The teams were miles apart stylistically. Otherwise, the similarities between South Bend’s 2010 state 2B championship football club and Montesano’s 2012 1A champions were positively eerie.
Both teams were runners-up in their own league and had lost regular-season games to county rivals (Willapa Valley had beaten South Bend and Hoquiam had topped Monte).
Each team was led by a respected veteran coach (Montesano’s Terry Jensen and South Bend’s Tom Sanchez) who had never previously appeared as a head coach in a state championship game.
Both had upended heavily favored opponents in the state quarterfinals, taken care of business in less-dramatic semifinals, then pulled off another upset in the championship game.
The Bulldogs and Indians both overcame well-publicized adversity merely to make it to Gridiron Classic. South Bend lost starting quarterback David Lorton to transfer prior to the season and big-play specialist Terrell Boyes to a knee injury on the eve of the playoffs.
Montesano endured two successive defeats, plus a fire that destroyed the Rottle Field grandstand, in an eight-day period in September.
Both teams also found a way to conquer shortcomings not often found in championship teams.
South Bend lacked any semblance of a passing threat, but the Tribe’s offensive linemen and running backs were so effective that even opponents who knew what was coming couldn’t stop it.
Monte’s smallish defensive unit was vulnerable to a strong running game. The Bulldogs allowed more than 200 yards rushing in three of their four playoff appearances.
The Dogs, however, were so efficient offensively and adept enough at red-zone stops that a long enemy drive or two didn’t matter. And senior quarterback Matthew Jensen and a cadre of talented receivers (Ben Ohashi, Shad Rogers and Richard Smith) gave them a passing dimension that many outstanding Monte teams in recent years has lacked.
In the final analysis, the key to Montesano’s playoff run might have been found in the turnover statistics. The Bulldogs were guilty of only three postseason miscues — none in the final two weeks.
Considering that their team owned a 41-14 victory over Montesano in September, it’s only natural for Hoquiam partisans to wonder what might have been.
I wouldn’t presume to predict what might have materialized had the Harbor rivals faced off again in the state playoffs, except I’m guessing the score wouldn’t have been 41-14.
The first meeting came unusually early in the campaign — in the last game before the Rottle Field grandstand fire. It was almost universally assumed at the time that the luck-of-the-draw scheduling favored the more experienced Grizzlies.
If Hoquiam fans want to assess blame for the absence of a playoff rematch, they can start with Southwest Washington 1A administrators for altering the playoff format two years ago.
Prior to 2011, the Evergreen 1A and Trico League champions were assured of state berths, but met in a district championship game to determine seeding.
That was changed last year in favor of a crossover format in which more teams were play0ff-eligible but even league champions had to play their way into state. Under this system, the top-seeded berths alternate between the champions of the two leagues, provided they win their crossover game. Evergreen champion Montesano received the top seed last year; Trico titleholder La Center got it this season.
The district championship game was never particularly popular with coaches who feared the risk of injuries outweighed the often-dubious benefit of earning a higher state seed. Montesano won the district title in 2010, only to run afoul of highly regarded King’s in the opening round of state.
The benefit, however, would not have been dubious this year. The top seed from the Southwest was placed in what appeared to be the weakest quarter of the 16-team state draw.
Hoquiam would have been clearly favored over La Center if the district title game been offered this season. Had that game gone according to plan, the odds would have favored the Grizzlies advancing to a state semifinal rematch with Montesano. That slot instead went to Mount Baker, which knocked off La Center in the quarterfinals.
Hoquiam’s and Montesano’s state fates ultimately revolved around their respective meetings with top-ranked King’s in the opening two rounds of the playoffs.
Billy Green, the Knights’ Brigham Young University-bound quarterback, lived up to his reputation with a stellar performance in King’s 28-13 victory over Hoquiam in an opening-round game played in ideal conditions at Olympic Stadium.
For a variety of reasons (a stronger Monte pass rush, poor field position, much worse weather and an apparent lack of touch being among them), Green wasn’t nearly as sharp in Montesano’s 17-7 upset of the Knights in the quarterfinals the following Saturday at Aberdeen’s Stewart Field. Attributing it solely to the weather doesn’t wash, since Matthew Jensen was much more effective throwing in the same conditions.
It goes without saying that players and teams don’t perform at the same level every week. That’s why sporting events are played on the field (or on a court, in a pool, etc.), not on paper.
Comparative scores against Hoquiam, for instance, would have established King’s as a 42-point favorite over Montesano. By the same method, Monte would be favored by 47 points over state 2A runner-up Tumwater.
The Bulldogs beat King’s by 10 points. King’s owned a 42-39 win over Lynden, which thumped Tumwater, 41-7, in the state 2A title game.
That doesn’t mean Montesano will be rushing to schedule the T-Birds anytime soon.
When Montesano running back Tucker Ibabao said, “We proved the whole state wrong and that was our goal from Day One,” following Saturday’s title-game victory, he was undoubtedly referring in large part to the Associated Press state prep football poll panelists.
As a member of that group, I wasn’t offended. That wasn’t the pollsters’ finest hour.
It wasn’t so much that Monte was unranked entering the state playoffs. A lot of two-loss teams suffer the same fate.
But the Bulldogs remained in the top 10 following their lopsided loss to Hoquiam, then were dropped from the rankings — never to appear again — after winning their next four games by an average margin of 39 points. Go figure.
In the interest of full disclosure, I ranked Montesano in the lower half of the top 10 throughout that period. However, in the interest of honesty, I’m no more qualified to assess the relative merits of Cle Elum and River View, for example, than Eastern Washington writers are to evaluate Grays Harbor teams.
The state poll essentially provides a conversation piece for prep football fans, period. I’ve never talked to a high school coach who puts much stock in it or uses it as anything other than an occasional motivational tool.
This isn’t college football’s BCS, where the ratings actually matter. That’s because the high schools have adopted the revolutionary concept of a playoff system to determine champions on the field.