As Royal has tightened its grip as perhaps the state’s preeminent powerhouse, a question has bubbled up and lingered: Who might de-throne the Knights, winners of four of the past five state titles?
A new challenger – the Eatonville Cruisers – might have the answer to that. And they’re not afraid to talk about it.
“We understand we’re the new kids on the block in 1A, no question about it. This has been Royal’s classification,” Eatonville coach Gavin Kralik said. “It’s been a journey to get to this spot. We’ve got a big task ahead of ourselves, but we’re looking forward to it.”
Both teams have been on a crash course since entering the season as the consensus top two teams in 1A – spots they’ve held all season.
The second-ranked Cruisers re-classified down from 2A in 2020, and boast massive linemen units (270 pounds on average) and a once-in-a-generation team with depth atypical of its school size.
The No. 1 Knights have been no slog either, thrashing opponents by an average of 47 points per game.
Eatonville’s last state title came in 1992 — the last of a run under former coach Steve Gervais that produced three 1A titles in seven seasons. Several current members of its current coaching staff led that state power of yesteryear: Quarterbacks coach Bobby Lucht was the record-breaking signal caller in 1992; special teams coach Tom Zurfluh was the kicker; and defensive coordinator Bill Nation was Lucht’s backup.
As much anticipation as there is about the 1A title game Saturday, there was some discussion the two teams might play last spring.
When an opponent canceled days in advance, Kralik tried to book Royal for a Tuesday game. Eatonville even agreed to travel. Royal declined, pointing to the quick turnaround in playing a weekend game.
After the spring, Royal declared itself the unofficial 1A state champion, citing its difficult schedule (played three 4A opponents) and the fact that various statewide postseason rankings all had the Knights at No. 1. They even added a championship banner to their collection at their home stadium.
Now, the Cruisers – who are unbeaten (3-0) in state title games – get their chance to prove otherwise.
If Royal has taken notice of Eatonville’s sudden rise, it’s not tipping its hand.
“We don’t look ahead very far,” Allred said. “People think we should and we don’t.”
CLASS 1A CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW
Noon Saturday at Harry E. Lang Stadium, Lakewood
Coaches: Gavin Kralik is in his fifth season at Eatonville (38-13 record). Wiley Allred is in his 23rd season at Royal (261-27 record).
WIAA championship history: Eatonville won the 1A title in 1985, 1990 and 1992 under coach Steve Gervais. Royal won the 1A title in 1996 under coach Bob Nielson, then in 2000, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2019 under Allred.
Road to 2021 Gridiron Classic: Second-seeded Eatonville defeated East Jefferson in the first round (58-0), No. 7 seed Riverside in the quarterfinals (35-6) and No. 3 seed Lynden Christian in the semifinals (38-6). Top-seeded Royal defeated No. 16 seed Bellevue Christian in the first round (50-6), No. 9 seed Toppenish in the quarterfinals (59-6) and No. 5 seed King’s in the semifinals (35-14).
Statistical leaders: For Eatonville — QB Kevin Wulff (122-173, 2,362 yards, 25 TDs, four INT), RB Dylan Norman (122 carries, 936 yards, 10 TDs), WR Jakob Lucht (39 catches, 877 yards, 12 TDs), WR Job Kralik (34 catches, 833 yards, eight TDs), LB Blain Hanly (115 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, two INT), DL Chase Grant (41 tackles, 13.5 TFL, six sacks), DL Zach Barnett (55 tackles, 12.5 TFL, five sacks) and DB Reilly McIlraith (35 tackles, four INT). For Royal — QB Derek Bergeson (112-192, 1,961 yards, 39 TDs, seven INT), RB Avery Ellis (110 carries, 1,050 yards, 21 TDs), WR Luke Bergeson (39 catches, 866 yards, 18 TDs), LB Dylan Allred (75 tackles) and LB Ellis (25 TFL, five sacks).
Tickets: $16 for adults, and $12 for students and senior citizens.
(Featured photo by Vince Miller)