Eatonville captains Dylan Norman, Payton Hanly, Riley Storm, and Max Henley brought a special jersey with them to the coin toss before their first-round game in the state playoffs.
In a David vs. Goliath showdown, the No. 1 seeded Royal Knights showcased their dominance by defeating the No. 16 seed Eatonville Cruisers 50-0 in the opening round of the 1A state playoffs.
While the scoreboard reflected a lopsided victory, the Eatonville Cruisers, who battled through a challenging season, displayed unwavering heart and pride until the final whistle.
The Cruisers faced adversity early in the season with the resignation of their offensive coordinator after the second game, causing offensive struggles. Later, tragedy struck with the loss of teammate Jason Naro. However, the resilient Cruisers rallied, winning their next two games to secure a playoff berth.
The Cruisers, entering this game with a 6-4 record, aimed to shock the state and dethrone the defending champions. This matchup was a rematch of the 2021 state title game and the Cruisers were looking for a little payback.
A poignant pre-game tribute saw Eatonville's four team captains bring Naro's No. 33 jersey to the coin toss, honoring the memory of their fallen teammate. The emotional gesture set the tone for a game where the Cruisers fought valiantly against the reigning champs.
While Eatonville's defense effectively contained Royal's rushing attack, they struggled against the Knight's passing game. Despite pressuring quarterback Lance Allred, the Cruisers found it challenging to thwart his ability to scramble and find open receivers for substantial gains.
On the offensive side, Eatonville's Hunter Klumpar faced relentless pressure due to an undersized and overmatched offensive line. Klumpar, however, showcased his resilience by escaping pressure and connecting with receivers, including a key 27-yard completion to Griffin Clevenger on a critical 3rd and long.
The Cruiser run game encountered difficulties against Royal's formidable defense, with Dylan Norman and Payton Hanly facing tough opposition throughout the night.
Despite these challenges, Eatonville's defense demonstrated tenacity, forcing two turnovers and forcing the Knights to go three and out and punt the ball to end two of their drives.
A notable bright spot for Eatonville emerged late in the game when freshman Cole Fowler led a promising 6-play drive, showcasing the future of the Cruiser's quarterback position. Fowler's 40-yard completion to freshman Jacob Simons on 4th and 5 hinted at the potential awaiting the Cruisers post-Klumpar.
Eatonville's season concludes with a 6-5 record, securing second place in the 1A Evergreen League. Eatonville made it to the state tournament for the ninth time in the last 10 years.