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Originally published November 10, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 10, 2007 at 2:03 AM

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Prep Football | Murphy forfeits season

After school Friday, the Archbishop Murphy's football team waited for hours, unsure whether its season was over. At the same time, its coach...

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After school Friday, the Archbishop Murphy's football team waited for hours, unsure whether its season was over.

At the same time, its coach and administrators pleaded for what they defined as mercy, first to the Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) and then, in a Hail Mary, to a court commissioner.

But when their case for a legal injunction failed Friday, the administrators, the coach and the team had to face the same truth — a perfect season that was far from perfect ended before the Wildcats lost a game.

Because the physical of an Archbishop Murphy player expired Sept. 8, the team was forced to forfeit eight of its 10 victories, including its 28-6 preliminary playoff win last Saturday against Bellingham. That accounts for every game Archbishop Murphy played and won after legendary coach Terry Ennis died Sept. 12.

"It's just devastating, quite frankly," said Rick Stubrud, Archbishop Murphy's interim coach and Ennis' brother-in-law. "This is a bookend to an incredibly difficult season."

Archbishop Murphy, a Catholic school near Mill Creek, was to play Mark Morris of Longview today in the first round of the Class 2A state playoffs, Instead, Bellingham will play Mark Morris on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Everett Memorial Stadium.

"I can't remember a team marching into the playoffs, then having to forfeit," said Mike Colbrese, WIAA executive director since 1993.

Archbishop Murphy athletic administrators discovered the expired physical this week while going through records before the winter athletic season. The school reported the violation to the Cascade Conference and the Northwest District.

Ennis had been alerted this summer that the player's physical expired Sept. 8. That was the date the player joined the football program as a freshman.

"It's one of those things where we better get this done before Sept. 9," Stubrud said. "Then ... "

Ennis' fight with prostate cancer reached its final stages in the season's first two weeks. In the week after a victory over Black Hills of Olympia on Sept. 8, Ennis was hospitalized. He died Sept. 12.

"In any other normal year," Stubrud said, "this certainly wouldn't have happened ... I'd call it just a very honest mistake. This was not knowingly a violation of anything. There was no intent to violate a rule."

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In a span of 24 hours, Archbishop Murphy appealed to the Cascade Conference, Northwest District, the district's executive board, and about 3 p.m. Friday, the WIAA executive board. During appeals, Stubrud said he emphasized Ennis' declining health when the mistake occurred.

"We thought that was powerful," Stubrud said. "Because he really was the guy speaking for eligibility. It just didn't seem to work."

Colbrese, who is not on the WIAA executive board, said that he wasn't made aware of the situation until 4 p.m. Thursday. On such short notice, he said only 11 of the 13 board members heard the case. They turned down Archbishop Murphy's appeal.

"Their position is the physical is a key component of total student eligibility," Stubrud said. "They just said, 'Hey, it's a rule. We can't make any exceptions.' I'm not really happy about it."

The school prepared a request for a legal injunction that would allow the team to continue playing, but a court commissioner "was not in favor of our appeal," Tom Lord, Archbishop Murphy's interim president, wrote in a statement.

"We do not regret our timely self-report as we believe that integrity and honesty are of the greatest importance," Lord continued in the statement. "However, we believe that our community, and especially our football team, has suffered greatly and we believe compassion is the appropriate response for those who purport to hold student athletes' well-being as their number-one priority."

After Ennis' death, the Wildcats won every game by at least 20 points and were ranked third in the most recent Class 2A poll by The Associated Press. They won their fourth consecutive conference title, and by this week, Wildcats players were smiling again.

Those smiles were nowhere to be seen Friday night as the team coped with its season's end over pizza, and the coaches tried to console the players.

"Good, old Terry Ennis football is what we tried to maintain," Stubrud said. "They should be proud of that part, and they are."

Tom Wyrwich: 206-515-5653 or twyrwich@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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