The Eastside Catholic Crusaders know how to come back from a beating.
They did it last week with a 28-14 Class 3A semifinal win over the same O’Dea team that had beaten them, 63-45, during Metro League play.
They get a chance to turn the tables again Friday in an even bigger rematch, facing five-time defending 3A champion Bellevue in the state finals in the Tacoma Dome.
The teams were paired in the 2012 title game, with the Wolverines winning, 35-3.
“It’s a whole new year, a whole new team,” Crusaders coach Jeremy Thielbahr said. “(Last year’s team wasn’t) experienced at championship-level state football. I think we’re getting more comfortable with being in the Tacoma Dome, being in the spotlight.”
Eastside Catholic lost 25 seniors and 14 starters from last season’s 3A runner-up squad.
Many of the younger players who have stepped up this season weren’t part of the previous loss to Bellevue. Those who were need only look to their semifinal victory to remind themselves that what’s past isn’t always prologue.
Thielbahr said moving from an 18-point loss to a 10-point win against the Irish was more a matter of a shift in mindset than strategy.
“We didn’t make huge adjustments in our game plan against O’Dea,” he said. “We just fit where we needed to fit and did what we needed to do on defense, and the kids executed the plan that was originally for O’Dea. It was an exciting turn of events.”
Now, the Crusaders are working to reverse another result against an opponent Thielbahr says might be the best in the country.
“We need to finish this year,” he said. “Our program is based on faith, family and finish; and we need to accomplish No. 3 and raise that trophy at the end.” Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808 email@example.com
No. 6 Eastside Catholic (11-2) Vs. No. 1 Bellevue (13-0)
7:30 p.m. Friday, Tacoma Dome
Coaches: Jeremy Thielbahr is in his third season at Eastside Catholic (31-7 record). Butch Goncharoff is in his 14th season at Bellevue (171-12 record).
Road to Gridiron Classic: Eastside Catholic defeated Marysville-Pilchuck (42-35) in the first round, Meadowdale (21-16) in the quarterfinals and O’Dea (28-14) in the semifinals. Bellevue defeated Glacier Peak (48-6) in the first round, Peninsula (48-27) in the quarterfinals and Shadle Park (66-0) in the semifinals.
About the Crusaders: Thielbahr thinks last season’s experience of playing for a state title in the Tacoma Dome will benefit his team. However, he admits plenty of this year’s key players weren’t on the field. That’s especially true at the skill positions where QB Harley Kirsch (217-311, 3,269 yards, 34 TDs, one INT), RB Brandon Wellington (489 rushing yards, eight TDs) and WR Devon Arbis-Jackson (69 catches, 1,093 yards, 15 TDs) are all sophomores. DL Elisha Pa’aga set the school record for sacks in a season and came up big in the semifinal.
About the Wolverines: Can the five-time defending 3A champions be stopped? The odds are slim – and Bellevue handily beat this same opponent in last year’s 3A title game, 35-3. RB Budda Baker (35 carries, 600 yards, 12 TDs; 16 total TDs) is the headliner as the KingCo 3A’s defensive MVP and kickoff and punt returner of the year. With the ball in his hands, he is the league’s most dangerous player. But the Wolverines give carries to so many different players, it is hard to focus on taking away one. Bellevue has won a state-record 53 games in a row.
TNT pick: Bellevue, firstname.lastname@example.org