Football Game of the Week: Highly-regarded Eagles host Rogers in SPSL opener

Federal Way sophomore Chico McClatcher should lead the Eagle rushing attack Friday night at Federal Way Memorial Stadium in their SPSL South opener against Rogers. Federal Way finished unbeaten in the SPSL South a season ago.  - Casey Olson/The Mirror
Federal Way sophomore Chico McClatcher should lead the Eagle rushing attack Friday night at Federal Way Memorial Stadium in their SPSL South opener against Rogers. Federal Way finished unbeaten in the SPSL South a season ago.
— image credit: Casey Olson/The Mirror

As always seems to happen, just when the summer seems to get going in Western Washington, high school football kicks off. Friday night marks the start of the 2012 fall season for the four Federal Way school district football teams.

Optimism reigns supreme at Decatur, Jefferson, Federal Way and Beamer, as it does prior to every season. But that optimism is a little more ramped up for the Eagles. Federal Way enters the season in everybody’s top-10 list in the Class 4A division after rolling through the SPSL South unbeaten a season ago.

The Eagles kick things off at 7 p.m. at Federal Way Memorial Stadium against the Rogers Rams right out of the gate in a slugfest in the SPSL South.

“Every coach would prefer a tune-up, non-league game to start with,” said longtime Federal Way head coach John Meagher. “Maybe even a couple. There is just so much to get ready for in a first game that you generally aren’t good at anything.”

But Friday night’s game will be an early-season barometer in the Eagles’ quest for a second-straight SPSL South Division title.

If recent tradition holds true, the winner of Friday night’s matchup will advance into the Class 4A state playoffs, while the loser will finish out of the postseason hunt.

Two seasons ago, Rogers rolled out to a 28-0 halftime lead and beat the Eagles, 42-28. The win led the Rams to a 7-1 regular season and an opening-round loss to eventual state-champion Skyline, while the Eagles finished 4-6 overall.

Last year, Federal Way dominated the Rams, 49-14, in Puyallup on their way to an unbeaten SPSL South regular season. The Eagles racked up 347 rushing yards during the game and got four touchdown runs from fullback Rod Jones and a 66-yard TD run by then-freshman Chico McClatcher.

“Rogers is always a well-coached team and fundamentally sound,” said Meagher.

Rogers featured a pass-first offense a season ago under head coach Gene Bowen and things shouldn’t be much different this year.

The Rams finished second in the SPSL with 1,853 yards through the air and return starting quarterback Stefan Van Horn, who is the league’s top returner in total offense (224.1 yards a game). But Rogers was second to last in the 18-team league in rushing offense, averaging just 99 yards.

Federal Way, on the other hand, was the complete opposite. The Eagles were third in rushing offense (260.2 a game) and 14th in passing (92 yards). And things shouldn’t change too much Friday night. The Rams’ offense will look for quick strikes, while the Eagles will pound the ball with Jones, McClatcher and Zeek McNeal.

But it’s on the defensive side of the ball that could be the difference Friday night. Federal Way should feature one of the best defenses in the area this season, led by a pair of 6-foot-2, 235-pound thumping middle linebackers — Albert Havili and Jones — and a blazing fast secondary.

Last year, the Eagles led the entire SPSL in total defense, allowing just 191 yards a game, including a meager 64.2 yards on the ground. On the other hand, Rogers was 16th in total defense. The Rams allowed nearly 400 yards of offense to their opponents in 2011.

The Federal Way football program will also be honoring Tope Akinlosotu during the home opener Friday night. Akinlosotu, who would have been a sophomore at Federal Way, drowned in Steel Lake on Aug. 5. The 15-year-old played football for the Eagles as a freshman and was enrolled in the academically rigorous Cambridge Program.

“It is important for the team that we publicly remember Tope and the fact that we have a home game to do that is great,” Meagher said.

In other opening week football action:

• The Todd Beamer Titans will open the Darren McKay era at Sparks Stadium against the Puyallup Vikings Friday night. McKay, who spent the last 12 seasons as the head coach at Gig Harbor, was hired just a few weeks before the season started after former coach David Sundheim unexpectedly quit to return to the East Coast.

Puyallup finished 6-4 a season ago and blew Beamer out, 64-28. The Titans are looking to rebound from a 2-8 season and will be breaking in plenty of new starters against the Vikings.

• The Decatur Gators kick off their season on the road in Tacoma against Wilson in a non-league contest. The Gators finished 4-5 last season but return a solid group, led by seniors Kyle Gleed (line), Spencer Smith (WR, SS) and Kevin Young (WR, CB). Also helping will be juniors Jared Cooper (TE, LB), Chris Carns (QB, WR, CB) and Josiah Goulding (FB, LB), along with sophomores Isaiah Diggs (RB, FS), Marlon Andrews (Line), Chad Corpuz (TB, WR, CB) and Keandre Blackshire (TB, LB).

But the Gators also feature newcomer Isaiah Hatch, the son of head coach Leon Hatch. The 5-foot-10, 170-pound sophomore plays quarterback and cornerback and was one of the stars of the 2010 Auburn Little League baseball team that reached the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Penn.

• The Thomas Jefferson Raiders (5-5 last season) open on the road against the defending SPSL North champion Kentlake Falcons Friday at French Field. Kentlake, along with Kentwood, Tahoma and Auburn, are early-season favorites to snag the North’s four postseason berths.

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