TACOMA — Operating with almost machine-like efficiency, Montesano cleared a traditional hurdle with relative ease.
Matthew Jensen passed for 204 yards and two touchdowns as the Bulldogs earned their first football title-game appearance in 18 years by beating Mount Baker, 28-6, in a state Class 1A semifinal Saturday morning at the Tacoma Dome.
Winners of 10 straight, the unranked Bulldogs (11-2) will face second-ranked Royal (13-0)— a 31-28 winner over River View in the other semifinal at Kennewick — for the state championship at 10 a.m. Saturday, also at the Tacoma Dome.
Montesano last won a state title in 1994, ironically coming from behind to beat Royal in that contest, 27-21.
Since then, the Bulldogs had been eliminated in the semifinals five times — four in the last seven years and also in 1998 when they logged more than 600 yards of total offense but still dropped a 41-40 overtime decision to Elma.
“It’s nice to get over the hump,” said Bulldog coach Terry Jensen, who will be making the first state title-game appearance in his long career.
Saturday’s victory also continued Monte’s turnaround from a tumultuous September in which they lost two straight games and had their stadium grandstand destroyed by fire within an eight-day period.
“It is probably one of the greatest feelings in the world,” Matthew Jensen said of the semifinal win. “With all the things that have happened this season … it has been a crazy season. We had a ton of adversity to overcome and that’s why we’re here. We came together as a group as seniors (and) we invited the rest of the team in, to become a cohesive whole, to play as one.”
The Dogs have played more spectacular games during the turnaround but not many in which they made fewer mistakes.
They played turnover-free ball and were not flagged for a penalty longer than five yards. In the first half, they were 5-of-9 on third down conversions and 3-of-3 on fourth down.
Matthew Jensen was on fire at the beginning, completing all six of his passes during a 66-yard scoring drive on Monte’s opening possession that gave the Harborites a permanent lead. The senior quarterback wound up connecting on 18 of 26 throws.
Recovered from a head injury that sidelined him during the fourth quarter of last week’s state quarterfinal upset of top-ranked King’s, senior receiver Ben Ohashi had eight catches for 80 yards and one touchdown. He also contributed a key interception and even was awarded a WIAA sportsmanship medallion.
Shad Rogers, Montesano’s other wide-out, had six receptions for 98 yards and a TD. Although it didn’t figure in a scoring drive, his fingertip grab of Jensen’s 22-yard pass on the first play of the fourth quarter wouldn’t have been out of place on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” highlight package.
Senior running back Tucker Ibabao led Montesano rushers with 67 yards on 20 carries and scored the other two Bulldog touchdowns.
The Bulldogs had difficulty during the final 2 1/2 quarters containing Mount Baker’s power-running fullback Jake Schleimer, who amassed 154 yards on 25 carries.
“The constant pounding of No. 39 (Schleimer) wore us down,” Coach Jensen acknowledged.
Montesano experienced enough success early, however, to keep the Mountaineers (10-2) off the scoreboard for nearly three quarters. Ahead 28-0 by the midpoint of the third quarter, they could afford to give up a couple of time-consuming drives, particularly when only one produced points.
“We knew that they’d run the ball a lot and we had to get into the gaps,” said senior linebacker Elliot Mendenhall, a stalwart of Monte’s defensive effort. “We just had to stay in our gaps and do our jobs. We’d stay where they were and they’d run into us.”
The normally run-first Bulldogs came out winging, throwing on their first three plays. Operating from a no-huddle spread, Matthew Jensen completed all three of them — for 5 yards to Richard Smith, 21 to Rogers and 8 to Ohashi — to ignite Monte’s opening possession.
“We wanted their big guys running, to get them tired,” Coach Jensen said. “I thought our no-huddle helped us and kept them off-balance.”
“I was expecting it, because it was in the game plan,” Matthew Jensen added. “My dad, Coach Jensen, told me we were going to come out and throw the ball. The receivers ran good routes. We got good protection from the line today and it worked out great.”
Mendenhall ducked under a defender after taking Jensen’s short flat pass and motored 12 yards for a first down on the Mount Baker 13-yard line. Then, on fourth-and-one from the 4, Ibabao took it off the left side for a touchdown with 5:17 remaining in the first quarter.
Anthony Louthan kicked the first of four successful conversions.
After forcing the Mountaineers into a three-and-out, the Bulldogs were back in business moments later, covering 47 yards in seven plays.
Jensen’s 35-yard pass to Rogers, who broke a tackle on about the 30, put the Dogs on the 7.
Running what Terry Jensen described as a pivot route, Ohashi was wide open in the left corner of the end zone to snare Jensen’s 3-yard pass at the 1:40 mark of the opening quarter.
Although hit as he threw, Jensen hooked up with Ohashi on a 23-yard completion to set up Montesano’s next touchdown. After reeling off a 15-yard run down to the Mount Baker 3-yard line, Ibabao leaped over the pile to score from less than a yard out. Louthan’s PAT made it 21-0 with 2:21 remaining in the first half.
Montesano’s biggest defensive series followed.
Limited to a single first down until then, the Mountaineers suddenly began opening holes for Schleimer, who pounded out runs of 18, 10 and 12 yards to help the Whatcom County club reach the Bulldog 2-yard line with 11 seconds left in the half.
Out of timeouts, however, the Mountaineers had little choice but to put the ball in the air at that stage and Ohashi picked off Andrew Zender’s pass in the end zone.
“That was a huge play,” Terry Jensen noted. “That changed the momentum back our way.”
Rogers took Jensen’s 2-yard pass in the back of the end zone with 4:13 remaining in the third quarter. The same duo had hooked up on a 16-yard completion earlier in the drive. Louthan’s kick concluded Montesano’s scoring.
Following the ensuing kickoff, Mount Baker put together an 80-yard, seven-play drive exclusively on the ground that ended with Schleimer scoring standing up on a 2-yard off-tackle power shot. Edgar Zavala’s conversion attempt hooked wide.
The Mountaineers consumed approximately eight minutes on their only fourth-quarter possession, but came away empty when Zack Nelson tripped up Zender shy of the first down on a fourth-down run from the Monte 6-yard line.
Advance tickets for Saturday’s championship game will go on sale Monday at the Montesano High School office.
“We’ll be going back to the drawing board in about two hours,” Coach Jensen confirmed.
“We just have to keep writing our story,” Mendenhall said. “Next week is the final chapter. People have been telling us that we need to keep going to bring home the golden ball.”
Daily World writer Rob Burns contributed to this story.
MB 0 0 6 0 — 6 Mon 14 7 7 0 — 28
First Downs 14 15
Net Rushing 218 140
Net Passing 22 204
Total Net Yardage 240 344
Passing 3-6 18-26
Had Intercepted 1 0
Fumbles Lost 0 0
Yards Penalized 45 17