For its first state appearance, things could have gone a lot better for the Auburn Riverside football program. The Ravens were tasked with taking on the second seeded O’Dea Fighting Irish in the opening round the the state playoffs Nov. 10.
“I’m just really proud of our whole team. We accomplished a lot. We made history this year, winning Week 10 and bringing a league title back home from. I’m just proud of our team as a whole,” said senior Thyrou Umi-Tuato’o.
The final score between the Irish and Ravens was 48-0, and at the end of the game, Auburn Riverside head coach Greg Herd made sure the message was a thankful one.
“I just was saying thanks, man. There are a lot of people who put in a lot of time and sacrificed a lot for this program… I’m just so thankful for the time I got to spend with these people. My hope and my wish is I impacted them in a positive way,” Herd said.
The Irish were coming off an undefeated regular season and a 56-0 thrashing of Shorecrest in its Week 10 matchup. For Herd, he knew the challenge they faced, but the Ravens weren’t coming into Seattle Memorial timid.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our guys for the way they prepared this week and not shying away from O’Dea and the confidence they walked in with,” Herd said.
“This atmosphere was a lot different than we were used to. We wanted to capitalize on it and we came in with the underdog mentality and didn’t care who we were lining up against,” Umi-Tuato’o said.
The game got out to a quick start and by the end of the first quarter, it was clear O’Dea was more than likely going to walk away with the win. But the Ravens kept on fighting, giving a lot of its first string players reps late into the game.
By halftime, O’Dea was up 41-0 and had achieved the running clock for the entire second half.
“They had a linebacker the size of our left tackle. That’s a level of physicality that we don’t see in the NPSL… It was just really tough. I’m just really proud of our guys for working their butts off… I told them in there (halftime) I knew they wouldn’t quit. They played all the way to the final whistle,” Herd said.
As a senior, Umi-Tuato’o was playing in his last game and suffered a shoulder injury in the first half.
“It was tough. I was trying to hold back tears. I had faith in my guys. I trusted my guys that they were going to the end and battle today,” he said.
The group of seniors are Herd’s first core that he had as a head coach dating back to 2020. Regardless of how the group did, it was going to be a special core for the Ravens’ head coach.
Herd wanted to emphasize the significance of the year, what they’ve accomplished up to this point and not let the loss to O’Dea influence their opinion on the year.
“This group will always stick with me… To get two league titles in their four years and win a week 10 game. This is a group that we knew they could do some special things and they absolutely have,” he said.
The program has improved over the past four seasons since Herd has been the head coach. Not that the program wasn’t already in a good place thanks to current Federal Way Head Coach Marcus Yzaguirre.
“I talked to our players that our goal is to leave people in places better than you found them. I wanted to reiterate to these guys that they left this program better than they found it. They set some foundation down,” said Herd.
It was the last time ever, apart from a banquet, that this specific group of Ravens would be together, and that means something to Herd.
“The hardest thing about when the season is over is this group will never be together outside of a banquet. (So I wanted them to) relish the moment one more time and celebrate all we accomplished,” he said.
On a roster of 53 players, the Ravens are losing 18 players for next season. But are retaining some key players to the likes of quarterback Andrew Wold and Jonathan Epperson.
“You’re always excited for the future and see these guys grow and these guys (seniors) go and do awesome things. But there are a lot of young guys that have made a lot of plays for us and they’ve grown,” Herd said.
An interesting aspect of the Ravens football program is there is no junior varsity team. The jump is from C-Team to varsity and when you play O’Dea in the first round of state, it is an eye opener for a lot of kids. But Herd does a good job of scheduling non-league games against tough opponents. This year, the Ravens faced North Creek, Lincoln and Kennedy. All three of those teams made the postseason and two made the state tournament.
“I want this program to get as good as it can be. We got some guys who can play. I bank on my guys and we’ll line up against anybody. We’re not afraid of anything. They gotta know you have to stare those top teams in the face and get after ‘em,” Herd said.
A 48-0 loss was not the way that this Ravens team deserved to go out, but Herd will have them ready to go when the summer comes around in 2024.