Sports Zone

Thurston falls; coach praises team’s growth


SALEM – It’s easy to understand the big-picture focus Thurston High football coach Justin Starck took in the aftermath of his team’s season-ending 41-14 loss to Summit in the state semifinals – the Colts’ second blowout defeat at the hands of the Storm this season. 

“I’m just more focused on the season as a whole, and just proud of their effort and proud of them being league champions and getting us back to this point again,” said Starck. “Just proud of their overall effort.”

Thurston might have entered the season with lower expectations as younger, more inexperienced players stepped into key roles, but the standards didn’t change. After an 0-2 start, the Colts returned to form en route to their state semifinal appearance – following state titles in 2019 and ’20. 

“No shoulda, coulda, woulda with these guys. They figured out a way to get us here. I’m just proud of them. They’ve had a great run.” 

– Justin Starck, Thurston head coach

The state semifinals and finals are played at neutral sites for Oregon football, and so the season finale on Friday was played at McCulloch Stadium on the campus of Willamette University in Salem. Both fanbases traveled well, filling roughly 40% of the 2,500-seat stadium. The Storm fanbase, traveling from Bend, left the much happier group while the Colts students, dressed up in their ski-gear themed clothes, were left to console their team.

The game quickly went south for Thurston as Summit scored on the opening possession, caused a Colts turnover and scored again to take a 13-0 lead seven minutes into the game.

The Storm is competing at the Class 5A level this season following its move from Class 6A – where it had reached the state quarterfinals in football last season. Its defense proved too much for the Colts.

Thurston failed to convert on fourth-down tries on two consecutive drives, and Summit capitalized on both to lead 28-0 midway through the second quarter. When the Storm scored twice more in the first half, it had recorded a touchdown on every first-half drive, and led 41-0 at halftime.

A determined Colts team came out firing in the second half, scoring on a five-play, 68-yard drive only three minutes into the third quarter. Sophomore quarterback Noah Blair punched it in for Thurston after Darien Witham set up the score with 40 yards rushing on the drive.

Due to state rules, Thurston was battling the clock and the Storm in the second half. The big halftime deficit meant a running clock, making any comeback attempt especially difficult. Witham scored again for Thurston from the 1-yard line in the fourth quarter, ending his high school football career with a touchdown.

Hogan Carmichael passed for three touchdowns and ran for two – all in the first half for Summit – which advanced to the finals for a rematch with Wilsonville, whom Summit beat 33-21 in Week 4. Wilsonville won at Thurston 38-35 in overtime in the season-opener.

Despite the big loss, Starck said he and the players are proud of the team’s improvement throughout the season.

“The accomplishment in and of itself just to start out 0-2, and then win every game and make it to the semis is good,” Starck said. “No shoulda, coulda, woulda with these guys. They figured out a way to get us here. I’m just proud of them. They’ve had a great run.”

Starck emphasized his gratitude and respect for the senior class, which has been through the ringer over its high school career. Many of the seniors saw the team win the state championship when they were freshmen in 2019, then dealt with the pandemic before losing in last year’s championship game.

“They’ve been league champions all four years, and been to two state championship games and been to three semifinals. That’s pretty darn good,” he said.

Two specific seniors, Vaun Halstead and Darien Witham, have been around for it all.

“Halstead’s the main one. He played as a freshman on special teams, not as a token thing, he legitimately played. So, Vaun has been a part of all four years … he started from his sophomore year on and earned a letter as a special-teamer as a freshman,” Starck said.

“Then Darien would be, you know, right behind him. Darien started as a sophomore also, and was with us in 2019 for that state championship. So those guys have really, really seen it all. And have had really one hell of a proud career and they’re both standing over there together right now. So phenomenal, phenomenal contribution on their parts.”



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