SAMMAMISH — While the state’s high-school scene hoped to return to normal during the COVID-19 pandemic, Eastside Catholic football coach Dominic Daste and the rest of his coaching staff were in a panic.
And that was less than 24 hours before the season opener.
After a phone call at 8:30 on Thursday night, Daste learned of a positive COVID test within his program. That led to holding out 24 players, including 10 starters, as the 2021 season kicked off.
The Crusaders, led by defensive coordinator Marcus Ungaro making the calls over video chat to other coaches in the booth, more than patched all the holes, especially on defense, to claim a 23-8 victory over Kennedy Catholic in a nonleague clash of tradition-rich football powers on Friday night in front of a home crowd.
“This feels pretty good, but the last 24 hours for us have been hard,” Daste said. “So, the defensive staff and offensive jumped on (a chat) at 11 o’clock last night to put together a game plan. We had kids who played who had no idea they were going to play, some in different positions.
“It was a team effort. We played as a team tonight. I cannot say enough about our coaching staff. For us to play well with adversity in our face, I couldn’t be happier.”
With an in-game injury to linebacker Dallas Daley, Eastside Catholic (1-0), No. 4 in 3A by The Associated Press, finished the game without all three of its starting linebackers, one of the strengths of the team. Still, they managed to stifle Kennedy, ranked No. 8 in Class 4A and one of the state’s most prolific offenses under sixth-year coach Sheldon Cross.
The Crusaders outgained Kennedy, 247 yards to 175, as the Lancers attempt to restart after the graduation of quarterback Sam Huard, who finished his career as Washington state’s all-time passing leader (13,214 yards).
Eastside Catholic forced Huard’s successor, Mason Hayes, into a pair of fumbles and a pair of interceptions as the Lancers turned the ball over five times.
“That’s a proud, championship team that’s won multiple state championships,” Cross said of the Crusaders, who won the last two state titles in Class 3A in 2018 and 2019 as the 2020 postseason was scrapped during the pandemic.
“Hats off to Dom Daste getting those kids ready to play. They made the plays when they needed to make them. Their quarterback Brady (McKelheer) made some throws when he had to.”
University of Washington coach Jimmy Lake was on the sidelines during pregame warm-ups, talking with both head coaches. One player, junior lineman, Micah Banuelos of Kennedy, might be the main reason Lake ventured out, but there was plenty of high-level talent on display.
A pair of Lancers turnovers helped Eastside Catholic hike its lead to 16-0 at the end of the first quarter. First, Carson Russell kicked a 24-yard field goal with 3:03 left in the first after Nehemiah Faleulu’s fumble recovery. Then, Dallas Sooto bulled in for a 14-yard TD run as the first quarter ended after Gabe Hoffman’s interception when teammate Samuel Burroughs hit Hayes as he was throwing.
Kennedy pulled to 16-8 right before halftime, driving 54 yards to score in the final 1:40 of the half.
Lamont Richardson hauled in a 7-yard touchdown pass from Hayes immediately after a 3-yard loss on a pass from Hayes as time ran out in the first half. Then, Hayes hit Richardson on a two-point conversion pass from 23 yards after two Lancers penalties forced them to go for it instead of kicking the PAT.
Quiten Chandler raced over the left side for a 10-yard TD run to boost the Crusaders’ lead to 23-8 with 9:17 left in the game.
The Lancers had no response as Hayes threw an interception and fumbled within a 2:37 span, the last turnover on a hit by Faleulu and fumble recovery by Tyler Hill for Eastside Catholic.
On its first possession, EC took a 7-0 lead on a beautiful touchdown strike from quarterback McKelheer to Daley in the back left corner of the end zone with 7:29 left in the first quarter.