BELLEVUE — It’s not how you start in football, it’s how you finish. For the Bellevue Wolverines on Saturday afternoon, the finish was sweet.
The No. 5 seeded Wolverines (8-2) walloped No. 12 Mead in the first round of the Class 3A state football playoffs 41-10 as Bellevue rode its potent rushing attack to a dominant victory that puts it just two wins from their second consecutive state championship game appearance.
Two Bellevue running backs finished with over 100 rushing yards, with senior Ishaan Daniels taking the ball six times for 124 yards and junior Carson Rubin piling up 105 yards on 19 carries.
Eight Wolverine backs combined to finish with 405 yards.
“We preach all the time, everyone’s role is just as important as the next guy’s,” Bellevue coach Michael Kneip said. “The system is the system, but it’s not one guy or two guys and it’s not three guys. Really, we like to give five or six guys the ball evenly and trust the offense, trust the process.”
The Bellevue defense also had a commanding performance, holding the Panthers (8-3) from Spokane to a single touchdown while forcing two fumbles and two interceptions.
While the end result tilted heavily in Bellevue’s favor, the game started out in rough fashion for the Wolverines, as Mead senior Johnny Talarico took the ball 63 yards to the Bellevue 17 on the first play of the game. The Panthers had to settle for a 29-yard field goal from Quinton Pacheco to take a 3-0 lead.
The rest of the first half was all Bellevue.
The Wolverines responded with a methodical 15-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard rushing touchdown from Rubin to put the Wolverines up 7-3.
Rubin carried the ball 11 times for 60 yards on the opening drive.
“They had some good linebackers, but we just kept getting those five, six, seven yard gains,” Rubin said. “That first drive was a long drive, but that really cemented that we knew we could do it, and we kept it rolling on offense.”
Two plays into Mead’s next drive, Bellevue junior Cal Zimmerman got the ball back for the Wolverines by intercepting a pass from Mead quarterback Colby Danielson at the 28-yard line, setting up a 10-play scoring drive that Rubin finished off with another one-yard touchdown run.
After the Wolverines’ defense forced a Mead punt on the next drive, Bellevue added to its lead with a 52-yard touchdown run from Daniels, and continued to pour it on on the next drive when senior George Kruger recovered a Mead fumble near the 30, and returned it to the 1-yard line.
One play later, Lucas Razore scored Bellevue’s fourth touchdown with a 1-yard quarterback keeper, and the Wolverines took a 28-3 lead.
Three minutes later, Bellevue went 65 yards on four plays to score again, with Daniels catching a 35-yard pass from Razore, and Blake Teets taking the ball twice for 30 yards and a touchdown to make it 35-3.
Mead’s troubles continued to mount on its next drive when Bellevue sophomore John O’Connor recovered a Panthers fumble at the 41-yard line. Daniels took the ball 34 yards for a Bellevue touchdown and a 41-3 halftime lead.
The Panthers finally scored on their first drive of the second half when senior Keenan Kuntz hauled in a 43-yard reception from Danielson to put the ball at the 7-yard line, setting up an eventual 3-yard Danielson touchdown pass to Colby Thomas to put the score at its final of 41-10.
The victory puts Bellevue in next week’s state quarterfinals, where the Wolverines will play at No. 4 seed Lincoln (11-0). After winning the Class 3A state championship last season for the first time since it was forced to vacate its 2012 and 2013 titles because of recruiting violations, Bellevue is eager to continue creating a successful new era of Wolverines football.
“Coach Kneip always says, leave the program better than you found it,” Daniels said. “I feel like us, as all grades, are going for that, and we’re hoping to bring the community and the whole school back to where it’s been.”