Seeds of SK's historic victory were sown three years before

It was one of the best games Ed Fisher ever saw.

The desire was there, the effort was outstanding and both teams playing that day showed so much heart that Fisher, being so impressed, knew he would never forget what he witnessed.

It was 1991, and Fisher, taking a break from his duties as head coach of the South Kitsap High School football team, wandered out of his office and on to Joe Knowles Field and caught a game between two of Port Orchard’s junior high teams – Sedgwick and Cedar Heights.

Fisher doesn’t quite remember which team won — the game was so even it took six overtimes to decide — but he does recall coming away with a feeling about the future.

“I saw a glimpse of the greatness those kids had in them,” Fisher said. “That was my first inkling that we would have a chance to win it all with these guys.”

Erick Winger played in that game. So did Brad Ecklund, Ryan Laureau, Willie Bloomquist, Shawn Varick, Jim Fox, Andrew Sams, Mac Morrison and so many others, including Casey Selfridge from Marcus Whitman, who would come together three years later to lay claim to the school’s first and only football state championship.

“It was so incredible to watch,” Fisher said of that game back in 1991. “It just so happened that we would win state with that group.”

It’s been 10 years to the day since South Kitsap beat Walla Walla 15-10 in the last high school football title game played in the now-defunct Kingdome, a victory that earned them the Class 3A title.

And today, as teams lay claim to the 2004 titles today in the Tacoma Dome, Fisher, former assistant coaches Steve Reischman and D.J. Sigurdson along with standout players Casey Selfridge, Erick Winger, Ryan Laureau and Shawn Varick all take a look back at some of the key plays, pivotal moments and enduring memories from the 1994 championship season.

The Preseason

Things actually looked kind of grim in the summer of 1994. The Wolves were coming off a 10-1 season that came to an abrupt end in the quarterfinal round with an 18-10 loss to Newport, the second year in a row the Wolves’ season ended at the hands of the Knights.

And the fact that South lost two of its all-time greats, future NFL players Tony Coats and Benji Olson, didn’t help matters that much.

“Looking back on it now, with who we lost to graduation at that time, we had lost a significant portion of our football team,” Fisher said earlier this week from his home in Spokane. “But one of the greatest things is that the kids we had aspired to play such a high level of football. They wanted to prove that they were as good as the other teams that came before them. People may have said they weren’t as good but in reality, they were pretty darn good.”

The possibility this team might not live up to expectations wasn’t lost on any of the players. They heard the second-guessing, knew the rumors of the program’s demise and sometimes even questioned themselves.

“It was the first time since the early 1980s that we weren’t picked to win our league,” said Selfridge, a senior co-captain of the team. “It used to be a given that we would win, and I think the coaches played up on that.”

Current South coach D.J. Sigurdson, who was calling the defense back in 1994, said the coaches didn’t expect greatness. They were just hoping for a chance to get into the playoffs.

“It was really a year of wanting to finish in the top two so we had a chance to make the playoffs,” Sigurdson said. “To get that third spot in the Narrows League was kind of our goal. But the kids had an altogether different idea.”

The Regular Season

Whatever the coaches did or said worked, as the Wolves cruised through the regular season with a perfect 9-0 record, racking up lopsided wins the school would come to be known for.

There was the 58-7 demolition of River Ridge, a 38-7 pasting of Timberline, shutout victories over Bellarmine and Mount Tahoma and a 49-12 beat-down against Lincoln.

But the first key moment of the season came in week five against North Thurston, a game that is known for the “drive.”

“That was our first big test, and it was a barnburner,” Sigurdson said. “It was just an amazing drive. It was the knockout punch. They were hanging tough but you could see them starting to kind of falter.”

Leading 13-10, the Wolves pulled off a 13-play, 61-yard drive that ate up almost seven minutes to put the game away.

Then there was the regular-season finale that saw South overcome a 14-0 deficit that was keyed by a nine-second span that saw the Wolves score 15 points. Justin Smith scored a rushing touchdown and then stripped the ball away on the ensuing kickoff to score again.

