The top-ranked Bellevue Wolverines held off KingCo rival Liberty for their 11th consecutive victory, giving them their seventh state title this decade.
TACOMA — When the game ended, Bellevue quarterback Joe Joe Conner went straight for the nearest senior.
He hugged Julious Moore, the big defensive tackle who had a bigger sack in the fourth quarter.
He hugged David Nguyen, who rushed for 105 yards and two touchdowns.
He wrapped up Brayden VanAckeren, who had returned a kickoff for a touchdown in the semifinals against Union.
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He threw a bear hug around Will Fields, who had scooped up a fumble and returned it for a score when Bellevue beat Liberty in the regular season.
The senior made a point to find his teammates, beginning the celebration Friday night at the Tacoma Dome after the Wolverines had won their seventh state championship in nine years, holding off Liberty’s late charge in a 23-17 victory.
“Those are the guys you win with,” Conner said. “These are the guys you’ve been with since you were in third grade. This is what we worked for. It’s so special.”
From the start, Bellevue took away the Patriots’ biggest asset — their high-powered offense — by keeping the ball out of the hands of juniors Trey Wheeler, Jake Bainton and Chandler Jenkins. The Wolverines (12-2) plodded down the field with their wing-T offense to keep the clock moving on the opening drive of the game. They marched 80 yards in 17 plays, eating up 8 minutes, 55 seconds of the first quarter.
Conner capped the drive with a 13-yard run.
“We played two of the best teams in the country to start the season,” Bellevue coach Butch Goncharoff said. “We started out 0-2. We lost kids [to injuries]. People were counting us out and we battled and kept it together.”
After having the ball for a total of 26 seconds in the first quarter, Liberty was in trouble. Then Jenkins ripped off a 72-yard touchdown run.
“Give Liberty credit,” Goncharoff said. “They played their butts off. [Coach] Steve [Valach] is one of the coolest guys in the world and they battled.”
But, after another 12-play drive, the Wolverines went up 16-7 after a 3-yard run by Nguyen. At the end of the half, Liberty had run only seven plays — three passes, three runs (one a sack) and a punt. The Patriots had the ball for a total of 1:51.
“They just kept us off the field,” Valach said.
The second half was a different story entirely. Liberty (12-2) looked to conjure up a little more late magic, mounting one more comeback. Jenkins cut Bellevue’s lead to two after a 15-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter.
But when the Wolverines needed one final drive to seal the victory, they got it. They went for it on fourth-and-two from the Patriots’ 28. Goncharoff let the players decide what play they would run. They put the ball in Conner’s hands.
He converted, and two plays later Nguyen scored on a 23-yard run.
“We fought so hard this year, so many yards of sleds,” Moore said. “No one thought we could do it. Especially after our first two losses, everyone counted us out. We’re back, man. We got it done.”
Mason Kelley: 206-464-8277 or email@example.com
Bellevue — Joe Joe Conner 13 run (kick failed)
Bellevue — Race Sciabica 26 FG
Liberty — Chandler Jenkins 72 run (Dean Byron kick)
Bellevue — David Nguyen 3 run (Sciabica kick)
Liberty — Jenkins 15 run (Byron kick)
Bellevue — Nguyen 23 run (Sciabica kick)
Liberty — Byron 37 FG
|Time of Possession||34:30||13:30|
Rushing — Bellevue, David Nguyen 22-105, Joey Mangialardi 14-56, Sean Coley 9-46, Joe Joe Conner 8-33, Freddie Levine 3-19, Kendrick Van Ackeren 1-1. Liberty, Chandler Jenkins 6-110, Tei Staladi 4-10, Trey Wheeler 5-(-6), Jake Bainton 3-1.
Passing — Bellevue, Kendrick Van Ackeren 3-4-0-42. Liberty, Trey Wheeler 10-21-0-111.
Receiving — Bellevue, David Nguyen 3-42. Liberty, Jake Bainton 4-50, Cameron Talley 2-23, Troy Colyer 1-23, Peter Wiggum 3-15.