BURIEN — Kennedy Catholic football coach Sheldon Cross could only smile and laugh when his players showered him with an ice bath after the first unbeaten season in school history.
It was a challenging season, ruled by lots of waiting amid a global pandemic, and played some eight months after its original slot in the fall sports lineup.
The only thing missing for the undefeated NPSL 4A champion Lancers (6-0) was hoisting the Class 4A state championship trophy on a cold, wet December night, the traditional way a titlist would in Washington during a normal football season.
But it was clear that nothing — not even a pandemic — could steal Kennedy Catholic’s joy on this uncharacteristically warm 82-degree afternoon as the Lancers raced to another stat-filled victory, this time a season-ending 54-14 domination of Mount Rainier on Saturday at Highline Stadium. Saturday was the end of the football season King County and most of the state is done too.
“It’s tough because every coach that we’ve played has said, ‘Coach, you guys would’ve won the whole thing,” said Cross, whose team outgained the Rams 498 yards to 196 in total offense even without star quarterback Sam Huard, who enrolled early at University of Washington after playing three games and breaking the state career passing record. “We’ve been good to everybody and took the starters out (in the second half) and just run clock. The only that was going to be the saving grace (to winning a state title) was if we won every week and went 6-0.
“If we did that, we did everything we could and that’s all we can control and that’s all we get. That was our state championship.”
All the Lancers have now are the memories of a unique campaign in which they conquered NPSL 4A foes by an average of 52.8 points to 11.8.
“We’ve been training since June, and it’s 450 days since we had a season, and I think this is the best our team has ever been out of all the years,” said Kennedy Catholic receiver Junior Alexander, who finished his career with 63 TD catches, tied for No. 3 on state’s the all-time career touchdowns list with Hockinson’s Sawyer Racanelli (now a Husky). “There’s no doubt we would’ve won the state championship this year.”
Cross said goodbye to 11 seniors, who he pulled from the game one by one to honor starting late in the third quarter. Each senior got a heartfelt hug from Cross when they came to sidelines one final time.
“It makes me want to cry that these guys wanted to play their senior year,” Cross said. “If there was ever a group of kids where these guys didn’t want to play their final games, I would’ve understood.”
Saturday was a typical team effort as sophomore quarterback Mason Hayes, in just his third start, completed 15 of 22 passes for 349 yards and six touchdowns.
Senior running back Leland Ward made the most of his four touches, piling up 123 yards rushing and 51 receiving. He delivered a 90-yard TD run late in the second quarter as Kennedy built a 46-7 halftime lead and hauled in a 51-yard TD pass midway through the third quarter to trigger a running clock as the Lancers went ahead 54-7.
Kennedy’s stable of Pac-12-bound wide receivers had their moments too, each capping their senior final in style. Washington State-bound Reed Shumpert caught three passes for 96 yards and two touchdowns. Arizona State commit Alexander collected three passes for 77 yards including one for a 50-yard TD strike. UW-bound Jabez Tinae grabbed three passes for 79 yards, including a screen that went to the house from 81 yards out.
“Big shout out to our defense,” Tinae said. “They played really good. I think we wouldn’t have gotten here without them.”
Said Shumpert: “I think this is the best our defense has ever played. They jelled together so well this year. I don’t think anyone would’ve have been able to touch us in the state this year.”
The Lancers, who checked in No. 3 in MaxPreps.com’s Washington state rankings, finished the season with three consecutive victories without Huard.
“We broke records, and we did a lot of damage,” said Alexander, who finished his career with 4,032 yards receiving for sixth on the state’s all-time list, just one slot ahead of Tinae (4,030).
The Lancers might not ever see as talented of a receiving corp as the one that finished up this season.
“This group was so good at everybody getting the ball and everybody having equal touches in a game,” Cross said.
But the season was played, even if not under ideal conditions, and that was plenty to celebrate.
“I think we took this season as an opportunity to grow, learn and handle adversity,” Mount Rainier coach Tremain Mack said after his team finished 0-4, losing two games for COVID-related reasons. “We teach in our program to handle adversity positively. We had a lot of young kids and I think we learned a lot.”