Sophomore Matt Hadley rushed for 107 yards and a touchdown as Connell, which won a 2A title in 2002, claimed the school's first 1A championship.
TACOMA — Miles away, serving his Morman mission, Spencer Hadley had words of wisdom for his younger brother.
“Don’t let this moment pass you by,” Spencer wrote in his weekly e-mail to Connell sophomore Matt Hadley last Monday.
Matt didn’t. He rushed for a game-high 107 yards and scored a key touchdown just before halftime as the Eagles captured their first Class 1A football championship with a 28-7 victory over Cascade Christian of Puyallup Saturday at the Tacoma Dome.
It’s a title that eluded Spencer, a member of the Connell teams that lost in the finals in 2006 and ’07 before heading to BYU to play football last year.
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“It hurts,” Spencer reminded Matt.
Connell senior Michael Casper remembers the sting of defeat, too.
“That was my No. 1 motivator,” Casper said. “I just remember the feeling after we lost. I couldn’t bear it.”
Neither could senior Shane Didier, who made sure the Eagles wouldn’t have to. Didier, nephew of former NFL player Clint Didier, made huge plays on both sides of the ball. He turned a short pass into an 85-yard touchdown late in the first quarter and caught a 3-yard TD toss in the second.
Didier also intercepted a pass and knocked down two others.
The Eagles (14-0), who won a 2A title in 2002, took a 21-0 lead with just four seconds left in the first half as quarterback Nate Martinez hit Hadley with a pass over the middle and Hadley turned it into a 42-yard TD.
“That was huge,” Connell coach Wayne Riner said.
Cascade Christian (13-1), which lost in the title game for the second straight year, rallied at the start of the third quarter behind the running of junior Colton Faverty, who didn’t have a carry in the first half. Faverty accounted for all 55 yards on the five-play drive, breaking a 28-yard run for the score.
The Cougars then recovered an onside kick, but couldn’t capitalize. Connell iced the game with a 13-play, 69-yard drive that ate up more than seven minutes and made it 28-7 with 3:11 to play.
Cascade Christian was back in the final despite graduating 18 starters.
“I was proud of last year’s team, but I don’t know if I’ve ever been prouder of a team than this team,” coach Randy Davis said. “No one at the beginning of the year thought we’d be here.”