Playoff football preview: Federal Way will have to stop pass-happy Skyview

Federal Way junior quarterback Nick Tanielu finished 14-of-18 for 206 yards and two TDs during Tuesday
Federal Way junior quarterback Nick Tanielu finished 14-of-18 for 206 yards and two TDs during Tuesday's 35-21 win over Gig Harbor and will be huge key to the Eagles advancing into the state playoffs Saturday against Skyview.
— image credit: File photo

What: 2009 Class 4A State Preliminary Round Football Playoffs, Federal Way @ Skyview

When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 7

Where: Kiggins Bowl, Vancouver

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-Skyview game will play the winner of a game between Lake Stevens and Bethel. Lake Stevens (5-4) finished second in the Wesco Conference North Division, and Bethel (8-1) finished second in the South Puget Sound League South Division behind Curtis. The Federal Way-Skyview winner will host the first-round game on Nov. 13 or 14.

How they got here: Federal Way finished in a tie for second place in the SPSL North Division with Kentwood and Kentridge with matching 6-2 records. The Eagles, however, were the division’s fourth seed thanks to the SPSL’s tiebreaking system. Their two losses came to unbeaten Auburn and Kentridge. This will be the Eagles’ fourth-straight appearance in the postseason. Last year, Federal Way beat Gig Harbor in the preliminary round game before losing to eventual state-champion Skyline in the first round of the state playoffs.

Skyview (7-2) earned the Greater St. Helen’s League championship with a perfect 5-0 record. Skyview’s two losses came to Union, 14-9, and Marysville-Pilchuck, 47-41.

Skyview has played in the Class 4A tournament twice in the past four years. The Storm lost to Snohomish in the quarterfinals in 2006, and lost to Rogers in the first round last year, 55-30.

Why Skyview will win: The Storm and quarterback Austin Dodge like to throw the ball all over the field on the offensive side, and are the definition of a quick-strike team.

Skyview has scored 21 or more points during its seven victories, and most have come on drives of less than five plays. The Storm has a multitude of touchdowns longer than 50 yards.

Dodge has thrown for more than 230 yards in six of Skyview’s nine games. The senior has thrown for 1,947 yards and 22 touchdowns, including two games with five TDs. Dodge finished 18- for-28 for 260 yards during the Storm’s 33-7 win over Heritage last week. He also ran the ball 10 times for 57 yards and a TD.

“They are effective throwing the football,” Federal Way head coach John Meagher said. “They have a high-octane offense.”

Most of Dodge’s passes go to Ian Zarosinski, Ellis Henderson or Karl Graves. The “big three” have been over 100 yards multiple times during the season, and all three have had two or more touchdowns during a game.

The Storm have had some solid days running the football, but Skyview is nowhere close to being classified as a “three yards and a cloud of dust” rushing team. The Storm’s leading runner is Matt Spears, who finished with 23 carries for 81 yards and two touchdowns during Skyview’s win over Heritage last week. Spears’ best game came during a 28-14 win over Evergreen when he ran for 137 yards.

But the Storm also have Parker Henry in the backfield, who had a huge game during Skyview’s loss to Marysville-Pilchuck. During that game, Henry had 17 carries for 195 yards and three touchdowns.

“I think they run the ball to keep you honest,” Meagher said.

Although the offense is clearly the strength of the Storm, the defense has thrown two shutouts during the season. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be scored upon. In fact, Skyview’s defense has given up 20 or more points four times in nine games, including 47 to Marysville-Pilchuck. The Storm have been a little vulnerable to the long, workmanlike drives that the Eagles can put together.

“They do a good job of running to the football,” Meagher said. “They have a lot of speed. They are not tremendously big up front, but they have athletic kids that can run around and swarm to the ball.”

The Storm have a solid linebacking crew led by Alec Osborn and Johnny Barrett. Osborn was a first-team All-GSHL selection last year, as was Zarosinski at defensive back.

Why Federal Way will win: The Eagles just have to keep doing what they’ve been doing during their seven-game win streak. Federal Way needs to control the clock with 1,000-yard runner Trenton Pinson and get an efficient game from junior quarterback Nick Tanielu on the offensive side of the ball. Defensively, the Eagles can bend, but not break in attempting to stop the vaunted passing attack of Skyview and Dodge.

The Federal Way defense has been solid all season long against teams in the run-happy SPSL North Division. After being torched for 42 points by the third-ranked Auburn Trojans in their opening game of the season, the Eagles are giving up only 15 points a game in their past nine contests.

But Skyview will give Federal Way a totally different look than they have seen all season long.

“We haven’t seen a team that really throws the ball like they do,” Meagher said. “It’s going to be a challenge to get our kids ready. Our secondary is really untested and that’s where I worry.”

But the Eagles do have one of the most athletic secondaries in the SPSL with defensive backs like Rian Miller, Isiah Umipig, Tanielu, Alden Coleman and Pinson.

“Who knows what’s going to happen back there,” Meagher said. “Hopefully we put them in position to make plays.”

Federal Way will also count on a very strong linebacking corps to help out against the Skyview passing game that includes DaShawn Horne, Jordan Pulu, James Seumaala and Lologo Lologo, among others.

As usual, the Eagle offense is led by a plethora of dynamic and fast skill position players, including Pinson. The senior running back has amassed 1,108 yards and 22 touchdowns on the season and is the fastest high school football player in the state of Washington. Last spring, Pinson was the state runner-up in the 100- and 200-meter races and has personal-best times of 10.8 and 21.81. Pinson is averaging 125 yards a game and could keep the high-powered Skyview offense off the field tonight.

Tanielu has been solid all year at managing Federal Way’s offense. The junior completes over 50 percent of his passes for over 1,300 yards, and has thrown only five interceptions this season.

Tanielu’s main targets have been wide receivers Jajuan Davis and Coleman. Davis has over 400 yards receiving and one touchdown, while Coleman has 350 yards and five touchdowns.

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