Bellevue Wolverines (13-0) vs Eastside Catholic Crusaders (12-1)
7:30 pm Friday at the Tacoma Dome
All-Time State Tournament
Bellevue: Entries – 22; Record – 55-9; Best Finish – Champion (1983, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013)
Eastside Catholic: Entries – 13; Record – 14-12; Best Finish – Runner-up (2012, 2013)
Head Coach: Butch Goncharoff (15th year)
When Butch Goncharoff took over from Bill Heglar, the Wolverines were really just another team in the always tough Kingco Conference. He is now going for his 12th State Title in 15 years.
The last time Bellevue didn’t win a state championship, 2007, a young QB named Jake Heaps was wowing crowds for Skyline. As a matter of fact, in the 14 years before this year, Goncharoff has won a state title every season except for three, two by Skyline and one for Ferndale, with a kid named Jake Locker.
I think one of the most impressive things for Bellevue are the amount of returning players that come back to coach. It seems like every season one or two new names pop up on the Bellevue coaching roster that are a bit of a blast from the past.
About Eastside Catholic:
Head Coach: Jeremy Thielbahr (4th year)
Eastside Catholic was in a similar situation when Thielbahr took over at Eastside, as Bellevue was with Goncharoff. They had some success, but were typically middle of the road, and were only 5-9 all-time in the state playoffs.
Since Thielbahr has taken over, they are 9-3 at State, with all three losses coming to Bellevue, but this is arguably the best team Thielbahr has had.
The Crusaders are playing some of their best football as of late, beating a very good Lincoln team in Tacoma, then travelling across the state to thrash Mount Spokane at Joe Albi.
Bellevue on Offense:
We all know about Bellevue’s classic Wing-T offense that was a staple for so many years, but what we have seen more and more this year is a spread offense.
When I have seen Bellevue this season, the spread really hasn’t worked as well as they probably like, but it has still be effective at times as it requires defenses to vacate the box.
The key to Bellevue’s offense is figuring out what they have been hiding. A few years ago QB Jack Meggs had only gained a handful of yards the entire season, but against Eastside Catholic in the final he rushed for 108 yards and two touchdowns.
So, what Bellevue offense will we see? The one that tried unsuccessfully to move the ball through the air last week, or the team that can go multiple games without attempting a pass?
QB Justus Rogers is a solid two-way threat, but is most dangerous using his legs. Last week against Marysville Pilchuck he finished with 11 carries for 92 yards, while only completing 4 of 10 passes.
Bellevue is known for their running game, and nobody in the state does it better. Sam Richmond had a minor knee surgery early in the season, and appears to have not missed a beat. Last week he led the Wolverines in rushing with 29 carries for 99 yards and two touchdowns.
Also adding to the running game is Isaiah Gilchrist, who has multiple offers and is one of the fastest athletes in the state. Ercle Terrell gets work out of the backfield as well, and is also the team’s leading receiver.
When they go to the air, you could see just about anyone get the ball. Ross Connors burned Eastside Catholic in last year’s final, and had a 38 yard catch last week. You may also see 6-foot-5 Tyson Penn, who transferred from Federal Way, where he won High Jump and Long Jump state track championships last year.
Bellevue’s offensive line is led by University of Washington bound Henry Roberts. You can also expect to see Alec Palander, Francis Haroon and Will Roy along the front, along with AJ Kneip at Center.
Eastside Catholic on Offense:
When it comes to the spread offense, not many teams in Washington run it as well as the Crusaders.
Junior quarterback Harley Kirsch is having another tremendous season and is completing nearly 70% of his passes. The 6-foot-3 south-paw has thrown for 2,912 yards and 36 touchdowns so far this season.
At runningback you could see a variety of different backs, all with different skill sets. Senior Addison Hull is the speedster, and leads the team in rushing with 549 yards and 8 touchdowns. Dominique Fetui is a wrecking ball, and gets the tough yards for the Crusaders. Fetui has yet to rush for 100 yards in a game, his highest total being 87 yards against Arlington, but he leads the rushing attack with 10 touchdowns.
The big name at RB is University of Washington commit Brandon Wellington. He hasn’t seen a ton of carries this year, but in the biggest games (O’Dea, Meadowdale and Lincoln) he has carried a bulk of the load. He averages 6.5 yards per carry, and has six touchdowns.
