After a season that saw five forfeits, the Wildcats finish undefeated with a 56-14 blowout of Liberty in the title game.
TACOMA — Archbishop Thomas Murphy showcased its beautiful brand of football Saturday.
Senior quarterback Connor Johnson threw touchdown passes of 60, 51, 64, 50 and 69 yards to help the Wildcats defeat Liberty of Issaquah 56-14 at the Tacoma Dome to win the Class 2A state crown. It’s ATM’s first football championship since winning two in Class 1A in 2002-03.
“This is magical,” said Johnson after kissing the bronzed football atop the trophy. Utilizing the controlled indoor setting to throw slightly more than normal for the Wildcats, Johnson completed 10 of 12 passes for 356 yards and five touchdowns.
His first was a 60-yard rainbow to junior Ray Pimentel to give Archbishop Murphy a 7-0 lead 50 seconds into the game. The last was 69 yards to senior Anfernee Gurley for a 49-7 advantage in the third quarter, triggering the running-clock mercy rule.
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Johnson’s five scores tied a Class 2A championship-game record (by Jeff Bannum of Meridian in 1999) for most touchdown passes. The 56 points scored were just one off the 2A state championship-game record set by Meridian in 1999.
“Our (offensive) line completely dominated them in the passing game,” he said. “It was like I was in a La-Z-Boy, chilling in the backfield when I was waiting to pass the ball.”
Johnson’s metaphor was also a reality for ATM this season. He binged-watched the cartoon “Bob’s Burgers” because of five Cascade Conference teams forfeiting games against the Wildcats (14-0).
Parents and players of the conference opponents said safety concerns in playing a team with NFL-sized talent was the reasoning for the forfeits.
The controversy made the school of 500 students located in Everett the epicenter for debates about private-school advantages, what quitting teaches kids and making football safe. Interest spanned the globe and was a punchline for comedian Jimmy Fallon ont the “Tonight Show.”
“I’d like to thank them,” said Gurley of the forfeiting opponents. “It sucks to get half of your senior season taken away, but we knew we’d get playoff games so we weren’t really worried. … The season taught me a lot about dealing with adversity, resiliency and being strong to power through some things.”
ATM coach Jerry Jensen countered the controversy with how the majority of the senior class had a 3-6 record as freshmen and two of its Cascade Conference opponents are also private schools, receiving the same 50-mile radius to draw students according to Washington Interscholastic Activities Association rules. King’s played its game against ATM this year, losing 38-0 in Week 3.
Jensen smiled as he glanced over at some of those seniors passing the massive trophy around for photos.
The Wildcats advanced to the state semifinals last year, losing 24-21 to Tumwater. ATM defeated the Thunderbirds 48-10 in the quarterfinals.
“They’ve been through a lot in their four years,” Jensen said. “They’ve seen the program at the bottom and worked hard and fought tooth and nail to get back to where they are now. There were some setbacks along the way. … I’m just really proud of them.”
Liberty coach Steve Valach felt the same about his team despite the loss. The Patriots (12-1) were last in a championship game in 2009 when it lost to Bellevue for a Class 3A title.
“They believed,” he said of his team. “We just didn’t have enough bullets to fire and Archbishop Murphy is obviously a great team.”