TACOMA — Under the dome in Tacoma raged the Maroon Storm. The Montesano Bulldogs faced the Knights of Royal City in the championship game for the 1A Washington State Football title.
In the final seconds of a nervewracking first half, Bulldog quarterback Matthew Jensen set sail a Hail Mary pass that found the able hands of teammate Richard Smith to give Montesano a single-point lead. The Bulldogs would come out after the halftime break with the momentum they needed to carry them through. They then held the No. 2-ranked 1A squad to a scoreless fourth quarter to ensure their victory, 43-28.
From the onset, Montesano had come to play. On the opening kick-off, a reverse direction hand-off opened the field for Bulldog Ben Ohashi to make it past midfield and into Royal City territory.
The Columbia Valley team kept the Bulldogs from getting a first down on the drive, but an Anthony Louthan 41-yard field goal got the Bulldongs on the board just under the first two minutes of play.
But the Knights would have an answer for that. Set on their own 26-yard line, Royal City began to gobble up turf under senior quarterback Alex Myrick. Creating five first downs in their first series, the combination of Knight seniors Damien Dela Rosa, Christian Guerrero, Laddie Goroski and Myrick running and passing, put Royal on the Bulldog 14-yard line. The Knights set up for a field goal, but instead passed to wide open tight end Brady Dixon and the Knights slipped into a 7-3 lead after Guerrero made good the point after. From this point on, the teams would trade scoring trying to one up each other for the remainder of the half.
Jensen hit Ohashi who traveled a total of 64 yards bringing Montesano back on top, 10-7. Myrick countered with his other end, Kent Christensen, on a quick pass, to bring their lead to 14-10. The Knights were able to stall Montesano’s final attack of the quarter, forcing them into their only punt of the day.
The Knights would ferry the ball into the second quarter and again use the combination of Myrick and Dixon to widen the gap over the Bulldogs, 21-10. Royal City was able to survive a missed Montesano field goal attempt and re-gain possession. The Knights got close, but the Bulldog held the Royal City offense at the 9-yard line and the Knights had to settle in for their own field goal try. In what might be noted as the first spark to the Bulldog flame that would catch fire later, Montesano linebacker, Drew Helms, slipped through the Royal offensive line and blocked the short field goal attempt. Taking the reins, Jensen called on his crew of senior running backs Eliott Mendenhall and Tucker Ibabao. The passing lanes were filled by Shad Rogers and Ohashi, who set the pace for Mendenhall to motor 41 yards for the touchdown. Monte went for two, but didn’t convert; Knights 21, Bulldogs 16.
As the first half was coming to a close, it looked as if the Knights would have the final possession. They marched back down the field. Able to convert on a fourth and short, the Knights were approaching the midfield mark and making the clock run for them. Faced with another fourth and short, Royal City looked to pass but Myrick was caught behind the line and the Knights had to give the ball over on downs at their 42-yard line.
With three seconds on the board, Montesano took a time out to discuss their options. The obvious lineup of the Bulldog offense promoted nothing but a last ditch effort, a classic Hail Mary pass. Set with three receivers to the right, Jensen dropped back and powered the ball into the corner of the end zone. As rehearsed, the Bulldog receivers were in the right place, as Smith hauled in score with his toes dug into the paydirt. The Bulldogs two-point conversion was unsuccessful, but they had shifted the game and taken the lead 22-21 as the whistle blew ending the half.
“The biggest thing at half time was how were we going to stop them from running the football,” Montesano head coach Terry Jensen said after the game. “They had already racked up about 200-yards by halftime.”
This would be Coach Jensen’s first championship title in his 11 years at the Bulldogs’ helm. His approach in the locker room during the break was noted as calm by the players.
“The coaches were really calm,” said Matthew Jensen, quarterback and son of the coach. “They just advised us to hold on to the momentum, hold on, and we will win the game.”
And hold on they did. Having to give first possession to the Knights, the Bulldogs stopped Royal City midway on the grid and forced them to make their only punt, which went into the end zone. Repositioned at the 20, the Maroon Storm took control and never looked back. Utilizing the sure hands of Smith, Jensen parlayed the Bulldogs’ next series into four first downs, of which three of the plays went to Smith for a total of 46 passing yards, landing Montesano on the Royal City 4-yard line. Ibabao crossed the line for his first of two touchdowns and the fire was aflame.
The Montesano goal line defense crushed the Knights hopes inside the 1-yard line. The Bulldogs’ next possession thrilled the crowd, as the offense worked from its own end zone, going 99 yards over four plays. Mendenhall set the pace with an 82-yard run for a decisive Montesano score; Montesano 36, Royal City 21.
Royal City tried to close the gap with its final score in the final minute of the third quarter: a 2-yard rush by Dela Rosa; Bulldogs 36, Knights 28. With more than a full quarter remaining in the game, Montesano would not take any chances and allowed the clock to expire to end the third quarter. Attempting to use the clock in their favor, the Bulldogs kept control with short passing and quarterback keepers to start the final period of play.
But Ibabao was not finished and found an opening right through the middle of the squads, making a 43-yard run for the final Montesano score; Bulldogs 43, Knights 28. The Bulldogs were able to halt the Knights’ final assault and control the ball for the last seven minutes of the game with solid running from their backs.
The win gave Montesano its third state title. The Bulldongs won their first in 1983, defeating Riverside at the Kingdome in Seattle and their second with a win over Royal City in 1994 at King Bowl XVIII.