On a crisp, sunny Saturday afternoon perfect for football, third-ranked Bellarmine Prep’s 35-30 victory had the plot line of a horror movie: Every time it looked like the Lions had reason to breathe easy at Mt. Tahoma Stadium, the antagonists stalking them reappeared with malicious intent.
Bellarmine (10-1) survived its first-round playoff game over Bothell (6-5), but only after the Cougars – trailing 35-17 early in the fourth quarter – almost recovered a deftly executed onside kick with 2:24 remaining.
“Any time you play those guys, you know they’re going to go all out until the last second,” said Lions coach Tom Larsen, whose team beat Bothell two years ago in a similarly suspenseful first-round game. “Coach (Tom) Bainter has a quality program. I’m proud of the way our kids were able to hang on when there were some huge momentum swings.”
The first momentum swing came on the opening kickoff, which Bellarmine junior Drew Griffin caught on a bounce and returned for for an 85 yard touchdown. Driving to the Bothell 11-yard line on their ensuing possession, the Lions were within grasp of a second score when senior quarterback Sefo Liufau zipped a pass to Griffin in the end zone.
But the ball bounced off Griffin’s shoulder pads and into the hands of defensive back Kizhan Proctor. By averting a two-touchdown deficit, the Cougars established a pattern: They would not go away.
Thanks to explosive Bothell running back Danny Wilson, whose 2-yard touchdown followed a 48-yard burst, the Cougars tied the score at 7-7, then took a 14-7 lead when quarterback Ross Bowers hooked up with uncovered wide receiver Jared Berry.
Bellarmine regained its momentum on a Lew Millie touchdown run that found him shredding Proctor’s open-field tackle. Moments later, Liufau’s 2-yard keeper gave the Lions a 21-14 advantage, padded with another touchdown just before halftime (a nice scoop catch in the end zone by receiver Calvin Chandler) and what seemed to be a game-clinching TD in the fourth quarter, culminating the Lions’ most impressive drive of the game.
As Millie, a 5-foot-10, 190-pound junior whose ability to plow into defenders belies his size, churned out a succession of quality carries – 12 yards here, 10 yards there – Bellarmine converted two fourth-down-and-2 situations into first downs. Still another fourth-and-2, at the Bothell 29, set up a nifty play-action fake to Millie. Because the Cougars took the bait, tight end Logan Hickman was wide open for the touchdown reception that extended the lead to 35-17.
Although it was a Liafau pass that extended the lead to 35-17, the University of Colorado-bound quarterback acknowledged Millie as catalyst of the drive.