TOUCHET - The Touchet Indians won the last of their four Class 1B-8 state football championships in 1999.
In the 11 seasons since that thrilling 42-36 victory over Neah Bay in the Tacoma Dome, the Indians have qualified for postseason play eight times, made it to the quarterfinals on three occasions, reached the semifinals twice and made their last appearance in the Gridiron Classic in 2002 when they lost to Southeast 1B-8 League rival Lacrosse-Washtucna 38-6.
That's the good news.
Looking from the other end of the spectrum, however, Touchet has been a serious playoff factor only three times since winning it all in 1999: The title-game loss to the Tigercats in 2002, a semifinal defeat at the hands of Lummi in 2006 and a disheartening double-overtime loss to Almira-Coulee-Hartline in the 2007 quarterfinals after the Indians' won their last league championship and finished with a 10-1 record.
In addition to missing the playoffs three times in the last 11 years, Touchet has been ousted four times in the first round, including a devastating trip to Kettle Falls in 2001 when the Indians were humiliated by Inchelium 45-0 in a game that was called at halftime on the mercy rule.
There are some who might suggest the Indians lost their swagger in that debacle and have never quite gotten it back. Indians third-year head coach Gary Dorman, a Touchet assistant coach for 34 years before replacing Wayne Dickey in 2009, is not among them.
"I can't imagine that these kids even know that game existed," Dorman said of his current players, the oldest of whom would have been second graders in 2001. "I agree that that loss hurt for awhile, but the bottom line is that we've been up against some really good football teams and our talent level has been down a little bit. In any small school you are going to have your ups and downs."
There's no question that the Touchet program is on the high side again this season. The Indians won a share of the league championship with Pomeroy and Colton, each team finishing with a 5-1 SEB-8 record, and they take a 7-2 overall record into Saturday afternoon's first-round playoff game here against Cusick.
Kickoff is 1:30 p.m.
Remarkably, it will be the first playoff game held on the Touchet turf in school history. The Indians have hosted playoff games at Borleske Stadium in Walla Walla in the past as well as at Lampson Stadium in Kennewick and Edgar Brown Stadium in Pasco, but never on their home field.
"We are really looking forward to it, and I know that it's good for the community," Dorman said. "It's going to be a lot of fun.
"I don't know how much of a home-field advantage we will have," he added. "I do know that it's a lot better than having to travel to Cusick."
This will also be the first meeting ever between Touchet and Cusick on the football field, Dorman believes.
"I know that we've never played them in my 37 years at the school," the coach said. "And I've asked around and people who have been around here longer than me can't remember playing Cusick."
The Panthers come to town with a 6-4 overall record after finishing second in the Northeast 1B-8 League's Northern Division and then losing to Odessa-Harrington 54-14 in last Friday's District 7 seeding game. They enter as the No. 4 seed out of their district while Touchet is the No. 2 seed from District 9.
Dorman made the trip to Odessa for Friday's game and came away with only a sketchy assessment of Cusick.
"It was a little hard to tell because they played the game in 18-degree weather and I would estimate that the two teams combined to put the ball on the ground 15 times," Dorman said. "It was hard to get a real flow to the game because about the time the offense started moving down the field, they would fumble. Both teams had issues with the weather."
Dorman also noted that Cusick's junior quarterback, Ryan Sample, was playing in his first game in a month after recovering from an injury.
"He's the one we are going to have to focus our defense on," Dorman said of the 165-pound QB. "He's a scrambler with a very good arm. He makes things happen, and we really have to keep him contained."
Cusick is predominately a running team, Dorman said, and for a change the Indians won't be overmatched physically.
"They are not overly big," he said. "They have one gentleman who is about 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds, and it will take two of our guys to match up with him. But their best athletes are in their backfield and there aren't a lot of large kids up and down the line like some of the teams we have played."
If the Indians have an Achilles heel, it is a defense that at times has been pushed around, especially in the second half of the season.
"We are looking at some different options," the coach said of his defensive scheme against the Panthers. "We have two defensive packages, one more run-oriented, and we can put our personnel in different places. But with a 7-2 record, I hate to make too many changes at this late date."
The Indians come into Friday's game after back-to-back losses to Pomeroy and Liberty Christian. The Pirates spoiled the Indians' perfect season with a 48-42 victory in Touchet, and Dorman elected to rest his starters in a 60-16 loss to the Patriots last week in West Richland.
Dorman said he is not worried about his team's momentum.
"We held a practice Monday with just our older kids, let the younger kids go home and get caught up on homework," Dorman said. "And we had a really great practice with a really great attitude. There was no mention of the Liberty Christian game and we're not going to watch film of it.
"Our plan is to move forward and really focus on what is coming, not what is behind us," he added. "Momentum is something you have to build regardless of what happened the last two games.
"Memories can be pretty short."