While the Montesano Bulldogs rattled off one big play after another, they left no doubt about being a team of destiny.
Fueled by the outpouring of support from an entire community, and several big plays at critical junctures, unranked Montesano upset second-ranked Royal, 43-28, in the Class 1A championship game Saturday morning at the Tacoma Dome.
After two early defeats this season and the fiery loss of the grandstands at their home field, the Bulldogs eased the memory of those setbacks with a dominant performance in capturing their first state title since 1994.
“There was just a motivation (after the setbacks) to get better and push on,” said senior halfback Elliot Mendenhall (13 carries, 174 yards, two touchdowns). “We just had to keep going. The community was there and everyone was there … they all stayed with us.”
Montesano was tested early as Royal jumped out to a 21-10 lead with 10 minutes, 7 seconds to play in the first half after Alex Myrick’s pass hit Brady Dixon sprinting down the middle for a 38-yard touchdown.
But the Bulldogs (12-2), playing in front of a raucous crowd of Montesano fans, didn’t quit. They blocked a field goal attempt later in the quarter, leading to Mendenhall’s 41-yard touchdown run to cut the lead to 21-16 with 1:44 remaining before halftime.
After Royal turned the ball over on downs at its own 42 with 3 seconds to go in the half, Montesano made the Knights pay.
Quarterback Matthew Jensen rolled right and lofted a bomb to the right corner of the end zone, where Richard Smith made a leaping catch with no time remaining. The Bulldogs’ try for a two-point conversion failed, but they held a 22-21 halftime lead.
“We practice (the play) every Thursday,” said Montesano coach Terry Jensen, the QB’s father. “I told Matthew, ‘Hey, throw it as far as you can.’ ”
The teams combined for 485 yards of total offense in the first half.
After Montesano held Royal (13-1) to a three-and-out possession to open the second half, the Bulldogs drove to another score, capped by Tucker Ibabao’s 4-yard run with 8:06 to play in the third quarter.
Royal, trying to cut into its 29-21 deficit on its ensuing possession, was stopped short of the goal line on fourth down.
Again, the Bulldogs made the Knights pay when Mendenhall ripped off an 82-yard touchdown run to make it 36-21 with 3:12 to go in the third quarter.
“(The goal-line stand) was huge,” Jensen said. “Then to come back and go 99 yards and drive the field, I thought that was a huge turning point in the game for us.”
Royal cut it to 36-28 in the third quarter, then Ibabao scored on a 43-yard run to make it 43-28 with 9:26 to play in the game.
Jensen completed 15 of 20 passes for 268 yards and two touchdowns for Montesano, which won its 11th in a row.