphy, however, is used to increased scrutiny, as last season the Wildcats saw five Cascade Conference teams forfeit games due to safety concerns.

News media from across the nation descended on the Archbishop Murphy campus to talk to players and coaches.

Napeahi learned a valuable lesson that he and his teammates plan to apply as they attempt to defend their state title.

“We’ve just got to keep our heads down and keep grinding and not pay attention to the outside noises,” he said.

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