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Originally published Monday, December 4, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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Oak Harbor in a daze after title

At 6 feet 5 and 295 pounds, William Hunter stands out in a crowd. He looked especially conspicuous Saturday night milling around the Tacoma...

Seattle Times staff reporter

TACOMA — At 6 feet 5 and 295 pounds, William Hunter stands out in a crowd.

He looked especially conspicuous Saturday night milling around the Tacoma Dome waiting area between the football field and the Oak Harbor locker room. Grandmas and girlfriends smiled and cheered, awaiting their heroes after the Wildcats beat Bothell 21-14 to capture their first Class 4A state championship.

But Hunter, the team's huge tackle, looked almost lost, dazed by what had just transpired.

"I don't know what to do," Hunter said. "I'm just so happy. I can't even explain it."

Coach Dave Ward was nearly at a loss for words as well, as he made his 100th victory by far the biggest of his career.

"I didn't want to believe this could really happen," he said after the ninth-ranked Wildcats capped a 13-1 season. "Down the stretch, there was no doubting these kids. They had great support from their parents and community."

State champions


Class 4A Oak Harbor 21, Bothell 14.

Class 3A Bellevue 21, Kennedy 14 (OT).

Class 2A Lynden 14, Centralia 10

Class 1A Meridian 27, Connell 22

Class B-11 Asotin 28, La Salle 10

Class B-8 St. John-Endicott 12, Lummi 6.

Bothell, too, brought a wave of blue-clad fans, who left disappointed, but proud. The Cougars (12-2), who had won 12 in a row since a season-opening defeat against Lake Oswego of Oregon, did not play their best game of the year. They lost the game, but not the genuine feelings for one another.

"We were one, we were family," Bothell coach Tom Bainter said as his players hugged and cried. "That's why you've got tears here, because we love each other. Somebody has to lose these games. Unfortunately it was us."

In the biggest game of the year, Oak Harbor relied on a little guy to make the difference. Chris Valencia, a junior running back who is listed at 5-7 but admits he's closer to 5-6, scored the winning touchdown on a 21-yard burst up the middle with 7:46 left. He finished with a game-high 107 yards on 18 carries and also was a disruptive force on defense.

"He's got to be one of the toughest kid his size that I've ever coached," Ward said. "He's got more heart than most people in the world. That kid wanted it, and he wanted the ball when we needed it, and he got every yard he could out of it."

The touchdown came after a muffed punt, with Marshall Lobbesteal recovering at the Cougars' 28-yard line.

"We did things that were uncharacteristic of us," Bainter said. "No excuses. For whatever reason, you have a bad night, and we had a bad night tonight.

"But I'll tell you what, that's a great football team ... They made big plays when it counted. And that's a special quarterback over there. We'll be watching him on Saturdays."

That quarterback, Lobbesteal, who has committed to Washington State, completed 10 of 20 passes for 147 yards and two touchdowns. His 45-yard toss to Jeff Lamont gave Oak Harbor the early lead with less than three minutes gone in the second quarter. Bothell came back to tie after a muffed punt. Marc Mulholland made a superb catch of a Cody Atkinson pass on fourth-and-12 from the Oak Harbor 32.

The Wildcats went back in front just before halftime on a 19-yard reception by Tony Thulin.

The Cougars, playing in their first championship game, pulled even after Oak Harbor misplayed the second-half kickoff. Cory Burk recovered the ball at the 23 and Jon Kirchner later scored from the 1. Kirchner finished with 100 yards on 26 carries.

After the Wildcats regained the lead in the fourth, Bothell made one final push, driving to the 17 on a controversial 35-yard catch by Mulholland. But Oak Harbor stiffened on defense and Brendon Kays ultimately intercepted an Atkinson pass at the 6-yard line with 2:30 to play.

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