As the sun was setting and the temperature was dropping, Federal Way was preparing for their first state playoff game since 2014.
For Head Coach Marcus Yzaguirre (Izzy), it is nothing he isn’t used to. The 2003 Washington State University football alum is used to the cold weather, practice on Tuesday was a brisk feels like 31. The third year Eagle head coach is on his way to his first state tournament at the helm of any school he has coached at.
“It feels great, it is one of those things where we knew at the beginning of the year we were capable. It is just an amazing feeling getting this far. … I knew at the beginning of the year we had an opportunity to do some special things,” Yzaguirre said.
“This group has gone through a lot, they stepped up and wanted to have some normalcy and exceed the expectations they had set for themselves. … It is a very focused and resilient team,” he added.
Federal Way will need to stay focused on Saturday as they go up to Sammamish to take on the Skyline Spartans. The Spartans at 6-2 on the year have been carried to the playoffs on the back of their defense. “They have a stout defense, they have been doing a good job all year,” Yzaguirre said.
Skyline allows 11.4 points per game on the season and at home they are even better, allowing only 10.3. Overall the Spartans defense is the third best in the state behind Kennedy (10.8) and Chiawana (11). The formula to crack the Skyline defense is simple for the Eagles.
“We have to go in, be focused and let our playmakers make plays. We got playmakers all over the field and when we are clicking on all cylinders it’s scary,” Yzaguirre said.
However, Federal Way’s offense has never been hotter. Over their five-game win streak, they have averaged 48 points a game. After the loss to Kennedy, quarterback Jay O’Neil said the change happened at practice. “We realized we needed to practice better,” the head coach said. “Ever since we have been clicking.”
The defensive strategy for the Eagles is a different story. Of the top teams remaining, Skyline doesn’t have the high powered offense one would expect. The Spartans have only scored over 30 points one game this year. It was their previous game against Mt. Rainier where they scored 31. The challenge is slowing standout wide receiver and Colorado State commit TJ Crandall who has been lethal against defenses all season.
“Big time playmakers make plays, that’s the nature of the game. Our job is to try and limit those plays, and if they do make one. We have to come back and respond,” Yzaguirre said.
The game’s biggest challenge is something off the field for Coach Izzy’s Eagles: “We have to understand we can’t get tired on that hour bus ride. That is the biggest challenge to me, is making sure we are ready right when we get off that bus.”
The Eagles have only played three games outside of Federal Way Memorial Stadium including one on the road at powerhouse Lake Stevens, which looking at the score might not have seemed positive at the time but has helped Federal Way down the road.
“It really helped us, it kind of humbled us too. It made us realize we need to work harder, and definitely prepared us for the playoffs,” O’Neil said.
Federal Way enters the state bracket as the 12 seed, facing the fifth seeded Spartans. For March Madness fans, it is the most popular upsets of the opening round. Teams have a 35% upset rate in the year end basketball tournament. In the 2022 tournament there were two upsets (Richmond def. Iowa, New Mexico def. UConn).
This Federal Way squad has played well down the stretch. If there is a team capable of an upset, you could bet on this Eagles team.