As the Montesano Bulldogs rattled off one big play after another, they left no doubt about this being a team of true destiny.
Fueled by the outpouring of support of an entire community behind them and several big plays at critical junctures, unranked Montesano upset second-ranked Royal, 43-28, in the Class 1A championship game Saturday morning at the Tacoma Dome.
After two early defeats and the loss of their home-field grandstands to fire, the Bulldogs erased any feelings of remorse with a dominant performance in capturing their first state title since 1994.
“There was just a motivation (after the setbacks) to get better and push on,” said senior halfback Elliot Mendenhall, who rushed for 174 yards and two touchdowns on just 13 carries. “We just had to keep going. The community was there and everyone was there … they all stayed with us.”
Montesano’s mettle was tested early on, as Royal jumped out to a 21-10 lead with 10 minutes, 7 seconds left in the first half after Alex Myrick hit Brady Dixon sprinting down the middle in stride for a 38-yard touchdown.
But playing in front of a raucous crowd of Montesano fans, the Bulldogs didn’t quit. Montesano (12-2) blocked a Royal field goal attempt later in the quarter and eventually turned it into six points, getting a 41-yard touchdown run from Mendenhall to cut the lead to 21-16 with 1:44 left.
After Royal turned the ball over on downs at its own 42-yard line with 3 seconds left in the half, Montesano made them pay. Quarterback Matthew Jensen rolled right and lofted a bomb to the right corner of the end zone, where Richard Smith made a leaping catch with no time left on the clock. The two-point conversion failed but the Bulldogs led 22-21 at the half.
“We practice (the play) every Thursday,” said Montesano coach Terry Jensen, the quarterback’s father. “I told Matthew, ‘Hey, throw it as far as you can.'”
The teams combined for 485 yards of total offense in the first half.
After Royal (13-1) went three-and-out on its opening drive of the second half, Montesano responded, scoring on Tucker Ibabao’s 4-yard touchdown run with 8:06 left in the third to push the lead to 29-21. Royal tried to answer on the following possession, but was stopped on the goal line on fourth down with 3 minutes left.
Once again, the Bulldogs made them pay for their mistakes, as Mendenhall ripped off an 82-yard touchdown run to push the lead to 36-21 with 3:12 left in the third.
“(The goal line stand) was huge,” Jensen said. “Then to come back and go 99 yards and drive the field, I thought that was a huge turning point in the game for us.”
After Royal cut the deficit to 36-28 with 40 seconds left in the third, Ibabao scored again on a 43-yard touchdown run to push the lead to 43-28 with 9:26 left.
Jensen finished 15-of-20 passing for 268 yards and two touchdowns as Montesano won its 11th straight game.