Host West Washington did a great job Friday night in taking away North Central's best high school football weapon, Dawson Basinger.
But the Thunderbirds proved they are a multi-faceted team — and Basinger proved he was an outstanding defensive player — as the Thunderbirds won their first-ever sectional championship by a 14-0 score.
Basinger still had 97 yards on 17 carries and scored the clinching touchdown in the fourth quarter. But that's a lot less yardage, and a lot less usage, than he's accustomed to.
So fullback Blake Chatman pounded the middle of the Senator defense for 137 yards, and the Thunderbird defense proved to be a weapon in its own right.
"We've got other guys than Dawson," coach Travis Nolting afterward. "It could be anybody's night [to be the hero]."
North Central moved the ball on its first two drives but was stopped both teams. The defense held the home team without a first down on West Washington's first two series, however, and finally the Thunderbirds broke through with a 65-yard, eight-play drive.
Chatman scored on a 1-yard run with 9:09 left in the second quarter, and Cody Curtis — who hadn't had a carry to that point — ran in the 2-point conversion.
West Washiington then mounted its first drive and was inside the North Central 20, but Basinger made the fourth-down stop with 5:36 left. The Thunderbirds held the ball the rest of the half but couldn't score, and West Washington got the ball to start the second half.
The Senators were almost immediately at the T-Bird 10-yard line, but Isaac Bonacorsi sacked the quarterback on the first down, then came up with an end zone interception on the very next play.
"Just trying to do my best to help the team," he said amidst a throng of his fans after the game. "I just play my part, and everybody else does the same."
North Central had a three-and-out series followed by a short punt, but this time it was Basinger coming up with an interception. But although the T-Birds had the ball well into the fourth quarter, they were stopped on fourth down at the 13-yard liine.
Time was running out on West Washington, and the Senators went for it on fourth-and-5 from their own 29-yard line. Basinger broke up that pass, then broke free for a 23-yard touchdown run three plays later.
"Going in [to the game] we knew [West Washington] would shift [its defense] my way," said Basinger, who added a second interception later in the fourth quarter. "The other guys had to step up big, and they did.
"We knew we had to play good defense," Basinger continued. "Tonight we came out with the attitude not to give up anything."
"We were expecting [West Washington's defensive strategy] all week," added Chatman, probably the muddiest Thunderbird at the conclusion of the game. "Coach said the middle would be open. I've got a big offensive line, and I knew they would break it up for me."
"Coach [Phillip] Bowsman [of West Washington] is a great coach, and they've got some great players," Nolting said. "We knew we'd have to exhaust every opportunity to win."
The first sectional title, after being so close in previous years, was a sweet one for all concerned.
"I don't know if I can describe it in words," Nolting said. "I've been [at North Central] eight years, and the first year we were everybody's homecoming or Senior NIght. But these are blue-collar people here, and that's the kind of kids we have. Everybody's a part of that victory tonight."