Mill Creek Beacon - Your Hometown News Source

By David Pan 

Early playoff exit provides added motivation for Wildcats | Football

 

September 6, 2019



The Archbishop Murphy football team had a little bit of a bitter taste in its mouth at the end of last season.

After three straight state playoff appearances that yielded a 2A title in 2016 and two close semifinal losses in 2015 and 2017, the Wildcats’ playoff run was derailed by an unexpected 37-9 loss to Sehome in the district playoffs.

Senior co-captain/quarterback Victor Gabalis has not forgotten about the game.

“It’s still on my mind,” he said. “The first two mornings after I was up working. So I still keep it in the back of my mind. I keep stuff two years ago, losses, in the back of my mind.”

The memories of the last game also linger for senior co-captain/lineman Zion Robinson and help provide fuel for him and his teammates in 2019.

“Last season was, I feel like it was a building year and this season, I think we’re all motivated off of last season,” Robinson said. “We still think about it.”

Aside from the graduation of five all-league players, the biggest change for Archbishop Murphy was the promotion of offensive coordinator Mark Leone to interim head coach. Leone succeeded former coach Jerry Jensen.

Senior co-captain Mason Mathias said it was important that the new coach was a familiar face. Leone took over last spring and led all of the Wildcats’ offseason activities. The rest of the coaching staff remains the same.

“It just helped us kind of pick up right where we left off without any kind of falloff or having to learn new things,” said Mathias, a running back/linebacker.

Leone, a 2006 graduate of the school, played under legendary coach Terry Ennis, whose name dons the stadium at Archbishop Murphy. Leone was on the coaching staff in 2016 when the Wildcats won their third state championship under Jensen. Leone also is an athletic assisant at the school.

The new head coach also is eager to see Archbishop Murphy rebound from last year.

“Our standard is always to be one of the premier football teams, especially in the Snohomish County area,” Leone said. “That’s what we want to be able to do. Last year, I think we were really young and we made some mistakes. But this year we’re looking to build on it. We’re looking to move forward.”

The return of Gabalis, who is entering his third year at quarterback, should go a long way toward a successful season.

“That’s a kid with a lot of game experience,” Leone said. “He went to the semifinals as a sophomore. So he has some state playoff experience. He’s a very gifted athlete.”

While Archbishop Murphy plans to take full advantage of Gabalis’ arm, the Wildcats first want to establish their ground game.

“It’s Archbishop Murphy. We’re going to try and start with the run game first,” Leone said.

The Wildcats have lots of options in the backfield. Mathis earned second-team, running back honors. He’ll be joined by junior Joe Ennis and senior Josiah Santiago.

Senior Jack Barnes, junior Josh McCarron and junior Keyshon Rife should be among the top receivers Gabalis targets. Ennis and Santiago also will figure into the passing game.

Many of the offensive standouts are key players on defense. Robinson, an all-league standout on offense and defense, anchors the defensive line. He’ll be joined by McCarron, a first-team defensive lineman. Barnes starts at linebacker and Ennis is a defensive back.

“We need to pursue to the ball and tackle,” Leone said. “We want 11 hats flying to the ball, taking the right pursuit angle and then we want to be a fundamentally sound tackling football team.”

A new addition to the defense is Gabalis, who will be playing free safety. Gabalis has never played defense until this season, but decided to give it a try.

“I want to do what’s best for the team,” Gabalis said. “I don’t want to stand on the sidelines when we’re on defense. I’d rather be out there with my team.”

Leone was receptive to the idea.

“I kind of have the mentality that these are high school kids and if they want to play a position and they can do it, let’s not stop them,” Leone said. “Let’s let them play their position and let them go be kids. We’ll be smart about it. In the right situation, he might come off the field on defense. If he wants to play and he can help us, we’ll let him.”

Gabalis’ desire to join his teammates on defense is just one example of the strong bonds that exist among the Wildcats.

“They really play for each other,” Leone said. “They work hard, but they do it with an attitude of fun and camaraderie and brotherhood.”

Archbishop Murphy is on the road against Eatonville (7 p.m., Friday, Sept. 6) and Hockinson (7 p.m., Friday, Sept. 13). The Wildcats then host Cleveland (7 p.m., Friday, Sept. 20) in their home opener.

 

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