Its tradional power-running game largely stymied, Montesano dug deeply into its playbook — and bag of tricks — to confirm its traditional reservation in the state playoffs.
Relying on Noah Ewing’s running and passing, the running and receiving of Tristan Darst and a critical onside kick, the Bulldogs clinched their eighth successive state berth with a 41-14 win over Kalama in the District IV Class 1A football playoff game Friday night at Aberdeen’s fog-shrouded Stewart Field.
The reigning state champion Bulldogs (6-4) will likely face traditional nemesis Cascade Christian in the opening round of state next weekend in the Puyallup-Tacoma area.
Although the final score would indicate otherwise, Friday’s game was anything but a blowout. With all-Trico League quarterback Elijah Bannister running and passing effectively, Kalama (7-3) racked up more than 300 yards of total offense and 18 first downs. The Chinooks were never forced to punt.
With a couple of exceptions, the Bulldogs were unable to dislodge the bigger Chinook linemen on inside runs. They used their superior speed, however, to go around and over them.
Playing what Monte coach Terry Jensen “by far” the best game of his prep career, senior quarterback Ewing ran for 107 yards and passed for another 116. He scored on runs of 53 and 33 yards and threw a 20-yard TD pass to Darst.
“He’s really picked up his game in the last three weeks,” Jensen noted. “He’s really come into his own as a quarterback.”
Senior receiver Darst scored nearly half the time he touched the ball. He tallied on fly sweeps covering 8 and 6 yards in addition to his touchdown reception.
Monte’s deception, however, wasn’t limited to play-calling.
Clinging to a precarious 14-6 lead following an evenly played first half, the Bulldogs kicked off to open the third quarter. Anthony Louthan dribbled a perfectly executed onside kick over midfield and recovered the loose ball himself on the Kalama 48-yard line.
Jensen credited special teams coach Jeff Klinger with noticing that the Chinooks were vulnerable to such a tactic.
“Their middle was open,” Jensen related. “We saw it on film. We thought it was there and Anthony did a great job on the kick. He’s practiced it all week.”
Six plays later, the Bulldogs converted the opportunity.
After teaming with Louthan on an 18-yard screen pass on third-and-seven, Ewing arched a perfectly thrown 20-yard pass to Darst, who came down with the ball in the left corner of the end zone.
Louthan tacked on the third of five successful conversions for a 21-7 advantage.
Montesano regained possession on its 40 after Darst nailed Jared Shagool for a 2-yard loss on fourth-and-10.
Audibling on what Jensen described as a mid-line option, a close cousin to the read-option, Ewing broke off the right side and simply outran his pursuit on a 53-yard touchdown run.
Kalama narrowed the deficit to 28-14 on Shagool’s 3-yard run and Bannister’s conversion pass to Hunter Esary less than a minute into the fourth quarter.
The Bulldogs, however, settled matters by driving 53 yards to the end zone on their next possession. Ewing rambled 23 yards on another option and Louthan added a 14-yard run to set up Jacob Sampair’s 1-yard plunge with 7:51 remaining.
Ewing provided the finishing touches with a 33-yard option keeper with 3:51 remaining.
The Bulldogs scored in the first quarter and never trailed.
Louthan’s tackle-busting 40-yard run to the Chinook 20 set up the game’s opening touchdown.
Darst did the honors on that occasion with an 8-yard fly sweep. Louthan’s PAT made it 7-0.
The Chinooks answered with a 95-yard scoring drive in the second quarter. Bannister, touted more as a runner than a passer, hooked up with Shagool on three completions totaling 60 yards before Colton Aschoff blasted off tackle on an 11-yard touchdown run. Bannister’s conversion kick, however, was hooked wide.
Ewing hit Kody Usher for a 44-yard gain on the first play following the kickoff. Darst went 6 yards on another fly sweep at the 3:04 mark for a 14-6 lead.
The Bulldogs intercepted two passes and recovered a fumble. Their lone turnover came on an interception on the final play of the first half.
Senior lineman Ben O’Brien was exceptionally active defensively for Montesano, with Evan Bialkowsky, Kenny Roy and sophomore Kylar Prante among the other defensive notables.