Things could not have started better for the Thomas Jefferson football program. The Raiders kicked off the 2010 season with a workmanlike 21-7 victory over the Tahoma Bears Thursday night at Federal Way Memorial Stadium.
“It is an incredible boost to our program to win out of the gates,” said head coach Dean Peck. “It has created tremendous excitement with our team, as well as the staff and school.”
The win over the Bears was TJ’s first-ever over Tahoma, who have been one of the most consistent programs in the SPSL over the last five years. The Bears had won the previous seven meetings over the Raiders, including a 26-6 victory to open the season last year and a 51-32 pounding in 2008.
It was also the first time the Raiders have opened a season with a win since 2005, when TJ downed Decatur, 35-14. The Raiders have been a perennial basement dweller in the SPSL during the last decade. Since the 2002 season, TJ is 13-66 in the SPSL and has won only five games in the last four seasons.
But Peck and the 2010 version of the Raiders aren’t looking in the rearview mirror.
“The attitude is much different this year,” Peck said. “‘We Believe’ became our motto last spring and the entire program has bought into it and we do believe.”
As expected, things started off a little sloppy for both teams during the first half Thursday. Both defenses dominated, until the Raiders broke the scoring drought late in the second quarter. Senior wide receiver Dylan Cooper hauled in a 15-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback KW Williams to give Jefferson a 7-0 lead heading into the locker room at halftime.
Tahoma battled back early in the second half and got a 5-yard touchdown run from Zache Browne to tie the game back up at 7-7.
But it was all Jefferson from there.
Williams gave the Raiders the lead back for good later in the third quarter when he ran the ball in from 1-yard out. The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder also converted the two-point conversion to give TJ a 15-7 lead.
Senior running back Keegan Giles finished off the best performance of his career with a 3-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to finalize the score. Giles ended the game with 30 carries for 116 yards and the TD. Williams added 78 yards on the ground on 17 carries and also threw for 96 yards.
Giles and Williams were big beneficiaries of the play by the Jefferson offensive line, who were able to do to Tahoma what other teams in the SPSL have been doing to the Raiders for years.
The TJ line effectively wore down the Bears’ up front, especially during the second half.
“We are running the ball much more than we have in the past, which has always been a priority,” Peck said. “We have always felt to be successful, we would have to establish a running game, which has vastly improved.”
Another big story Thursday night was the play of the Jefferson defense. Last year, the Raiders gave up 378 points in 10 games and allowed nearly 4,000 yards of total offense to their opponents.
Against Tahoma, however, TJ gave up just 152 total yards Thursday, including only 67 yards rushing. The defensive line, led by 256-pound senior Mikhail Vlasenko, was in the Bears’ backfield all night long. Vlasenko finished with two sacks and three tackles for losses. Junior linebacker Tim Luafatasaga had nine tackles and Gunner Sonnenfeld finished with six.
“The defense is far and away the best we have had since I came to TJ,” said Peck, who has been the head man since 2007. “The main difference in our defense is the addition of Scott Morgan as our defensive coordinator. He has brought great intensity and passion to our team.”
The Raiders also played without the services of the 6-4, 295-pound Jefferson Aumua. The returning All-SPSL lineman sat out the game with a hip flexor.
Things don’t get any easier for the Raiders in the rugged SPSL North Division. Jefferson travels to French Field Thursday night to battle the always-dangerous Kentwood Conquerors.
Jefferson 21, Tahoma 7 (Thursday)
Tahoma 0 0 7 0 — 7
Jefferson 0 7 8 6 — 21
TJ — Dylan Cooper 15 pass from KW Williams (Thomas Goldingay kick)
Tah — Zache Browne 5 run (kick good)
TJ — KW Williams 1 run (Williams run)
TJ — Keegan Giles 3 run (kick failed)