Folks in Tacoma waited 14 years for another early December night like Saturday – when one of their own schools played for the Class 4A state football championship.
But what – or in particular, who – will be talked about for decades is a talented teenager who finished up his storied Skyline High School football career in style.
Yeah, quarterback Max Browne was kind of an out-of-town party-crasher in his own right at the Tacoma Dome, but he wasn’t about to let the hometown Bellarmine Prep Lions go out as the kings of the classification in their first attempt.
Browne set Gridiron Classic records for passing yards (384) and touchdown passes (four), and No. 1 Skyline closed out the third-ranked Lions, 49-24, to bring home its seventh state title in football.
With 12,951 yards, Browne also leaves as the state’s all-time passing leader, breaking the mark DeSales’ Brian Lindgren set in the 1990s (12,575).
“Let’s just say,” Bellarmine Prep coach Tom Larsen said, “he is pretty dog-gone good.”
The Spartans scored quickly when they had to (75 yards in 81 seconds on their opening drive). And they showed they could sustain long drives as well (90 yards in 14 plays in 6:10) in building a 20-3 lead midway through the second quarter.
To its credit – and to the surprise of the Spartans’ coaching staff – Bellarmine Prep did not sit back in coverage and let Browne survey the field for long periods of time. The Lions brought a lot of pressure, even knocking the 6-foot-5, 220-pounder to the turf a few times. And they played Skyline’s receivers primarily in man-to-man coverage.
“It just showed they were going to try and get after us, and make us make decisions fast,” Skyline coach Mat Taylor said. “They took some gambles and that is why we have the ability with our no-huddle to change and get into some plays that we thought would give us an advantage.”
When Browne had time, he consistently hit his secondary options in receivers Trevor Barney and Matt Sinatro.
“I had a feeling they would go out and try it (man-to-man coverage),” said Browne, a two-time Gatorade player of the year from Washington headed off to the University of Southern California. “We just had to come out and win the one-on-one matchups. For the most part, we did.”
After running back Cedric Cooper gave Skyline a 20-3 lead with his 3-yard touchdown run with 6:18 to go in the first half, the Lions ran four plays, and were forced to punt on their next series.
The snap to punter Joey Bottjer went all the way into the Lions’ end zone. Bottjer did well just to knock the football out of play for a safety – and a 22-3 Skyline lead.
Skyline got the ball back, and scored immediately when Browne hit Barney in stride for a 36-yard scoring pass with 3:09 remaining, and the Spartans were in firm control, 29-3.
“We tried bringing the house on (Browne), tried bringing pressure in his face, and he responded well,” Bellarmine Prep linebacker Calvin Chandler said. “Hats off to them – we gave everything we could.”
The Lions scored their first touchdown on Sefo Liufau’s 22-yard strike to Chandler with less than a minute remaining in the first half, but Browne took his offense 48 yards in 40 seconds, and the Spartans ended the first half on Sean McDonald’s 49-yard field goal, a 4A title-game record.
Liufau (33 of 45, 376 yards, three touchdowns) nearly matched Browne in terms of production but faced too big a deficit in the second half.
Receivers Garrett McKay (11 catches for 128 yards), and Drew Griffin (10 for 117) led the way for the Lions in a losing effort.
“We really got the message across to the kids – this is the state championship game, and we’ve got to play our best,” Taylor said.
The last time a Tacoma city school played for the 4A title was in 1998, when Wilson lost to Pasco, 17-0.Todd Milles: 253-597-8442 email@example.com blogs.thenewstribune.com/preps @ManyHatsMilles