TACOMA — It started with a promise.
Four years ago at an end-of-season banquet, first-year Eastside Catholic football coach Jeremy Thielbahr promised a room full of freshmen a state title.
Thielbahr fulfilled that promise Friday night, as No. 2 Eastside Catholic of Sammamish stunned No. 1 Bellevue 35-13 to capture the Class 3A state title. The school’s first championship ended the Wolverines’ run of six straight and stopped their state-record 67-game winning streak.
“I don’t make a lot of promises,” Thielbahr said. “I said, ‘Hey, I promise you’re going to win the state championship.’ Yesterday, I said, ‘Hey guys, juniors, sophomores, freshmen, you got to help me keep my promise.’ And I’ll tell you what, we did.”
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After losing in the last two championship games to Bellevue, everything Eastside Catholic did this year was to get it ready for the state title game, one they anticipated would be against Bellevue. From scheduling a tough non-conference slate to implementing different offensive looks each week during the season, Eastside Catholic geared up.
The final look was a Crusader team that depended heavily on running back/linebacker Brandon Wellington on both sides of the ball, but also one that gained contributions from nearly every player.
“We believed in ourselves the whole way,” Wellington said. “Nobody would believe in us, so we had to stay true to us. It makes it so much more sweeter.”
Despite the heavy emphasis on a new-look offense that incorporated a non-traditional read-option and a wildcat formation, it was something out of the old pro style play book midway through the third quarter that changed the game.
Harley Kirsch hit Devon Arbis-Jackson in stride on Bellevue’s 17-yard line, the junior stopped on a dime, spun around and sprinted toward the end zone. Arbis-Jackson stiff-armed Bellevue linebacker Mustafa Branch at the 10 and dragged two more Bellevue players, Ross Connors and Jack Michael, the remaining five yards into the end zone for a 28-yard touchdown to give the Crusaders a 21-13 lead with 6:57 left in the quarter.
“He makes my life so easy and so thankful for him because … he can take it from anywhere,” Kirsch said.
The touchdown was important. The momentum was crucial. The Crusaders (13-1) backed up the score with a fourth-down stop on defense, keyed by a sack from senior linebacker Arend Broekmate. Wellington punched the ball in from one yard out on the ensuing drive to give EC a 28-13 lead.
That’s when it went from bad to worse for Bellevue, which was unable to recover an Eastside Catholic onside kick. Broekmate, who finished with six tackles and two sacks, emerged from the pile with the ball.
Wellington, who finished with 33 carries for 110 yards and three touchdowns, again finished the drive when he rumbled in for a one-yard touchdown that made it 35-13 for the Crusaders.
Kirsch was tremendous in executing the offense, going 20 of 22 for 188 yards and two touchdowns. The junior also ran for 94 yards.
Ercle Terrell, who finished with 76 yards on three rushes, put Bellevue in position to take an early lead after scampering 72 yards to the Eastside Catholic three-yard line on the Wolverines’ first drive. Sam Richmond eventually scored from five yards out to give Bellevue a 7-0 lead.
Wellington answered with a nine-yard touchdown run, breaking a couple tackles on the way into the end zone.
Bellevue needed two plays to retake the lead, with Isaiah Gilchrist finding the edge on a sweep and outrunning the defense for a 56-yard touchdown, but a fumbled hold on the extra point cost the Wolverines.
That was the last time Bellevue, held to four first downs, scored. The end result was a four-year-old promise fulfilled.
Bellevue 7 6 0 0 – 13
Eastside Catholic 0 14 7 14 – 35
Bell – Sam Richmond 5 run (Kian Khodamorad kick)
EC – Brandon Wellington 9 run (Juan Sacchi kick)
Bell – Isaiah Gilchrist 56 run (Campbell Adding rush fail)
EC – Hunter Bryant 6 pass from Harley Kirsch (Sacchi kick)
EC – Devon Arbis 28 pass from Kirsch (Sacchi kick)
EC – Wellington 1 run (Sacchi kick)
EC – Wellington 1 run (Sacchi kick)
First downs 4 24
Rushes-yards 158 226
Passing yards 0 188
Comp-Att-Int 0-3-0 20-22-0
Return yards 35 10
Punts-Avg 2-17 0-0
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 1-1
Penalties-Yards 2-15 6-35
Time of Possession 11:17 34:09