Pirates ignite late in the season, head to state playoffs

Senior running back Adrian Arceo leads the Vashon Pirates into the playoffs after two wins in Tuesday
Senior running back Adrian Arceo leads the Vashon Pirates into the playoffs after two wins in Tuesday's tiebreaker.
— image credit: Leslie Brown/staff photo

A few weeks ago, fans were told, the Pirates fell out of the running for the state playoffs, having lost one too many games to gain a berth. The rest of the season might be fun and exciting, observers said, but the coveted chance to win a title was no longer at hand.

All that changed last Thursday and Friday nights, when a win by the Pirates over Cedar Park Christian and a victory by Charles Wright over Life Christian created a four-way tie for second place in the Nisqually League and a berth in the state playoffs.

Then, Tuesday night, the four teams went head to head in a three-game “mini-playoff” in Tacoma. And in what felt like nothing short of a miracle, the Pirates — led by a strong offensive showing in the likes of running back Adrian Arceo, quarterback Jeff Rauma and wide receiver Nick Fox-Edele — carried the day.

The team defeated Charles Wright, 35-7, and then Cedar Park Christian, 21-0, in two of the three half-games in the “mini-playoff” in Tacoma Tuesday night. As a result, the Pirates are now headed to the state championship playoffs on Saturday, when they come up against the Meridian High School Trojans, the Division 1-A second-ranked team, in Bellingham.

It’s a remarkable turnaround for a small, tight-knit team that has had moments of greatness as well as plenty of difficulties in its run up to the playoffs.

“We’re still playing,” a smiling Coach Clay Eastly said Thursday afternoon, as he watched the team run drills.

Eastly added that he’s proud of the team, a seasoned group of players that includes boys he’s coached for six or seven consecutive years.

“I’m happy the kids have kept their heads up during the tough times and rallied and kept their season going,” he added.

Tuesday night’s games were held at Curtis High School in University Place, outside of Tacoma, where the Pirates dominated, said Don Olson, a Pirates fan and the grandfather of quarterback Rauma.

Arceo, a senior, was particularly spectacular, he said. Arceo — the leading scorer this season — had 40 carries for a total of 192 yards and made seven of the eight touchdowns in the two games. Fox-Edele also made a touchdown after he caught a 40-yard pass from Rauma. A kicker, he also made eight PATs — securing an extra point after each touchdown.

Rauma, meanwhile, also had a stellar night, completing six of his 10 passes. And the defense got three interceptions and sacked the other team’s quarterback 10 times, Olson said.

The “half games,” with six-minute rather than 12-minute quarters, pitted four teams against each other to determine which of the four would get the last berth in the playoffs. Vashon played Charles Wright, then took a rest while Cedar Park squeaked out a victory over Life Christian. Vashon then devoured Cedar Park.

Eastly said he was impressed by the whole team; the offensive line, he said, has “really come along.” He also had high praise for Arceo, considered a huge component of the Pirates’ offensive attack.

“I wouldn’t trade him for any other running back in the state,” he said.

Arceo, after practice on Thursday, said Tuesday’s victories were an all-team effort. He added that he’s looking forward to Saturday.

“I feel confident in my team. We have a good defense, and our offense has improved a lost since the middle of the year,” he said.

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