Sam Adams threw his hands in the air when Eastside Catholic High School’s offense took a final knee in victory formation Saturday night in the Tacoma Dome.
He was the first player to rush back toward the Crusaders sideline from his place in the backfield, jumping in triumph with his helmet in hand, and beginning the celebration as Eastside Catholic claimed the Class 3A state with a 31-13 win over defending champion O’Dea.
“It’s amazing,” Adams said. “The last two years we fell short of where we wanted to be. Coming back this season and winning it all is the most fantastic feeling I’ve ever had.”
And Adams, a junior and four-star prospect with 29 offers from Division I football programs, is a big reason why the Crusaders (12-1) hoisted the state’s biggest trophy for the first time since 2015 in front of their orange-clad fans.
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“We knew coming out here that we had to make our plays, and we had to play to the best of our ability, and I feel like that’s exactly what we did,” Adams said.
Adams impacted every phase of the game — he rushed for 65 yards on 21 carries, picked off Emonte Scott on O’Dea’s opening drive, and scored a pivotal special teams touchdown in the third quarter — on his way to collecting a game-high 115 all-purpose yards.
His punt return for a touchdown early in the second half was perhaps the biggest turning point, pushing the Crusaders’ lead to 24-7, and creating a deficit the Fighting Irish (11-2) couldn’t climb out of.
“We just couldn’t get out of our own way to start the second half,” O’Dea coach Monte Kohler said. “We thought we might be able to get something going. We don’t get out of the end zone, and then they take the punt down.
“We kind of live for that moment to try to flip the field and get something, and make it a one-score game. Instead, we don’t do what we need to do there.”
Eastside Catholic had a two-possession lead at the break, but it wasn’t very comfortable. So, Crusaders coach Jeremy Thielbahr approached Adams.
“I went up to Sam and I said, ‘Hey, end this game. Take it over,’ ” Thielbahr said.
Thielbahr said he thought Adams would take the game over from the backfield. Instead, after the Crusaders forced a quick three-and-out on O’Dea’s opening drive in the second half, Adams ran back the ensuing punt.
He briefly bobbled the kick at the O’Dea 48, but corralled it at midfield with two gunners closing in. Adams squeezed between the two O’Dea players, broke a tackle, and sprinted toward the sideline. Just before stepping into the end zone, he juked one more diving player.
“Right when I bobbled it, I knew I had to pick it up and just make something out of it,” Adams said. “I just saw him at the end and made a little move to get the crowd going a little bit.”
Adams lifted his hands into the air after he crossed the goal line, and the Crusaders didn’t allow another O’Dea score until midway through the fourth quarter.
“I feel like that (play) really got the energy going for the rest of our team,” Adams said.
Mark Tafia scored the Irish’s final touchdown on a 5-yard run with five minutes, 16 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, but any late comeback hopes were quickly dashed.
Eastside Catholic’s Gio Ursino, who rushed for a game-high 93 yards on 11 carries and a pair of touchdowns, sealed the win on the ensuing drive, breaking free for a 30-yard touchdown with 2:47 to play.
Ursino scored the Crusaders’ opening touchdown on a 15-yard run in the first quarter, following a 22-yard field goal by Blake Hall, giving Eastside Catholic an early lead it would never lose.
Scott and Andre Davis connected for O’Dea’s only other touchdown early in the second quarter on a 24-yard pass to cut the lead to 10-7.
But, wide receiver Gee Scott, who finished with 56 yards on seven catches, took a pitch just before the half expired, and found the edge on a 3-yard scoring run to push the lead back to two possessions at 17-7. O’Dea never got closer.
Eastside Catholic held O’Dea’s typically dominant rushing attack — which was averaging 313.7 yards per game entering Friday — to just 77 yards. The Irish finished with 165 total yards of offense — and seven of their 16 first downs came from penalties — while the Crusaders collected 256, including 188 on the ground.
“We’re really tough to defeat for four quarters, and we’re so great on defense and special teams, and we just swarm you,” Thielbahr said.
“We saw something in the run game that we really liked, and we took advantage of it. I don’t think they were expecting us to run it as much as we did. And, for us to be able to do that against O’Dea, which is a run-priority team, that was a great accomplishment.”
Tafia was the leading rusher for the Irish, finishing with 35 yards on 10 carries. Davis, who had seven catches for a game-high 67 yards, led O’Dea in receiving. And punter Thomas Tabor set a 3A state championship game record with a 67-yard punt.
This was the 10th appearance in the state championship game for the Irish, who won last year’s title, but have now lost five of their past six appearances.
Eastside Catholic has made each of its five title-game appearances in the past decade, and the Crusaders have won on their past three tries in 2014, 2015 and now 2018.
NO. 2 O’DEA
NO. 1 EASTSIDE CATHOLIC
EC – Blake Hall 22 field goal
EC – Gio Ursino 15 run (Hall kick)
O – Andre Davis 24 pass from Emonte Scott (Vlad Buchheit kick)
EC – Gee Scott 3 run (Hall kick)
EC – Sam Adams 50 punt return (Hall kick)
O – Mark Tafia 5 run (kick failed)
EC – Ursino 30 run (Hall kick)
Passing: O – Scott 10-20-1-88. EC – Michael Franklin 9-13-0-68.
Rushing: O – Tafia 10-35; Dane Harmann 6-25; Cameron Daniels 5-14; Scott 4-3. EC – Ursino 11-93; Adams 21-65; Franklin 4-28; Scott 1-3.
Receiving: O – Davis 7-67; Preston Helwege 1-6; Davyn Patu 1-6; Daniels 1-(-3). EC – Scott 7-56; D.J. Rogers 1-9; TaVarus George 1-3.