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Northwest Christian blossomed quickly into State 2B football power

It’s not a stretch to call the football season that Northwest Christian has had storybook.

Consider that four years ago the Colbert school didn’t field a football team. Seven of the eight seniors this year were on the first team that had just one win as sophomores.

Forgive them if they don’t know what it is like to play this deep into the season. The Crusaders (10-2) face defending State 2B champion Okanogan (11-1) on Saturday at Lions Field in Moses Lake. Kickoff is at 1.

“Eighty percent of our kids the first year had never played football,” NWC coach Jim Nendel said.

That may be true, but NWC wasn’t without athletes. The Crusaders have always been known for their basketball teams, and their three-year starting quarterback David Olds and three-year starting receiver Nathan Sander are two products of the basketball program.

So to be one win away from going to the state championship game in Tacoma, Nendel is nothing short of giddy.

“When we started the season we wanted to get to the playoffs,” Nendel said. “As we started to go through the season we thought maybe we could make a run.”

The Crusaders’ confidence grew in a 32-29 loss to league power Lind-Ritzville/Sprague. NWC was driving with 4 minutes to play when it fumbled at the LRS 2-yard line.

LRS went on to kick a winning field goal moments later.

“That was a turning point in both work ethic and focus for the kids,” Nendel said. “It was good that we lost in a lot of ways. It made our kids go back and want to work a lot harder.”

Confidence increased with big wins over two usual top-of-the-league occupants, Colfax and Reardan.

“Last year we won some games (three), but we weren’t able to compete with LRS, Colfax and Reardan,” Nendel said.

Being in a close game against LRS was a benefit last week. Senior Joey Biel kicked a winning field goal in the final seconds to lift NWC to a wild 33-32 win over Asotin.

“It’s cool to see that we have the possibility of being in the state championship game,” Olds said. “It’s a dream come true in some ways.”

But the Crusaders want to dream some more.

The task is tougher Saturday. LRS beat Okanogan earlier in the year before Okanogan beat LRS 35-28 last Friday.

“Watching the film, that was a game that could have gone either way,” Nendel said. “Okanogan is a great team. They’re the defending state champ and they know how to win and know how to handle difficult situations. That’s what we’re trying to learn.”

The Crusaders will find out if they’re ready to take the next step and beat one of the state’s elite teams.

“We feel good,” Nendel said. “We’ve got talented athletes and they’ve got talented athletes. Our kids love playing football. They always want a test and play against the best. And obviously Okanogan is the best.”

Ready or not, the Crusaders plan to give Okanogan a challenge.

“After last year, we talked about how we wanted to win a state championship,” Sander said. “I didn’t know if we could do it with three wins last year. Now we have a shot at it. I don’t know if I ever believed it, but we’re here and it’s exciting.”

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