The Wolverines advanced to the state-title game for the seventh time in nine years, using a 97-yard kickoff return and four field goals to beat the Titans.
TACOMA — All season long, Bellevue coach Butch Goncharoff has said his team is capable of throwing the ball. But with a potent running game and at least four backs capable of picking up 100 yards, the Wolverines haven’t had to use it much.
In fact, against Glacier Peak in the Class 3A quarterfinals last week, Bellevue didn’t attempt a single pass.
In the semifinals, though, Union shut down the Wolverines’ running game early, forcing them to make an adjustment. They went to the air seven times, showing off a spread formation that helped them edge the Titans 19-13 Friday night at the Tacoma Dome.
“We had to,” Goncharoff said. “We told our guys this game was going to be a war. Up front, they [the Titans] were good.”
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The victory sets up an all-KingCo 3A/2A championship game, with Bellevue (11-2) advancing to play Liberty (12-1) at 7:30 p.m. next Friday at the Tacoma Dome. It is the seventh time in nine years the Wolverines have played for the title.
As much as Bellevue’s passing game came as a surprise, it was the defense and special teams that sealed the victory.
It was the defense — specifically, middle linebacker John Kanongata’a — that recovered fumbles on the first two Union drives, and set up the first of four Race Sciabica field goals.
Sciabica was 4 for 4, equaling his regular-season total.
“It’s a nice, laid-back job,” Sciabica said. “I show up, do my thing and get to leave a little bit earlier than everyone else. I love it.”
It was the Wolverines’ special-teams unit that blew open a huge hole for Brayden Van Ackeren on the second-half kickoff, resulting in a 97-yard return for a touchdown.
“We had a pretty good idea where they were going to go with it and how we were going to set up the return,” said Goncharoff, whose team didn’t score an offensive touchdown. “We’ve got some good returners and Brayden broke it. That was huge.”
But in the third quarter, after Union (11-2) got a 35-yard touchdown pass from Brandon Weller to Mitch Saylor, it was that spread offense that preserved a Bellevue drive. On third-and-7, Kendrick Van Ackeren scrambled for 9 yards and a first down. A 37-yard field goal by Sciabica capped the 15-play, 74-yard drive that took 9 minutes, 14 seconds.
“They had a whole army in the box,” said Kendrick Van Ackeren, who completed 3 of 6 passes for 45 yards. “We were just thinking, if we spread them out, everything will work better.”
After a 35-6 loss to Bellevue in the title game last year, Union kept the score closer. The fourth-ranked Titans from Vancouver gave the No. 1 Wolverines one of their toughest tests of the season.
“We stood toe-to-toe,” Union coach Cale Piland said. “We took their best shot and they took our best shot. What oftentimes happens in a game of this magnitude, it’s a break here or there that really changes the game. But I’m really proud of our kids and their effort.”
Bellevue — Race Sciabica 30 FG
Bellevue — Race Sciabica 42 FG
Bellevue — Brayden Van Ackeren 97 kickoff return (Race Sciabica kick)
Union — Mitch Saylor 35 pass from Brandon Weller (kick blocked)
Bellevue — Race Sciabica 37 FG
Bellevue — Race Sciabica 25 FG
Union — Nathaniel Penaranda 4 run (Jed Barnett kick)
|Time of Possession||28:39||19:21|
Rushing — Bellevue, Kendrick Van Ackeren 6-43, David Nguyen 12-38, Joey Mangialardi 10-37, Joe Joe Connor 3-9, Freddie Levine 4-3, Sean Coley 2-0, team 3-(minus 6). Union, Nathaniel Penaranda 14-65, Brandon Weller 12-34, Zak Browning 1-0, Mitch Saylor, 1-(minus 5).
Passing — Bellevue, Kendrick Van Ackeren 3-6-0-45, Sean Coley 0-1-0-0. Union, Brandon Weller 12-14-0-139.
Receiving — Bellevue, Brayden Van Ackeren 2-25, John Kanongata’a 1-20. Union, Mitch Saylor 5-103, Taylor Nelson 1-12, Blake Russell 1-9, TJ Boatright 1-9, Nathaniel Penaranda 4-6.