SEATTLE – Mt. Spokane’s defense had four shutouts in the Greater Spokane League season, and added a fifth in its first playoff game, a round-of-32 matchup against Gig Harbor.
But they had not met Eastside Catholic.
The Crusaders scored on their first four drives, converting several third-and-longs, and cruised to a 38-14 victory against the Wildcats in a State 3A quarterfinal game Saturda at Memorial Stadium.
“It’s a great team,” Mt. Spokane senior defensive end Ethan Williamson said of Eastside Catholic. “They’ve always been a great team for years. And we gave it our best.”
“We’ve played good defense all year,” Mt. Spokane coach Terry Cloer said. “They’re a good football team, two-time defending state champion for a reason. They’ve been in those situations before and they’ve made those plays and they stepped up today and made them.”
The Eastside Catholic defense hounded Mt. Spokane quarterback Kellen Flanigan all day, limiting him to 15-of-30 passing for 149 yards with two interceptions. The Wildcats had 42 yards rushing, the longest of which was a Flanigan scramble.
“I think just their size, they were big,” Flanigan said. “They were really big up front and we just didn’t have the same size. We battled, though.”
“Their defense is outstanding,” Cloer said. “You know, we’ve seen some fronts like that in the GSL, but they have a front seven that flies around.”
Eastside Catholic took the game’s opening drive to the Mt. Spokane 22-yard line before the drive stalled and Carson Russell drilled a 39-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.
The Wildcats came right back with a 10-play drive resulting in a Blake Speer 4-yard TD run.
EC quarterback Brady McKelheer converted two third-and-longs on the next drive and hit Chris Taylor on a 12-yard slant for a 10-7 lead.
A good punt return set up the Crusaders at the Mt. Spokane 45. McKelheer scrambled for 10 yards then Dallas Daley took it the last 5 yards for at 17-7 lead.
Mt. Spokane was forced to punt again and EC took over at its 33. The Crusaders worked it to the Wildcats 25 and Daley took a screen to the left, found a seam, and went the distance to make it 24-7.
“They made the plays on third down,” Cloer said. “You know, in a game like that in the first half if we make three plays, they erase three scores off the board, so we just needed to make those plays and we didn’t.”
On Mt. Spokane’s next play, Flanigan looked for Jordan Sands on a skinny post, but Tyson Weaver closed quickly for the pick at the Wildcats 27 with 90 seconds to go in the half.
But the half ended on a high note for Mt. Spokane.
On second-and-12 at the 29, McKelheer tried sideline route, but it was overthrown and Bradley Runge corralled it at the 7. He spun out of a tackle and appeared pinned to the sideline, but he sneaked through, broke from the pack and raced the rest of the way to make it a 10-point game at halftime.
“I saw a corner (route), I knew they were gonna throw it,” Runge said. “I just saw him throw the ball, leaped and I saw the sideline open. I knew I had to juke one guy and I knew my speed would take care of the rest.”
The buzz didn’t last in the third quarter.
After another three-and-out for the Wildcats, McKelheer found Daley streaking down the middle of the field for a 69-yard touchdown for another long completion on third down and a 31-14 lead.
With just over 9 minutes to go, Sands made a juggling catch down the left sideline and went 55 yards to the EC 17. Consecutive penalties on the defense gave the Wildcats first-and-goal on the 4.
Flanigan lined up in a slot and came in motion with Ethan Keene at QB. Keene took the shotgun snap and handed to Flanigan, who pulled up to throw. The Crusaders sniffed it out and Flanigan’s tipped pass was intercepted by Weaver, who went 95 yards for a touchdown.
Eastside Catholic recovered an onside kick to keep the ball. The Crusaders converted a fourth-and-5 to the 12, but the Wildcats’ Jackson Kink gathered a picked ball to keep them off the scoreboard again.
“It was rough,” Flanigan said. “We came out and we were prepared. They just had a better day.
“Sometimes you have off days and today wasn’t our day.”
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