State title game: Monte set for Battle Royal

The final chapter of the 2012 high school football season will be written this Saturday, just like Montesano and Royal wanted it to be.

One of the teams has been steamrolling and dump-trucking opponents en route to the 10 a.m. state 1A title game at the Tacoma Dome. The other team has been quietly spending time outside of the media spotlight to erase a bad start to the season to get to the game.

Regardless of the paths the Knights and the Bulldogs have taken, one of them will walk out with the state 1A championship trophy.

“We are not just happy to get to this game,” Montesano head coach Terry Jensen said. “That is not what our players’ final goal of the season is. We may be viewed as the underdog by most, but what is important for us is what our players and coaches believe.”

Everyone knows the story about Montesano and the start of its season. Following a 41-14 loss to Hoquiam at Rottle Field that snapped a 40-game league winning streak, the Rottle Field grandstands burned down.

The Bulldogs looked at the wreckage from their practice fields and went back to work on getting their team and their season on track. After a 49-7 non-league victory over Woodland on the road, Montesano returned to its dominating form on both sides of the ball.

“Preparation for us has been a season long journey — it has allowed us to improve as the season progresses; preparation is everything for us,” Jensen said. “It is not really which team we have faced, but the work the players put in during each week: film study, studying scouting reports, weight room, and practicing well. Those have been the constant keys all season - this team’s desire to continue to get better.”

Montesano’s approach has given it an “all-hands” approach on offense and defense. Quarterback Matthew Jensen, running backs Elliot Mendenhall, Shad Rogers and Tucker Ibabao, wide receiver Ben Ohashi and Cody Olsen and a large pack of linemen, led by Nathan Nussbaum and aided by converts Jacob and Cody Sampair and Drew Helms, have excelled as two-way players.

In the postseason, the game plans have been just as varied as the players who contribute on the field. Two of the most notable wrinkles in the playoffs were the Bulldogs’ Oregon-esque full-speed, fast-break offense that broke Charles Wright’s will early and a pass-first philosophy — three big passes to start the game on the opening drive — caught Mount Baker off-guard.

“We have tried to go into games being balanced,” Jensen said. “You do certain things to see how teams will react or hope to gain an advantage, but you also have to do the things that have gotten you to where you are. The strength of this team, is that it is truly a team; we don’t have the superstar that we can always go to. This team hasn’t cared who touches the ball or who gets their name in the paper. They are more concerned with the final results. If it helps us be successful on the field, we will do it.”

Against King’s, it wasn’t just what the Monte offense did, which was play mistake-free football. It was the defense which took away King’s main scoring threat, quarterback Billy Green, who had his worst game of his high school career in Monte’s 17-7 win at Stewart Field in Aberdeen.

Royal has a game-changing player in the same mold as Green in quarterback Alex Myrick. The 5-foot-8 175-pound senior signal caller and linebacker is the straw that stirs the Knights’ drink on both sides of the ball.

The Knights turned the South Central Athletic Conference Eastern Division into their own personal scrimmage playground. The Knights’ triple-option offense was potent and allowed Myrick to throw for more than 2,000 yards and run for another 1,000 yards this season.

Running back Damien DeLaRosa is also a threat for Royal, along with wide receiver Brady Dixon. It isn’t completely on Myrick’s arm and decision-making, but it is super close in similarities to King’s Green.

“(Myrick) is more of a runner than Green, but they are both great quarterbacks and everything both of thoise teams do run goes through them,” Jensen said. “They are the most balanced team — run/pass ratio — we have played this season. They have no weaknesses in personnel. We will look to be balanced and hope that keeps them off-balanced. How well we play on the offensive line will certainly be a big key for us.”

One intangible that may swing the difference between the teams is turnovers. Montesano’s postseason run has been a cornucopia of turnovers forced, a plus-3 ratio in three games. Royal finished with a minus-2 ratio (three fumbles and one interception lost to one fumble and one INT gained) just in its 31-28 win over River View in the semifinals. However, Myrick and the offense’s scoring touch renders the turnover margins moot.

Historically, this is Montesano’s first football title game since 1994, when the Bulldogs scored 20 unanswered points to top Royal, 27-21. The Bulldogs own two state championships — 1983 and 1994. Royal owns five state football championships in its trophy case — 1996, 2000, 2004, 2005 and 2007.