“That was a huge turning point,” Sigurdson said. “We came back from that game and Ed was livid. The kids felt like they had just climbed a mountain and he ripped them.”

Ripped them so much that the coaching staff was afraid they had lost them for good. But Fisher got them back and South was primed for its historic playoff run.

The Playoffs

After cruising past Juanita 21-3 to open the playoffs, the Wolves faced their toughest test in the quarterfinals against a very tough Lakes squad.

“Lakes was the best team we played,” Winger said. “We knew they were the best team we would face.”

Led by quarterback Drew Miller, the Lancers overcame a 15-0 halftime deficit to pull even with South. It was then Ecklund and Laureau etched their names into South Kitsap lore forever.

Facing third and long with time running out, Fisher called a draw-trap that caught Lakes by surprise and Ecklund took it 19 yards to set up a game-winning field goal try.

“It was kind of like, ‘Let's give it a go,” said Reischman, who coached the offensive and defensive lines in 1994. “There’s an outside chance, and we just gambled and it worked that time.”

Laureau, a junior, had missed four kicks the week before but was confident in his ability.

“Kickers always dream of of kicking the game-winning field goal,” Laureau said. “For me to make it was a chance to redeem myself.”

Everyone said they knew it was good from the moment it left Laureau’s foot.

“I was right in line with him, looking right in the scoreboard at the Lincoln Bowl,” Reischman said. “I’ve never seen a ball come off a foot like that. It went up like a professional or collegiate kick. And the rest was history.”

Now only Newport stood between the Wolves and their first trip to the state title game in 10 years. And Newport had beaten South the previous two years.

The rematch wasn’t even close.

Jim Fox blocked a field goal with his face and later caused a fumble to key South’s trip back to the Kingbowl.

“It's just special to get to that point,” Reischman said. “You not only have to have great kids and a good coaching staff, you have to have support from the administration and all the people that are a part of it. It all has to come together. And you have to be lucky.”

The title game

From the coin flip under the stands to Laureau’s 45-yard championship record field goal to a defensive effort that allowed Walla Walla just 99 rushing yards, the Wolves handed Fisher his first and only title that day in Seattle.

Fisher had waited 21 years for that moment, as had most of his coaching staff.

“We’d been so close so many times,” Fisher said. “There were so many different reasons for getting beat in the past. But I think the defining moment was that the kids wouldn’t except getting beat. It wasn’t about just playing with (Walla Walla). They weren’t going to be denied. They didn’t care what people thought, they just kept going."

Peter Simon burned the Wolves for 180 passing yards that day but never found the end zone, as South got a pair of scores from Ecklund and hung on for the win.

“They probably weren’t the most talented overall team we ever had,” Reischman said. “But chemistry plays such a big part. They just worked well together. Maybe it was just our time to win one.

“I think of the state championship as being one piece of an overall career thing,” Reischman said. “What we were most proud of was the consistency for all those years. That stands out to me."

The Aftermath

Winning the state title means something different to each person involved. But the common thread is the work that everyone put into that season and the memories that they have, even to this day.

“It was my pleasure to be on the sidelines that year, to see the bodies flying,” Fisher said. “There was so much unselfishness going on that year. You’d see guys hanging on by one hand trying to make a tackle, waiting for their teammates to come help.”

It was that team spirit that ultimately proved to be the missing ingredient all those years earlier, the key to winning a title instead of coming up just short.

“I was blessed to have so many great teams and great players to coach,” Fisher said. “There were so many little steps along the way we had to take and I think each team paved the way for the next. I look back to the very first team I coached … and they all did their part in getting us to that point. It’s so rewarding for me to have had so many kids that did so much for their school, their community, their parents. I think about it a lot.

“I tried to win every game I coached,” Fisher said. “There were so many factors out there that you can’t control. When it finally happened, it really was worth all the effort that we all put into it. It means a lot to me.”

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