Last Saturday afternoon, the Hockinson Hawks walked into the Tacoma Dome for the 2A State Championship with a 13-0 record.
They walked out 14-0 after beating Tumwater 35-22.
And much like the previous 13 wins, their state championship was built on unyielding belief in their ability.
“The main goal was to go 14-0, and that’s what we did,” said senior quarterback Canon Racanelli, who threw for 318 yards and three touchdowns in the game.
Canon Racanelli and the rest of Hockinson’s players and coaches might have never doubted, but those in attendance had reason for concern early in the game.
The Hawks found themselves in a 10-0 hole in the first four minutes when Tumwater, known for a strong running game, ripped off a 45-yard run on their first play from scrimmage to put them inside the Hawks’ 20-yard line. Thunderbird senior running back Zane Murphy ran it in for a touchdown a few plays later to put Tumwater up 7-0 after the extra point.
Hockinson fumbled the kickoff and soon after Tumwater took full advantage of playing in a dome by dropping through a 45-yard field goal to put the Thunderbirds up 10-0.
Hockinson Head Coach Rick Steele said after the game that they didn’t panic though.
“We talked about it right before the game.” he said. “I said, ‘Hey, something bad is going to happen today. We’re going to fumble, we’re going to get behind, but we’ve just gotta keep our minds in it and keep pounding away because we’re a darn good football team. When we fumbled that kickoff, our defense stepped up and held them to a field, goal so I knew right there, OK, we’re still in this.”
The Hawks did not hesitate to go to the air once they finally had Canon Racanelli behind center.
He found his little brother, sophomore wide receiver Sawyer Racanelli, for the first time, then hit sophomore wide receiver Peyton Brammer on back to back plays. After pass interference was called on the Thunderbirds and Canon Racanelli found Brammer up the middle for 19 yards, Hockinson was at the Tumwater 20-yard line.
The Hawks were unable to convert, though. On fourth down, needing 12 yards, they decided to go for it. Canon only collected 11 yards on a keeper, and the Thunderbirds took over deep in their own territory late in the first quarter.
Tumwater went back to the ground, but Hockinson’s defense had started to adjust, forcing the Thunderbirds to punt deep out of their own end zone.
After a drive that saw three passes go to Sawyer Racanelli for a combined 40 yards early in the second quarter, the Hawks were on the board when Canon Racanelli hit Sawyer Racanelli for a 3-yard touchdown, putting the score at 10-7 after the extra point.
In the second quarter, the Hawks’ defense locked in. Even when Murphy found space again for a 53-yard run down to the Hawks’ 35 yard line late in the quarter, they were unable to capitalize, and the Hawks came up with another stop.
With the Hawks still down three and less than a minute until the half, the Thunderbirds got a look at the high-octane passing attack that has kept the Hawks perfect through the regular season and playoffs.
On third and 10, with the ball on the 50-yard line and 0:33 left, Canon Racanelli found 6-foot-4 senior tight end Jake Beslanowitch for 38 yards, putting the ball on the Tumwater 12. The next play, senior running back Bailey Jones went 17 yards, diving into the endzone to put the Hawks up 14-10 after the extra point.
Both teams were scoreless in the third quarter, but Hockinson began incorporating one of its most lethal elements all year which had largely been void in the first half — Canon Racanelli’s legs.
In the second half, even while fighting cramps — something he said he was able to combat with the help of pickle juice and sideline massages — Canon Racanelli began scrambling more, picking up needed yardage when plays broke down.
Early in the fourth, Canon Racanelli found his brother for another touchdown, this time 11 yards, putting the Hawks up 21-10.
The Thunderbirds were able to get their run game going midway through the fourth, marching the ball down the field and punching in a 3-yard rushing touchdown by senior running back Jakob Holbrook, which put them only five points behind after a failed two-point conversion, but after three quarters spent chasing Hockinson wide receivers, the Thunderbirds were worn down and had little answers on defense.
“I have confidence in my receivers and I had confidence that we had better dudes than them,” Canon Racanelli said of their relentless passing attack. “We stayed resilient and did our thing.”
With only three minutes away from a state championship, the Hawks needed only to hold onto their five-point lead, but they kept their foot on the gas and trusted the playmakers that got them there.
This came in the form of a reverse play that saw Sawyer Racanelli rush 48 yards into the end zone.
“I got around the corner and saw two lead blockers and our number 71, Nathan Balderas, picked up that corner and it was just like parting the red sea — it was crazy,” Sawyer Racanelli said.
If that didn’t seal the win, Hockinson junior cornerback Aiden Mallory plucked a Tumwater pass out of the air on their next possession and took it back 43 yards for a touchdown.
The Thunderbirds would score again to make the final score 35-22, but the celebration had already started in the stands and on the Hockinson sideline.
Steele said the win is reflective of years of work leading up to the game and the support of the school district, staff, past players and the Hockinson community.
“All the coaches, we’re proud of what we built. All the past players, they’re proud of what we’ve built. There’s been a lot of blood sweat and tears put into this,” he said “ … We’ve got a fantastic coaching staff, fantastic kids. I think we’ve got the whole town of Hockinson here with us. I’m happy for them, I’m happy for the town.”
For Josh Racanelli, Hockinson offensive coordinator and father of two star players, the state championship was the culmination of dream the three had held since the first time his two boys picked up a ball.
“To have us finish like this ... is surreal,” he said while fighting back tears.
“Since they were little I used to tell them ‘When it matters, when it matters, when it matters’ — you need to learn this fundamental thing for when it matters’ and days like today are when it finally matters.”
“My brother’s last game, winning the state championship, it’s crazy going out on top,” Sawyer Racanelli said of winning on the biggest stage with his father and brother by his side. “This is the last time we’ll ever be able to play together. It’s crazy.”