Eagles win instant classic over Gators

Federal Way senior Aaron Broussard battles Decatur
Federal Way senior Aaron Broussard battles Decatur's Cam Schilling during Friday's semifinal, which the Eagles won in overtime. Broussard had 29 points and 14 rebounds during the win.
— image credit: Casey Olson/The Mirror

By CASEY OLSON, The Mirror

It was a game for the ages. An instant classic, if ever there was such a thing.

Federal Way vs. Decatur on the biggest stage for high school basketball in the state of Washington, played in front of thousands of fans inside the Tacoma Dome.

It couldn’t get any better. Not only were the Eagles and Gators playing for city pride, but there was also a berth into the Class 4A state championship game on the line.

The Eagles and Gators have played some huge games over the years. But none were bigger than Friday night’s semifinal at the Class 4A state tournament.

And the two teams didn’t disappoint, playing the best game of the 2008 tourney.

The tension was more than palpable — and the ebb and flow of emotions on and off the court are what makes high school sports so magnificent.

And the intensity of the game was at its height as the buzzer sounded Friday night at the end of regulation.

That’s when Decatur’s shot at playing for its first-ever state title was dashed with one bounce of the basketball, and the Federal Way Eagles were granted a little karma.

With the score tied at 54-54 and everybody in the Tacoma Dome on their feet, Decatur junior Michael Hale let loose with a 3-pointer that seemed destined to fall through the hoop.

“I thought it was in,” Decatur head coach Kevin Olson said. “I thought we were playing Saturday night (for the state title).”

But, unfortunately for the Gators, and fortunately for Federal Way, the ball rimmed out, sending the game to overtime.

“I thought the ball was in and the game was over,” Eagle senior Aaron Broussard said. “And when it went in and out, all the stress was over.”

The Eagles went on to dominate the four-minute overtime period to pull out the 69-60 win Friday night over their arch-rival, sending Federal Way to the school’s first state championship game, which unbeaten Ferris won 68-44 on Saturday.

“That was so fun,” said Federal Way junior Andre Barrington, who finished with 14 points, seven rebounds and three steals. “And beating Decatur makes it even sweeter.”

In overtime, the Eagles jumped out to a quick 58-54 lead after two buckets by Broussard and Barrington and hung on.

Federal Way made all four of its field-goal attempts during the extra period and 7-of-9 from the free-throw line.

“I told my kids, ‘Keep your head up, it’s a new game, and we’re going to pull it out,’” said Federal Way coach Jerome Collins, who has been at the helm of the program at Federal Way for 24 years.

Broussard, the Eagles’ only senior starter, scored six points in overtime and finished with 29 points, 14 rebounds and three steals.

“He was unbelievable,” Olson said of Broussard. “He was the difference. He is a great player and a great kid. He came to our camps when he was in sixth and seventh grade. Unfortunately for us, he plays for Federal Way, not Decatur. Before the game, he had a look that he was going to do everything.”

Broussard and junior Jeff Forbes looked like they were going to lead Federal Way to an easy win. The Seattle University-bound Broussard and Forbes combined for 14 points in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter to put Federal Way ahead 52-41 with 3:01 left.

But that’s when things got interesting and also when Decatur’s K.J. Hong checked in at the Tacoma Dome scorer’s table. Hong, a senior who averaged just under three points a game, came off the bench and made a baseline 3-pointer with 2:38 left that cut Federal Way’s lead to seven. Then, 22 seconds later, he hit another three while being fouled. Hong made the free throw to cut the Eagle lead to 52-49.

“(Hong) is an unbelievable practice shooter and we just wanted to get him comfortable in games,” Olson said. “He’s a fantastic shooter, and you saw a display of it when he got hot. We just needed one more.”

After a Federal Way basket, Hale connected on a 3-pointer to make it 54-52. Then, Decatur senior Marcus Tibbs stole the ball and laid it in to tie the game and send the Decatur student section into a frenzy. Tibbs led Decatur with 22 points.

On Federal Way’s next possession, Broussard was called for a five-second violation with 11.3 seconds left, allowing Hale to get off the 3-pointer at the buzzer. Hale finished with 13 points.

“That was one of the guttsiest efforts I’ve seen,” Olson said. “We had some mistakes out there obviously, but I’m proud of my guys. It just didn’t happen.”

The win over Decatur was Federal Way’s sixth in a row, since losing to the Gators in the opening round of the West Central District Tournament. The district loss gave Decatur a 2-1 advantage against the Eagles this season. Both teams won on their home floors during the regular season.

“Obviously, they had a lot of the bragging rights,” Broussard said. “Losing two to them is two too many. But I guess we have the bragging rights now.”

The two teams played a back and forth first half, especially during a run-happy second quarter.

The Eagles clung to a 14-10 lead after the first quarter, thanks to Forbes hitting a 3-pointer with one second remaining in the period. Tibbs came right back and scored six-straight points to give the Gators the lead back early in the second, 16-13. Federal Way then went on an 8-0 run of their own, behind six points by Broussard, to take a 22-16 lead with 5:09 left in the half.

But, after a timeout, Decatur took back control by outscoring the Eagles 12-0 during the next four minutes, thanks to threes from Tibbs and Hale and a monster dunk from senior Darious Walker. Two late free throws by Broussard left Decatur ahead, 28-24, as the halftime buzzer sounded.

Forbes finished with 17 points and proved to be Federal Way’s second option during the entire postseason, scoring in double figures in seven of the Eagles’ nine games. Forbes also hit clutch free throw after clutch free throw during their run.

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565,

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