At 6-foot-4, 215 pound junior is a mismatch for just about any opponent. Laris leads the Crusaders with 70 catches for 1,366 yards and 16 touchdowns. He projects to a very high level, and is one of the top WR’s in Washington for the 2016 recruiting class.
Another 2016 receiver projecting high is Devon Arbis-Jackson, who comes in with 42 catches for 620 yards and 9 TD’s. The third most likely option for Kirsch is sophomore TE Hunter Bryant. He currently stands about 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, and is very affective in the red zone, with 7 TD’s, including three last week..
The Crusaders are very well coached up front, and a lot of the credit goes to line coach Wes Potter. They are led by University of Montana commit Alex Neale, who some believe should be getting bigger offers. Last week against Mount Spokane, Neale played LT. The center is Connor Heger, a converted TE, and next to him at LG is sophomore Brody McKnight.
Last week they went with juniors Ricky Medeiros at RG and Collin Stout at RT, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they mixed in big Cody Baker some this week.
Bellevue on Defense:
The Wolverine front seven is as good as you will find. This group is largely responsible for limiting Marysville Pilchuck RB Austin Joyner to less than 100 yards rushing, and a high powered Tomahawk rushing attack to just 162 yards.
Junior DT Omar Dyles is one of the best in the state, regardless of class or classification. Junior DE Ryan Bowman can be the physical edge setter, or high motor pass rusher, depending on the situation. Inside they feature another junior in Marquise Deweert, while the only senior in the bunch is DE Christian Pankey.
Through the course of the season I talk to many different coaches and scouts from around the area, and there seems to be a consensus that Bellevue LB Ross Connors is the most underrated defensive player in the state. Connors leads the Wolverines in tackles, currently deciding between Harvard and Air Force for next season.
Alongside Connors is Mustafa Branch, a Stanford commit, and junior Luke Lane. All three LB’s are fast, physical and very smart football players.
The defensive backfield is very experience for Bellevue, with Jack Michael and Ryan Gilbert really leading the way. These two have seen a ton of playing time over the years, and are two of the more underrated DB’s in the state. Last week they walked Gilbert up into a LB spot to counter Pilchuck’s running game, but I would expect to see that change this week against the spread.
Isaiah Gilchrist goes both ways and can be a lockdown corner at times, and I would expect him to see a lot of Matt Laris. Last week they played junior Tyren Samms as a deep free safety, and I expect him to see a lot of action this week, if Eastside Catholic can give Kirsch enough time to throw.
Bellevue is always fast and very physical, and are one of the few teams that Eastside Catholic will see all season that can run with them.
Eastside Catholic on Defense:
When defending a Wing-T offense, one of your most important players is the DT, and Eastside Catholic has one of the best in the state. Deion Fetui is generously listed at 6’0″ 305, and is an absolute load to move, but is also very athletic. Fetui is committed to the Air Force Academy, and could see more interest in the next few months.
It will be interesting to see how the Crusaders defend the Bellevue offense. Last week against a run heavy spread, they lined up in a three man defensive front, with Montana commit Cody Baker on one side of Fetui, and John Kellum on the other. Kellum is very underrated, and stands 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds.
Another big key for defending a Wing-T is the play of the middle linebacker, and Eastside Catholic’s Anthony Masaniai is one of the best around. Masaniai is commited to Air Force, and leads the Crusaders in tackles.
Alongside Masaniai are seniors Arend Broekmate and Joey Warfield. This group of linebackers are very active, and are the three lead the team in tackles for a loss. This may be the most important positional group on the defense.
Being in a 3-3-5, the Crusaders will need to walk a DB or two up towards the line of scrimmage. I would expect to see Brandon Wellington and possibly Matt Kvech closer than usual to the line. Both are fast and physical, and would bring some extra punch.
One of the top tacklers for Eastside Catholic is Jonathon Webster. The 2016 class safety has racked up 78 tackles, which puts him at second on the team.
Senior corner Terin Adams missed a good portion of the season with an injury, but is back now and playing very well. Opposite Adams will be junior Jake Jackson, who is one of the better DB’s in his class.
Eastside Catholic is going to have to be tough up front, and really fly to the ball, something they have done all season.