TACOMA — If the excitement and the nerves didn’t wake up Montesano, its football players and coaches, at 6:15 a.m. Saturday, the loud, bumping rock music most certainly did.
Greeted by a good-sized group of fans, parents and cheerleaders and serenaded by hard rock music from Aberdeen radio station KDUX, the Bulldogs were sent off toward the Tacoma Dome to meet their destiny in the state 1A football championship game against the second-ranked Knights of Royal.
A little more than six hours later, Montesano players and coaches were celebrating on the turf with hugs, tears and cheers after defeating Royal, 43-28.
Before the Bulldogs took the opening kickoff, they had to prepare, to wait and to focus on the task at hand.
At 8 a.m., the players were all in one of the Tacoma Dome locker rooms under the north stands. Some had headphones on, playing the songs of choice needed for concentration. Others were getting taped up by assistant coach Brad Pocklington. Some coaches, including head coach Terry Jensen, waited around the outside of the locker room door.
Ten minutes later, the team broke into positional meetings. The quarterbacks, led by Jensen, met in the stands in Section 19 and talked about the game plan. Other positions were scattered around the locker room and other locations on the floor of the Tacoma Dome.
“We’re ready,” Jensen noted after the meeting with the quarterbacks, which included his son, senior QB Matthew Jensen.
The positional meetings moved into other scripted, timed events on a schedule Montesano has kept all season. The players are loose, but focused on the tasks given to them by the coaches with each event.
“We don’t get to do a few things the kids normally do before the game, because we can’t be on the field (until 9 a.m.),” said Coach Jensen, who noted that the players were relaxed before their state semifinal win over Mount Baker at the Dome the week before.
Once the team returned to the locker room to put on their pads, the coaches are scattered in the locker room hallway and the main floor of the Dome. A small group of coaches joined in on a discussion on Muhammad Ali and his best quotes and moments. Coach Brian Hollatz showed the team videos, including those with Ali, for inspiration earlier in the week.
Just before the special teams players left the locker room to get onto the field, they lined up at the locker room door. Matthew Jensen, whose other duties include linebacker and field-goal holder, got into a discussion with a few of the younger players on PAT fakes and their play calls — all named after breakfast food, including bacon and eggs.
“Eggs always change, but bacon never does; that piggy is committed,” laughed Coach Jensen.
At 9 a.m., the special teams players are on the field. Just above them, the entrance doors into the Dome are opened up for the first time. Montesano and Royal fans cheer, whoop and holler in the echo of the building. Soon, the rest of the team joins in waves and game warmups for both squads are in full swing.
Once the warmups are done, there is one more meeting in the locker room — and the intensity level rose with it.
Coach Jensen spoke first, paraphrasing 1980 U.S. Olympic ice hockey head coach Herb Brooks in his speech.
“Remember, one player, one play isn’t going to win this football game. One player, one play isn’t going to lose this football game. We’re going to win or lose as a team,” Jensen said in a calm, even tone.
“There will be 10-15 plays, gentleman, that will be critical. We’re not going to know when they’re going to happen, where they will be. We just have to execute. It is all about us. It doesn’t matter what scheme they use. It doesn’t matter what they do in their locker room. It doesn’t matter what they’re talking about. It doesn’t matter. This whole season has been about us, all about us. Our focus is on us — what we have control of. It is about us.
“It is our time, gentleman, our time. You’re here for a reason. It was given to you for a reason and you’ve earned everything you’ve got. We go back to “Miracle on Ice,” gave you a quote from the movie last week. I’ll go back to it with another quote, 17 words — You are born to be a player. You are meant to be here. This moment is yours. … This moment is yours. Play your game, gentleman, your game. Play hard, play smart, have fun gentlemen.”
All but one coach left the locker room to the players. Eric Stanfield remained and had the team gather in on one knee to begin a chant that fired it up, prompting the players into three words — Relentless, Disciplined, Win.
“For four stinking years, you’ve waited for this,” Stanfield yelled. “We are “Relentless.” We are “Disciplined.” We will “Win.” Last time we walk out that door, gentleman, with all that you’ve done. It is all in front of you. We are ‘Relentless.’ We are ‘Disciplined.’ We will “Win.’”
On the final “Win,” the players buckled up their helmets, lined up and walked together out onto the field. It is 9:48 a.m., 12 minutes from kickoff.
By noontime, four quarters of football were played. Montesano used poor clock management from Royal to get one final play of the first half and turned it into a 42-yard “Hail Mary” touchdown pass from Matthew Jensen to Richard Smith for a 22-21 halftime lead. A fourth-down stand at the Bulldog 1-foot line late in the third quarter stunted the Knights’ momentum. Four plays later, Elliot Mendenhall’s 82-yard touchdown run on a triple-option pitch to the left provided another moment in time to celebrate for Montesano.
Those critical moments Jensen spoke of were Montesano’s and Montesano’s alone. At just after noon, Matthew Jensen took a knee to run out the clock and ignite the celebration. Several Montesano students busted through a security barrier to join in before WIAA and school officials sent them back.
For alumni and former players, it was a moment they will enjoy just as much as the players and the coaches.
“I bleed Maroon and Gray and Montesano is my family, the coaches are my family and this program has been like family,” current B.C. Lions linebacker and Montesano grad Adam Bighill said as players ran around him to sing the alma mater song. “I wanted it just as much as they did. This means so much.”
For the players, it was the moment they’ve been waiting for.
“Last week, I said that this was the greatest feeling in the world (in the state semifinal game against Mount Baker),” Matthew Jensen said. “I was wrong. This is the greatest feeling in the world. To win a state championship, I’ve been working so hard for four years to do it. All of the seniors, the entire team, the coaches, it is just great.”
“It means everything,” Mendenhall said. “Last night, we had a team dinner at the Beehive. We had four guys from the 1994 team there to talk to us. It was awesome. They told us that everyone will be there, their families will be there to watch. The whole town will be there. The 76 station’s reader board had ‘Last One Out Of Town, Turn Off The Lights.’ It was just a big motivation for everything.”
With that, Mendenhall joined Jensen and the rest of his teammates and the large gathering of the community outside. It was time to celebrate.
Rob Burns is a Daily World sports writer. He can be reached at (360) 537-3926 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.