The Connell High School football team was the only 1A program in the state that had proven it could keep up with Royal, the defending state champions riding a 26-game win streak.
The Knights wanted nothing more than to disprove that theory.
The Knights cruised to a 25-10 victory over league rival Connell to clinch back-to-back 1A state titles on Saturday in the Tacoma Dome.
Senior quarterback Kaden Jenks passed for 246 yards and two touchdowns and also ran 20 times for 146 yards and a touchdown as Royal pulled away in the second half.
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Earlier in the season, the Knights had edged Connell 28-21 in a Week 7 South Central Athletic Conference game.
“We kind of knew that they were the best team we played earlier in the season,” Jenks said, “and they continued to play like the second-best team in the state.”
But the best?
That would undeniably be Royal.
The first quarter proved to be the most fruitful for Connell.
Starting at its own 30, senior quarterback Brian Hawkins marched his team on a seven-play, 70-yard drive that was capped by a Steven Kroontje 31-yard touchdown catch.
Jenks and the Knights would answer quickly. It took three plays for Corbin Christensen to race down the sideline for a 62-yard touchdown reception to tie the game 7-7.
Connell led one more time in the contest. Kicker Luis Ramos booted a 25-yard field goal with two minutes left in the first quarter to make it 10-7.
Then it was all Royal, as the Knights scored 18 unanswered points.
“We knew we had to stop Kroontje and Hawkins,” said Jenks, who completed 12 of 24 passes. “We didn’t do our best at that. But we knew we had to go to the end and finish. We’re Knights — that’s what we had to do.”
Jenks also had a team-best 7 1/2 tackles.
Royal tied the game at 10-10 when Juan Niebla hit a 25-yard field goal with just under 11 minutes to go in the first half.
Jenks took over in the second half.
On Royal’s second possession of the half, the senior quarterback scrambled to get his team into Connell territory. Then he fired a 22-yard touchdown pass to Christensen to take a 17-10 lead.
Jenks capped the game with a 1-yard touchdown run to put it away for good as the following two-point conversion made it 25-10.
“In the second half, we played much better defense,” Royal coach Wiley Allred said. “We got some big plays. There were a couple sets we were waiting for them to run and they finally did. It was just good timing.
“The kids earned every minute of that game. Jenks is special, he’s a great teammate and he’s very talented.”
And after capping his high school career with 27 consecutive wins and back-to-back state championships, Jenks was exuberant, having handing Royal its seventh state title in school history.
“It means more than I can imagine to come out on top for this great community and for the all the people out here that I really do love,” he said. “They’re my brothers. They’re my brothers on this team. We are brothers for life.”