Eastside Catholic rallies in the second half for a 48-42 overtime victory after Bellevue held a 28-point lead in the second half of the Class 3A state championship game. The Crusaders beat the Wolverines for the second year in a row to secure consecutive state titles.
TACOMA – Harley Kirsch was not going to be denied.
The Eastside Catholic quarterback endured maybe the worst half of the past two seasons on Friday night at the Tacoma Dome.
His team fell behind the Bellevue Wolverines by 28 points halfway through the third quarter. He threw two interceptions in the first half, the same number he’d thrown total in 13 previous games this season.
at Tacoma Dome
2A final: Tumwater vs. Prosser, 10 a.m.
1A final: King’s vs. Royal, 1 p.m.
2B final: Okanogan vs. Napavine, 4 p.m.
4A final: Skyline vs. Gonzaga Prep, 7:30 p.m.
And suddenly, it all changed as Eastside Catholic stormed back to repeat as the state 3A champs with a 48-42 overtime victory on Brandon Wellington’s 1-yard plunge into the end zone.
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“At the end of the day, we came around,” Kirsch said. “We pulled through at the very end.”
The Crusaders got into position with a pair of shovel passes that netted the first 24 of 25 yards on their overtime possession.
Eastside Catholic had won the coin toss before overtime, chose to play defense first, then blocked Bellevue’s 39-yard field-goal attempt prior to executing the winning drive.
“I just told the team, it’s going to be the greatest comeback in the history of the state championship,” Eastside Catholic coach Jeremy Thielbahr said of his halftime words, with his team trailing 35-14. “I don’t even know if that’s right. But we came back. It was a great first half for them. And it was a great second half for us.”
The Crusaders got the chance thanks to the arm of Kirsch, who completed 21 of 31 passes for 249 yards and three touchdowns. He had connected on only seven of 12 for 65 yards in the first half.
The Crusaders finished the game with minus-5 yards rushing.
“The first half, that might have been one of the worst we’ve played the whole year,” Kirsch said. “To just dig down deep and to do enough to take this to overtime, the team did so great.”
The three Kirsch touchdown passes – 28 and 5 yards to tight end Hunter Bryant, and 4 yards to Matt Laris – came in less than 12 minutes of game time from the 5:06 mark of the third quarter to 5:49 left in the fourth.
By the numbers
6:10 Time left in the third quarter when Bellevue took a 42-14 lead.
1:24 Time left in the fourth quarter when Eastside Catholic tied the score and forced OT on a Brandon Wellington rushing touchdown.
Wellington got the equalizer on a counter draw from 11 yards with 1:24 to go.
Earlier in the game, Wellington had added to his season state record with his eighth kickoff return for a touchdown this season. He took a first-half kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown that got the Crusaders to within 28-14 with 1:38 to go in the second quarter.
That broke the 3A championship game record of 96 yards, set back in 1998 by Capital’s Skyler Fulton.
These two teams have played each other for the title each of the past four seasons. A year ago, Eastside Catholic ended the Wolverines run of six straight championships and Bellevue’s 67-game winning streak with a 35-13 drubbing.
It looked for much of Friday night as though the Wolverines were going to return the favor.
Christoph Hirota took it in from 12 yards out with 6:10 seconds left in the third quarter to stake Bellevue to a 42-14 lead.
The Wolverines had run the ball consistently and effectively to that point, led by Ercle Terrell.
The 5 foot 8 senior finished with 227 yards rushing and four first-half touchdowns on a 3A championship game-tying record 33 carries. Most recently, Wellington had 33 carries against Bellevue a year ago.