Eastside Catholic Erases 28 Point Deficit in 3A Thriller
By Steve Dion
This is the game Washington high school football fans wanted to see. This is the game that seemed inevitable. The most dominant high school football program in the state during the 21st century against their neighbor that has gradually built a powerhouse of their own. A fourth straight matchup for the 3A title would match Bellevue who won the first two in ’12 & ‘13 and Eastside Catholic the victor a year ago.
The Crusaders received the opening possession and were forced to punt when the drive stalled deep in their own territory. The punt was mishandled and recovered by Parker Davidson to give the Cru the ball back before they could relinquish it. Two plays later, Chris Lefau burst into the endzone to give Eastside Catholic the first points of the contest. Benaiah Ellington made up for the punt return fumble by picking off EC quarterback Harley Kirsch later in the first. This set up Ercle Terrell for his first of four unanswered touchdowns including one from 54 yards up the gut. Brandon Wellington had seen enough and returned the kickoff 97 yards to cut the Wolverines lead to 14. Despite only having 1:38 to work with in the half, the Wolverines charged down the field once again and Tyson Penn who dropped what would have been a touchdown earlier made a spectacular diving grab to put BHS within striking distance. Wolverine quarterback Justus Rogers was content with feeding the hot hand so he went to Penn once again; this time in the corner of the endzone. Bellevue stampeded into halftime with a commanding 35-14 lead. They were led by Terrell’s 129 first half rushing yards and quartet of scores as part of their 232 to 53 total yards advantage over their counterpart.
A three touchdown deficit to Bellevue is a tall task to overcome. The prospects of a comeback became less of a reality when the lead extended to four touchdowns midway through the third when Christoph Hirota punched it in for the sixth Bellevue score. The Crusaders appeared to be at their breaking point. Harley Kirsch who had thrown a rare pair of interceptions in the game returned to their potent aerial attack immediately by finding Hunter Bryant on a 28 yard toss to the back corner of the endzone. The Cru defense did their part to get the ball back to their playmakers. Kirsch would find Bryant once more before the third quarter closed. Down 14 points with one frame remaining, could Bellevue hang on?
Coach Butch Goncharoff ran the ball 56 times in this game and even as his team’s lead dwindled, he did not stray from his game plan. On a crucial fourth and three, Wellington stopped Omar Dyles from moving the chains. Six plays later, Matt Laris pulled in a four yard toss to bring EC one score away from evening up the score. The Cru could taste it. With the pressure on Bellevue to hold on, their next drive was thwarted when Steve Moran stripped Justus Rogers to which Davidson recovered once again. At this point, Eastside was on a crash course to the endzone to which Wellington was behind the wheel. The senior tailback tied the game up leaving only 1:24 on the clock. Bellevue failed to advance the ball to field goal range in the final seconds and we were headed to overtime!
Bellevue took the first crack in extra time. On second down, Rogers passed to Penn in the endzone and Victor Guevara batted the ball away in a courageous effort. On fourth down, Bellevue lined up for a 39 yard field goal. The ball was mis-hit and all EC need now was a score of any kind. A pitch to Wellington resulted in a dive to the pylon that was one yard short of the game winner. Eastside Catholic hurries to set up into formation. Kirsch takes the snap, hands off to Wellington, initially stopped at the point of attack, but a second effort allowed for just enough room to dive past the plane of the goal line. Crusaders win! The team and coaching staff rush onto the field knowing they just completed one of the premier comebacks in the history of the Gridiron Classic. The trophy stays in the plateau for another year.
Moments after the game, a glowing Coach Thiebahr said, “I’m so happy for our seniors and for our community. I’m just really happy to show what we are; the resilience that our school has and the resilience of our football program. One of these seniors “Coach T” was referring to is Brandon Wellington who scored the game winning touchdown and when asked about his four years with Thielbahr, an emotional Wellington replied, “He’s a great teacher…he has pushed me to that next level. I’m gonna miss him.” After three years as the starting Crusader quarterback in which he collected two state titles, Harley Kirsch remarked, “It’s weird to think it’s all over…I was thinking a couple days ago ‘wow, that’s our last practice’ and now I’m thinking wow, that’s it.”
The Final Score:
Eastside Catholic 48, Bellevue 42
Brandon Wellington- 3 kick returns, 143 yards, 97 yard TD, 2 rushing TDs (11 yards, 1 yard game-winner in OT)
Ercle Terrell- 31 rush, 225 yards, 4 TDs (1, 3, 24, 54)