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Bellevue one win from sixth straight 3A state title | Prep football news
Three years ago, Bellevue senior Budda Baker was just one of many postseason call-ups as the Wolverines won another 3A state championship.
When the Wolverines take the field in the Tacoma Dome Friday for the 3A state title game against Eastside Catholic, his effort will belie the growth that has taken place since and made him the state's top football prospect in the Class of 2014.
"When I got called up and had to play against the older guys, they beat me up into the guy I am today," he said. "It is a true blessing."
Despite Baker only receiving two touches last week in Spokane, Bellevue had little trouble taking care of Shadle Park in a 66-0 win.
He began the season with a two touchdown, six tackle game against Skyline and scored three more times the following week in a rout of Bothell. During the playoffs, he owns a two score game against Glacier Peak and a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage in the win over Peninsula in the quarterfinals.
Head coach Butch Goncharoff has repeatedly said Baker is the best player in the state and among the best he's ever coached. But it has been a number of playmakers around him, including Max and Sam Richmond, Mustafa Branch and even dual-threat sophomore quarterback Justus Rogers who Goncharoff said have made the difference on another title game run.
"I think we are just executing well," he said. "The young guys have been some good, some bad. Now it is starting to click."
Eastside Catholic graduated 25 seniors from last year's team, which lost 35-3 to Bellevue in its first trip to the finals, and has also relied heavily on a number of underclassmen in 2013. That group is headlined by quarterback Harley Kirsch, who has a completion percentage just shy of 70, 34 touchdowns and only a single interception on the year.
"He looks really good," Goncharoff said of Kirsch. "They're just kind of business as usual."
Sophomore Brandon Wellington has proven a viable threat through the air and on the ground for the Crusaders, especially in the absence of senior Henry Jarvis. His second half touchdown run made the margin three scores last week in the semi-final win and he added two interceptions of Irish quarterback Pierre Le Dorze for a defense that held O'Dea to its lowest point total of the year.
EC coaches and players know it will take a similar effort this week against a Bellevue team that has been held under 40 points only twice on the year.
"They're dynamic athletically and they're big and physical," EC head coach Jeremy Thielbahr said of the Wolverines. "We have to match their physicality and that is what most people can't do."
Slowing the Bellevue offense has proven a near-impossible task for not only 2013 opponents, but nearly everyone they have faced since their current winning streak began in 2010. That makes preparation unique for the Crusaders, who have looked far and wide for game film of teams who were able to slow the Wolverines' vaunted system in the past.
"It's pretty funny, we've watched a lot of different games," he said, noting the caliber of quarterbacks who have led their teams to wins over Bellevue.
That group includes Kellen Moore, a Prosser product who posted a 50-3 record in four years as the starter at Boise State, unofficially the highest winning percentage in college football history. Max Browne, the nation's top quarterback prospect in last year's class, completed the feat as a sophomore in 2010 with the help of Parade Player of the Year Kasen Williams at wide receiver. But even he was unable to out-duel the Wolverines the following year, throwing three interceptions in a 34-17 loss as a junior.
"They had pretty incredible quarterbacks," he said. "But we have a pretty incredible quarterback."
For Bellevue, the challenge of beating Kirsch and the Crusaders to bring home another state title is the goal, but not the focus. Goncharoff said his message to the team was simple at the start of the week: enjoy your time together, because it is about to end.
"It's a grind," he said of the season and playoff push, which began back in August. "It's not easy to get there, it is damn hard."