Ross Bowers finally spotted coach Tom Bainter in the celebration.
Their Bothell High School football team had just defeated defending champion Chiawana, 24-14, to win the Class 4A state title Saturday night in the Tacoma Dome.
Bainter embraced his quarterback like he would have embraced his son, and he told the University of California commit that he might as well be one.
“He’s a huge reason I’m here. I credit a lot of my success to him,” Bowers said. “He helped me out a long time ago (fifth grade) when we moved out here (from Ohio). He took me in just like a son.”
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Bowers threw for 216 yards and a touchdown and also ran for a score to lift Bothell to its first state football title.
Bainter had been here before, but never has the end result been so special.
He coached Bothell to back-to-back championship appearances, first in 2006 when he had to outlast Steve Graff’s then-Pasco squad, 43-40, in nine overtimes in the quarterfinals, and again in 2007. But the Cougars lost in both title games.
He faced Graff again, this time with Bowers playing brilliantly at quarterback. And Bothell didn’t leave empty handed.
“I wanted this so badly for the kids,” Bainter said. “… We got it.”
Bothell was missing KingCo offensive and co-defensive MVP Sam McPherson to a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in the district round against Bethel. He stood with crutches on the sideline wearing Bowers’ No. 4 jersey while Bowers wore McPherson’s No. 20.
But McPherson’s backup was up for the challenge. Caleb Meyer followed a 33-yard run on Bothell’s opening drive with a 1-yard touchdown carry and the Cougars led, 7-0.
Chiawana couldn’t get past itself. The Riverhawks failed on a fake punt, with a deep pass falling incomplete on their first drive. Quarterback Logan Ellsworth was picked off by Dale Goong in the end zone on the next series and Matthew Winn’s 32-yard field goal try was wide right the drive after that.
Bothell tried to take advantage on the final possession of the half with Bowers connecting with The News Tribune’s all-state receiver Dayzell Wilson on a 65-yard pass to the 25.
But the Cougars’ 43-yard field-goal attempt in the final seconds hit off the right post and Bothell took a 10-0 lead into the break.
Chiawana’s Austin Urlacher, who added to his state-record single-season rushing record with 21 carries for 101 yards, scored with 3 minutes, 13 seconds left in the third quarter to cut the lead to 17-7.
But then Bowers added some magic.
Bowers looked to pass from the Chiawana 4, but rolled to his left. He sprinted for the end zone, leaped at the goal line and was upended. He completed a full somersault in the air and stuck the landing. Touchdown.
Cal coach Sonny Dykes might not have been thrilled, but Bowers’ mom, University of Washington gymnastics coach Joanne Bowers, had to have been smiling.
“We moved from Ohio to Washington for my mom’s gymnastics job, and I think that helped me out,” Bowers said. “I think I had a little adrenaline.”
Chiawana couldn’t deliver the same improbable comeback it pulled in last year’s title game against Camas, edging the Papermakers with 14 points in 55 seconds.
Urlacher couldn’t help but think about Mac Graff, the Riverhawks’ linebacker and son of Coach Graff who sat in his wheelchair on the sideline after a September hunting accident left him paralyzed from the knees down.
“We were playing out there for Mac,” said Urlacher, who finished the season with a state single-season record 2,877 rushing yards. “I feel like we let him down. We couldn’t get it done.
“We gave it our all. They were a better team. We gave it 100 percent, and that’s all that counts. I know I gave it my all.”