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Guest Preview and Pick: The TNT's Doug Pacey Answers Our SPSL Questions
For the second straight year, we are beyond excited to welcome Tacoma News-Tribune Prep guru Doug Pacey (actually, his title is Prep Sports Coordinator, but that fools no one. He is a guru!).
Pacey operates the TNT's indispensable Prep Blog - a must read for high school football fans around the state. Since our inception, we've featured the Prep Blog on our Required Reading tab, but just in case you've been snoozing, be sure to click over to Doug's blog and get that RSS feed! Either that or just visit Doug after you're done here.
Thanks to Pacey's excellent playoff preview series - in which he detailed likely playoff scenarios for alll major classifications state wide - we were able to ascertain three weeks ago that the Vikes were likely to face the SPSL South's Bethel Braves. Pacey is also behind the TNT's widely-respected state prep rankings. (For some reason, the Vikes aren't ranked! Oh, right. Four losses. Forgot about that.)
Now, with Saturday's playoff game approaching, and a berth in the state tournament on the line, Pacey is gracious enough to join us on Purple and Gold Pigskin and answer some of our pressing questions with regard to the 8-1 Braves. So, without further ado, here is our Q and A with Doug Pacey:
P&GP: Did you cover any Bethel games this year? If so, what impressions did you take away?
Pacey: I’ve seen Bethel twice this season. The first time was in Week 2 against Curtis and the second was two weeks ago against Puyallup.
I wouldn’t read too much into Bethel only beating a 3-6 Puyallup team 24-10. More than two dozen Puyallup players missed the first five weeks of the season because they weren’t academically eligible. Puyallup did take Curtis to the brink in Week 6, losing 34-31. That Puyallup team was pretty solid when everybody was eligible.
Way back in September, Curtis beat Bethel, 27-23. This game determined the SPSL South champion. Curtis scored a late touchdown to win the game. Bethel played most of the second half without defensive tackle Happy Iona, who suffered a badly sprained ankle and left the field in an ambulance. The coaches and trainers weren’t sure how severe the injury was – early speculation was torn ligaments.
Bethel is a solid football team. The Braves can grind out long drives and they can hit it big with long scoring plays on the ground by running back Anthony Meray or through the air with a couple of their speedy receivers. We’ll get to more on Meray and Iona later, so I’ll take this opportunity to mention Bethel’s kicker, Brandon Bailey. He’s made 9-of-12 field goal attempts, including four longer than 35 yards. A consistent kicker at the high school level is pretty rare and can be a big boost in close games.
PG&P: Obviously, those who follow prep football in the NW are aware of Happy Iona. But after taking a closer look at the Bethel Braves, it appears that the real star is RB/DB Anthony Meray.
Looking at your SPSL South All League teams from last year, Meray was first team offense and second team defense, while Iona didn't get the nod. Is there something we are missing about Iona, and what are your thoughts on Meray? Is he a college back?
Pacey: Iona missed quite a few games last season, that’s why he wasn’t an all-league selection. We put him on our preseason all-state team in August, though. He’s clearly one of the state’s best defensive tackles. He’s big – 6-foot-2, 280 pounds – clogs up running lanes and moves well for a guy his size. Iona will have to be double-teamed, or at least get “chipped” by another offensive lineman as he makes his way to the next level. Iona missed three games because of his ankle sprain and returned in Week 6 against Graham-Kapowsin, which was a rivalry game and had big playoff seeding implications. He played sparingly after that and even sat out the Puyallup game, but he’s 100 percent now.
Meray makes Bethel go. He set the SPSL’s all-purpose yards record this season with more than 2,200 yards in eight league games. In the Puyallup game, he carried the ball 35 or 36 times and no other play had a single carry. That’s why they call him “All Day” Meray.
Meray is small at 5-foot-9, but that makes him compact, too. He’s quick, has moves and can bounce off hits. He has an offer from Air Force, but I imagine he’ll get a few more. The two things that have kept schools from offering are his height and his 40 time. Last year, he ran a 4.6 in the 40-yard dash and that won’t get a running back many looks from the big schools. He lowered that to 4.47 this fall. I think that will encourage some schools to re-consider. I’ve seen less impressive high school running backs go to big Division-I schools.
PG&P: Although we keep our focus on the 19 Wesco 3A/4A squads, we are fans of prep football in general. Are there any South end teams or players that you have really enjoyed covering and that we might want to keep an eye on during the playoffs? Who are you covering this weekend?
Pacey: Meray is fun to watch. Maybe not so much if he’s beating your team, but a football fan will appreciate his ability. Curtis has one of the best athletes in the state in receiver Rahmel Dockery. The junior is a threat to go the distance on a deep route, screen pass and punt or kick return. He’s done all of that quite a bit this season. He’s averaging 35 yards per catch and has 12 receiving touchdowns, two kickoff returns for touchdowns, a punt return for a touchdown and two rushing touchdowns.
On Friday, I’ll be at Wilson-Curtis – two local schools – and will cover Everett-Lakes on Saturday.
P&GP: Give us a prediction for Saturday's game. Yes, I am probably going to pick Bethel too. But by how much?
Pacey: I’ll say Bethel 27, Lake Stevens 14. Meray scores a couple touchdowns and Lake Stevens makes a couple stops, forcing Bailey to kick a couple field goals.
PG&P: Who do you like to take it all in 4A? 3A?
Pacey: In 4A, can I go with the winner of the Bothell-Skyline semifinal? The Issaquah graduate in me wants to say Bothell, but I don’t think Skyline loses twice to the same team. That said, whatever team emerges from the top-half of the bracket will not be a slouch.
Mead has been playing very well lately, Ferris came back from the dead to reach the postseason and you folks know all about Jackson.
I would not be shocked to see Bethel make a deep run into the playoffs. The Braves can grind out long drives and have big-play capabilities.
Bellevue is the team to beat in 3A. But if a team can do it, it might be Lakes. This team is loaded with individual talent and they seem to genuinely get along with each other, which isn’t always the case when you throw 75 teenage kids together. Lakes has a powerful running game and just enough of a passing attack to keep defenses honest.
I think 3A is as wide open as it has been in years, though. Liberty, Union, Mount Spokane could all challenge for the title, and Timberline is undefeated.
PG&P: Thank you so much for your time and for being our guest! We will continue to subscribe to the Prep Blog, and one day we selfishly hope you will get a North end job. Doesn't the Herald need a Sports Editor? Thanks, and stay in touch!
Pacey: No problem. Thanks for having me. This blog is a good source of WesCo information for out-of-area people, like myself. I’ve got no idea if the Everett Herald needs a sports editor, but I like working at the TNT.