PLAYOFF FOOTBALL PREVIEW: Federal Way hosts Issaquah in preliminary round Friday

When: 7:30 p.m. tonight, Nov. 2

Where: Federal Way Memorial Stadium

What’s at stake: A berth into the first round of the 16-team Class 4A State Football Playoffs. The winner of the Federal Way-Issaquah game will play the winner of a game between Rogers and Monroe. Bethel (5-4) finished as the fourth-place team from the South Puget Sound League South Division and Monroe (4-5) was the No. 2 seed from the WesCo 4A Conference. The winner of the Federal Way/Issaquah game will host on Nov. 9 or 10.

How they got here: Second-ranked Federal Way cruised to its second-straight SPSL South Division championship, winning games by a ridiculous average of 47-13. It was the second year in a row that the Eagles have finished unbeaten in the South. It will be Federal Way’s sixth appearance in the preliminary round in the last seven seasons.

Issaquah (5-4) earned the berth after finishing fifth in the wacky KingCo League. The Eagles beat Woodinville Friday night, 20-13, to earn the postseason appearance. In recent years, Issaquah have put together an impressive football history. The Eagles have made 12 state tournament appearances, playing in the state championship game in 2008 and advancing into the quarterfinals in 2009 and 2010.

This season, Issaquah has won four of their final five games, with their only loss coming to top-ranked Skyline, 21-0 on Oct. 19. It was Skyline’s closest win of the season.

Why Issaquah will win: The Eagles have been a powerhouse in the KingCo League for years, but have been up and down all season long. The Eagles feature some of the best talent in the area.

Offensively, Issaquah is led by junior running back Jack Gellatly and will attempt to pound the 6-foot, 215-pounder and control the clock against explosive Federal Way.

Gellatly is basically the entire Eagle offense. He ran for nearly 1,500 yards during the regular season and has 19 of the 20 rushing touchdowns Issaquah has scored all season. Gellatly is also the third-leading receiver for the Eagles.

Issaquah features a pair of quarterbacks in Jack Neary and Chas Peterson. Neary has all six of the Eagles’ touchdown passes on the year with three going to wide receiver Reed Peterson. Senior Craig Greiwe is also a dangerous weapon on the outside.

Defensively, Issaquah has allowed only 187 points in its nine games. The Eagles’ pass rush is led by Andrew Dierken, who has four sacks, and Issaquah’s leading tackler is linebacker Eric Rauch, who also has one sack and two interceptions. The Eagles also feature Ken Norton III, who is the son of former NFL All-Pro Ken Norton Jr. and the grandson of former world champion heavyweight boxer, Ken Norton. Norton III is a 6-2, 180-pound defensive back.

Why Federal Way will win: Obviously, the second-ranked Eagles are expected by most observers outside of the Issaquah city limits to win Friday night’s game, but it also helps to be playing on your home field.

Federal Way truly excels in all three phases of the game — offense, defense and special teams. The Eagles feature difference-makers and have college recruits littered all over the field.

Offensively, Federal Way has balanced the run and pass games all season. Senior quarterback Evan Elliott completed over 70 percent of his passes for 1,195 yards, 20 touchdowns and only one interception.

On the ground, senior Zeek McNeal and sophomore Chico McClatcher combined for over 1,100 yards rushing during the SPSL South season. McClatcher, who already has a scholarship offer from the University of Washington as a 10th-grader, finished with 13 touchdowns, including three on punt returns and McNeal had 627 yards and 10 touchdowns on just 54 carries.

Defensively, the Eagles feature a pair of thumping middle linebackers in Albert Havili and Rod Jones. Both seniors will play on Saturday’s in college and are both listed at 6-foot-3, 235 pounds.

Up front, Federal Way is led by a group including Jay-Tee Tiuli (6-3, 295), Winston Havili (6-0, 215), Robert Savusa (5-11, 240) and Eric Ah Fua (5-10, 255).

The rest of the defensive backfield features speed galore in Tucker, J.J. McNeal, Tate, Keenan Curran, Aaron Persinger and Tate, among others. Persinger finished with five interceptions on the year and Tucker had three.

In total, the Eagles led the South with a +14 takeaway ratio, including 16 interceptions. They also led the league in total defense, allowing just over 200 yards a game.

The only knock against the Eagles this season is they haven’t played a really close game all season. Federal Way’s starters basically played their first full game last Friday against the Curtis Vikings, which was still a 35-6 victory.

During their other eight SPSL contests, the Eagle starters were essentially done at halftime. Federal Way outscored its opponents 325-61 during the first two quarters during the regular season.

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