Montesano dipped extensively into its survival kit to withstand a stiff Aberdeen challenge.
Overcoming their own errors and a dramatic Bobcat comeback, the reigning state 1A champion Bulldogs held off the Cats, 31-27, in a thrilling if mistake-filled non-league football opener Friday night at Stewart Field.
Monte’s Anthony Louthan rushed for 147 yards and one touchdown before leaving the contest with a second-half injury.
Still, victory wasn’t assured for the Bulldogs until they halted Aberdeen’s final drive on the 1-yard line as time expired. That prevented the Bobcats, 38-0 losers to Monte in last year’s season opener, from erasing a 10-point deficit in the final 2:47.
Having graduated the bulk of starters from last year’s state championship team, the Bulldogs committed three turnovers — including a fumble on their opening play from scrimmage — and were socked with 90 yards in penalties.
They did, however, log 430 yards of total offense and made enough big plays to prevail.
“We persevered, I guess,” Montesano coach Terry Jensen said. “We’ve got to grow up fast. It doesn’t get easier for us. We made a lot of mistakes and a lot of that is on me. I’ve got to do a better job getting them ready to play.”
Although effective in moving the ball from its pistol offense, the Bobcats also committed three turnovers. But Aberdeen coach Terry Dion had no complaints about his team’s effort.
“I was happy with our heart and determination,” Dion said. “I think nerves hurt us and there was a little bit of fatigue in our big guys. But with a lot of first-year starters, we’re going to learn a lot from this game. There were a lot of ways we could have won.”
Veek Cheema’s 20-yard touchdown pass to Carter Harris with eight minutes remaining in the third quarter gave Aberdeen a 21-19 lead.
Pinned back to their own 9-yard line on the ensuing kickoff, the Bulldogs responded by covering the distance in 11 plays.
Louthan, who later sustained a leg injury of undetermined severity, helped dig Monte out of the hole by taking a 12-yard pass from Noah Ewing for a first down. Three plays later, he veered left on a 41-yard run down to the Aberdeen 28-yard line.
That set up Kyle England’s 4-yard TD run with 4:12 remaining in the third period. The two-point conversion pass failed.
The Bulldogs also scored on its next possession after recovering a Bobcat fumble on their 33. After Louthan and Jacob Sampair alternated carries into scoring territory, Ewing connected with Tristan Darst on a 14-yard scoring pass at the 7:52 mark of the fourth quarter.
It was still 31-21 entering the final three minutes. That’s when the Bobcats turned on the heat.
After scrambling for 29 yards on a keeper from the pistol formation, Cheema found Deon Schlesser on an 11-yard touchdown pass with 2:47 left. A conversion run fell barely short.
Monte’s Jordan Bussard covered the ensuing onside kick, but the Bobcats forced the Bulldogs into a three-and-out — although they expended all their timeouts in the process. They regained possession on their own 13-yard line with 1:40 on the clock.
Cheema ran for one first down and hit Harris for 28 yards for another on the Montesano 36. Then Harris outbattled a defender to haul in another Cheema pass on the Bulldog 5-yard line with less than 30 seconds left.
Taking a flat pass from Cheema, Schlesser was stacked up on the 2. With time for only one more play, Cheema ran off the left side, but was stopped by a wave of Bulldogs, including Evan Bialkowsky and Jake Massoth, about a yard from the goal.
A touchdown presumably would have nullified, regardless, since the Bobcats were called for illegal procedure on the play.
The first half contained three lead changes in a six-minute span.
Aberdeen linebacker Lorenzo Ontiveros, a defensive standout throughout, recovered a fumble on Monte’s opening scrimmage play, setting up the Bobcats on the Bulldog 11-yard line. Sophomore Joel Dublanko punched it in from 2 yards out two plays later and also ran in the 2-point conversion.
The Bulldogs promptly reeled off a 65-yard scoring drive, capped by Sampair’s 7-yard run. The conversion pass failed.
Louthan, who alternated between running back and quarterback in the first half, hooked up with Darst on a 71-yard pass and run that set up Sampair’s 4-yard TD run with 10 minutes remaining in the second quarter. Another missed conversion pass left Monte with a 12-8 lead.
Aberdeen fired back on Drew Stocker’s 3-yard run, set up by fine runs by Dublanko and Stocker, at the 6:49 mark of the quarter. David Housden kicked the PAT.
But the Bulldogs needed only three plays to retaliate, with Louthan touring the left side on a 35-yard scoring run that gave the visitors a 19-15 halftime advantage.
Sampair and Darst also ran effectively for Montesano, with the latter earning Jensen’s praise for his play on both sides of the ball. Louthan and Massoth were also cited for defensive play.
Cheema, a senior quarterback whose passing improved as the game progressed, netted 76 yards rushing and 150 yards through the air.
The Bulldogs return to Stewart Field to face Cascade Christian in another non-leaguer Friday. Aberdeen will travel across Myrtle Street to take on rival Hoquiam on Saturday afternoon.
Mon 6 13 6 6 — 31
Aber 8 7 6 6 — 27
First Downs 19 18
Net Rushing 317 157
Net Passing 113 150
Total net yardage 450 307
Passing 7-15 14-29
Had Intercepted 1 1
Fumbles Lost 2 2
Yards Penalized 90 25