The Quilcene Rangers and Almira/Coulee-Hartline Warriors both sat undefeated in May following the COVID-shortened spring season.
And with no postseason, they were unsatisfied.
“We were thinking last year would be our year for awhile,” Quilcene coach Trey Beathard said.
That drive to mount a title run — the Warriors a state power and the Rangers still chasing their first trophy — remained as both teams trounced their way to Saturday’s 1B state championship tilt.
It’s reflected in one player from each program.
Before ACH lineman Reece Isaak was a pocket-swallowing state player of the year candidate, he was an eighth grader playing up with the varsity.
He took more than half the snaps at nose guard during the Warriors’ 2017 1B state title run while his classmates were piecing together an undefeated season on the eight grade team.
The six-time state champs forecasted more success on the horizon.
ACH’s class of 2022 has pieced together a 38-4 record in four years, but a title has since remained elusive thanks to Odessa’s two-year run of dominance.
Now, they are ready for their moment.
“The core group of them have been playing ‘grid kid’ football since they were six or seven,” ACH coach Brandon Walsh said.
The history behind No. 3 seed Quilcene’s core runs even deeper.
Four brothers played key roles for the Rangers in the spring: Lineman Zach Budnek (2021), running back Bishop Budnek (2022), center/linebacker Deakon Budnek (2023) and lineman Maxx Budnek (2025), who played as an eighth grader.
Zach graduated in June and plays at Pacific Lutheran. Maxx starts at left guard and rotates in on the D-line. Deakon’s skyrocketing strength has made him a “devastating blocker” at left tackle and center, per Beathard, in addition to playing linebacker.
And Bishop (866 yards, 16 touchdowns in three postseason games) has developed into one of the state's top rushers, regardless of school size.
The sibling trio has lifted Quilcene to new postseason heights.
Their 36-12 win over two-time defending champion Odessa, the team it lost to 65-6 on the same stage in 2018, was the latest evidence.
CLASS 1B CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW
12 p.m. Saturday at Mount Tahoma High School, Tacoma
Coaches: Trey Beathard is in his sixth season at Quilcene (49-8 record). Brandon Walsh is in his 23rd season at Almira/Coulee-Hartline (162-88 record).
WIAA championship history: Quilcene has never played for a state championship. Almira/Coulee-Hartline won the 2B title in 1974 (as just Coulee City), the 1B title in 1985 (as a Mansfield-Coulee-Hartline co-op) and the 1B title in 1990, 2007, 2015 and 2017 as ACH — the latter three under Walsh.
Road to 2021 Gridiron Classic: Third-seeded Quilcene defeated No. 11 seed Winlock in the quarterfinals (64-60) and No. 2 seed and two-time defending state champion Odessa in the semifinals (36-12). Top-seeded Almira/Coulee-Hartline defeated No. 8 seed Wilbur-Creston-Keller in the quarterfinals (46-16) and No. 5 seed Naselle in the semifinals (68-32).
Statistical leaders: For Quilcene — QB Nathan Kieffer (35-79, 630 yards, nine TDs, 2 INTs), RB Bishop Budnek (139 carries, 1,316 yards, 24 TDs), Kevin Alejo (118 carries, 965 yards, 12 TDs), WR Ashton Johnston (10 catches, 193 yards, five TDs) Deakon Budnek (seven catches, 189 yards, three TDs) and DE Dominic Smith (90 tackles, seven TFL, 18 sacks). For Almira/Coulee-Hartline — QB Dane Isaak (19-38, 264 yards, 11 TDs, 1 INT; 41 carries, 766 yards, 14 TDs), RB/WR/DB Grady Murray (56 carries, 927 yards, 16 TDs; 11 catches, 264 yards, eight TDs; five of six INT have gone for TDs), Carter Pitts (83 carries, 778 yards, 16 TDs) and DL Reece Isaak (51 tackles, 13 TFL, two forced fumbles).
Tickets: $16 for adults, and $12 for students and senior citizens.
(Lead photo by Carrie Isaak)