Third time’s the charm for Eastside Catholic.
The Crusaders faced Bellevue in the 3A football state championship the last two years, and Bellevue has ended Eastside Catholic’s season the last four years. This year though, revenge was sweet with a 35-13 victory over the Wolverines.
“It’s one of those things you’re working your tail off, you want it so bad, and you keep missing it by an inch. Just barely missing it,” said Eastside Catholic quarterback Harley Kirsch. “And now to finally come and to have the season that we had and win it is a really good feeling.”
The victory also ends Bellevue’s 67 game winning streak, which includes capturing the last six state championships. Bellevue’s last loss was in 2007 to O’Dea in the state semifinals.
Bellevue beat Eastside Catholic 52-20 for last year’s championship, and 35-3 for the 2012 title.
Before the game, Eastside Catholic coach Jeremy Thielbahr said that it would take simply running its offense to beat Bellevue, and the Crusaders ran a tough offense with its players on for each play.
“They would not go gently into the night,” Thielbahr said of his 24 seniors. “They said, ‘I’m going to run the football against this team. They may be bigger, faster, stronger, but we’re going to be tougher.'”
And a team does not run through a Bellevue defense. Before tonight, Bellevue allowed just 76 points in 13 games with ALL-USA members, such as linebacker Mustafa Branch, who had 15 tackles, and cornerback Isaiah Gilchrist.
But the Crusaders proved they could be tougher. Running back Brandon Wellington finished with 110 yards and three touchdowns on 33 carries. Wellington said after seeing Marysville-Pilchuck pick up rushing yards against Bellevue last week, Eastside Catholic knew they could use the same tactic.
“They didn’t believe that we could run the ball, they sat back, and they dropped a lot, so we took advantage of that,” Wellington said.
Quarterback Kirsch picked up Eastside’s two other touchdowns: a 6-yard pass to Hunter Bryant and a 28-yard pass to Devon Arbis-Jackson. Both Wellington, a Washington commit, and Kirsch are juniors.
In what Thielbahr called “the best game of [Kirsch’s] life,” the quarterback finished 20 for 22 passes and 188 yards. He also was second on the team for rushing with 97 yards on 20 attempts.
“He played phenomenal,” Thielbahr said of Kirsch. “Doing what we asked him to do, staying within the offense, keeping it within the framework of what we needed. It was amazing.”
Thielbahr would not go so far as to call it a near perfect game, but said everything went as planned, which included an offensive plan that Bellevue did not anticipate. Thielbahr threw in different formations, such as Wildcat and Daffy Duck, and Bellevue was unable to defend against Eastside Catholic’s quarterback keepers and passes.
“[Bellevue’s] so incredible with what they do on defense that you’ve got to do something out of the ordinary,” Thielbahr said.
Eastside Catholic linebacker Arend Broekmate said there were few surprises with Bellevue’s offense, and the team limited Bellevue to team’s fewest number of points this season.
“[Defensive coordinator Rob Cristoff] had us fit everything perfectly. He knew exactly what was coming to us, and he couldn’t have got us more prepared,” said Broekmate, who had two sacks and six tackles, including two for loss.
On Bellevue’s side, inner linebacker Branch led with 15 tackles.
Bellevue coach Butch Goncharoff said the Eastside Catholic team took advantage of what they had physically to run the ball well against the Wolverines.
“We just left too many plays out there,” Goncharoff said. “And then when we had the opportunities, we had to hit every play and they just did what they wanted to do.”