On paper, the Bellevue Wolverines (7-2) didn’t need to win the game against the Mercer Island Islanders (3-6). Their spot in the district playoffs was already secured, but there was still plenty on the line for both teams. Bellevue pulled away in the second half to defeat Mercer Island, 53-14, in the regular-season finale on Nov. 1.
Bellevue head coach Michael Kneip said the rivalry game between the two teams always creates a fun atmosphere for the players and fans.
“(Mercer Island) gave us a good test, they were ready to play. That’s like their Super Bowl and that’s what you kind of get. It’s the same thing as when Washington State comes over to play the University of Washington, it’s the same type of feeling,” Kneip, a former offensive lineman for the University of Washington, said. “There’s a weird bitterness between the two programs because of all the lacrosse players, or whatever it is, you can feel it at practice, it’s fun.”
Bellevue opened the scoring with a 2-yard touchdown run from quarterback Bryson Sleeper, giving the Wolverines a 6-0 lead with 2:32 left in the first quarter.
After the Wolverines recovered an Islanders fumble on the ensuing kickoff, Bellevue moved the ball down to the Mercer Island 6-yard line. Bellevue gave the ball back to the Islanders when running back Alex Reid lost the ball at the goal line.
With the Islanders starting at their own 1-yard line, Mercer Island Nathan Buchan was swallowed up by the Wolverines defense for a safety to make it an 8-0 game late in the first quarter.
In their first drive of the second quarter, Sleeper found the end zone again with a 6-yard touchdown run to put Bellevue up 15-0 with 11:29 left in the quarter. After the defense forced a Mercer Island punt, Sleeper ran for his third touchdown of the game from 1-yard out to give the Wolverines a 22-0 lead with 7:45 left in the first half.
The Islanders answered back with a 22-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Liam Rogan to tight end Owen Baebler to cut Bellevue’s lead to 22-7 with 3:40 left in the first half. Bellevue responded with a touchdown drive of its own, set up by a 53-yard run from running back Alex Reid, and capped off by a 13-yard touchdown run from running back Joby Schneider to make it a 29-7 game late in the second quarter.
Mercer Island made it a two-possession game with three seconds left in the second quarter when Rogan threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Luke Shavey to make it 29-14 at halftime. Kneip said Bellevue took too many penalties in the first half.
“The first half, we were so sloppy. We went back to that week-one feeling,” Kneip said. “It’s probably good to get that out of our system now instead of next week.”
Matulino Masunu, an offensive lineman and defensive end for the Wolverines, said they didn’t play physical enough in the first half, something they addressed at halftime.
“We adjusted, we came out and we shut them down and shut them out in the second half,” Masunu said.
In the third quarter, Bellevue extended its lead to 39-14 with a 36-yard field goal from Nicholas Barros-Barreto and an 18-yard touchdown run from Reid.
Bellevue added two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter, a 25-yard touchdown run from running back William Wang and a 36-yard touchdown run from wide receiver Chase Taylor.
With a young team, Kneip said they will have to stay focused in the playoffs.
“The season duration is going to be the challenging part now,” Kneip said. “It’s all about continuing to get better and working. Our goal is a state championship, and I’ll say that as long as I’m here. That’s our goal.”
Masunu said the team can only worry about what they control, and that begins with working hard at practice.
“At practice, we’re obviously going to amp it up some more,” Masunu said. “We have to stay more focused. Next week is win or lose, and you have to go home if you lose. We have to amp up our practice and amp up our focus. It comes down to what we do in practice. If we don’t prepare properly in practice, it’s going to be a bad game.”