Bellevue is well known for its rushing attack, but it was the passing game that led the No. 7 Wolverines past the No. 10 Lakes Lancers 31-14, in the first round of the 3A state football tournament on Nov. 15 at Bellevue High School.
Bellevue tight end Joshua Goates caught two first-quarter touchdowns and the Wolverines defense forced three turnovers to lead them into the quarterfinals where they will face the No. 2 seed Eastside Catholic Crusaders. The game will be at 4 p.m. on Nov. 23 at Memorial Stadium in Seattle.
Bellevue head coach Michael Kneip said the Lancers were loading the box to stop the run, which opened up the opportunity to throw the ball.
“That was fun,” Kneip said. “Our kids want to have fun and they want to score.”
The Wolverines took an early 7-0 lead courtesy of a 30-yard touchdown pass from Alex Reid to Goates with 6:40 left in the first quarter. The Bellevue defense forced a Lancers fumble on the ensuing drive, giving the ball back to the offense at midfield. It took the Wolverines only three plays to find the end zone again, this time a 46-yard touchdown throw from quarterback Bryson Sleeper to Goates to put Bellevue up 14-0 after the first quarter.
In the second quarter, the Bellevue offense controlled the clock, putting together a nine-minute long drive that ended with Lancers defensive back Jaedon Hall intercepting a pass in the end zone to keep the score at 14-0 at halftime.
Bellevue opened the second half with a 30-yard field goal from Nicholas Barros-Barreto to extend its lead to 17-0 with less than seven minutes left in the third quarter.
The Lancers made it a 17-6 game late in the third quarter thanks to a 28-yard pass from Brennan to wide receiver Tyler Mackay.
Bellevue scored on its opening fourth-quarter drive with a 26-yard touchdown run from Reid to make it a 24-6 game with nine minutes left. The Lancers answered back with a 30-yard touchdown pass from Brennan, followed by a successful two-point conversion, to cut the Bellevue lead to 24-14 with 7:28 left. On the ensuing drive, Reid found the end zone again with a 31-yard touchdown run to put the Wolverines up 31-14 with 5:25 left.
After the Lakes offense marched down the field, Bellevue forced a fumble at the goal line to secure the victory.
Kneip said the Lancers are a very physical, well-coached team that was probably a tougher opponent than some of the players expected to face in the first round. In the final Associated Press poll, the Wolverines were ranked No. 4 amongst 3A teams, but they were given the No. 7 seed by the seeding committee.
“I didn’t have to motivate them this week, they were scratching their heads like, ‘What’s the deal with this?’” Kneip said. “But (the Pierce County League) is a great league and that’s good for us and our confidence. We’ve got to beat everyone anyways, that’s what it comes down to.”
Reid, who ran for two touchdowns and threw for another, said the team came in prepared for the game. Reid said after an uncharacteristic passing attack in the first half, the Wolverines went back to their running game to control the clock.
“We got stuck in a couple of third-and-longs, so we had to pass to get out of those situations and it turned out the guy was wide open so we got lucky with those,” Reid said. “Later in the game we stuck to the run, our bread and butter, and shoved it down their throats, took over the clock and ran the game.”
After their 57-21 victory over Meadowdale on Nov. 8, Kneip challenged his defense to be better, and they responded this week by forcing two fumbles and an interception by defensive back Minwoo Eom. Kneip said the turnovers are big because they give the ball back to the offense, who can run down the clock and control the game.
The win sets up a rematch of last year’s semifinal game, a 41-3 victory for Eastside Catholic. Reid said the team is excited to get another shot at the team that ended their season last year.
“Coming off that loss last year, we’re still begging for a chance to play them again,” Reid said. “We felt like we could have played better, we had a lot of mental mistakes. We’re going to come fully prepared and ready to play.”
Kneip said that the game against the Crusaders is personal for his team. Eastside Catholic has a plethora of talented players with scholarship offers from Division I programs that will surely test the Wolverines.
“Everyone walks out against Eastside Catholic and is like, ‘Wow, that guy has like 65 offers,’ but luckily this isn’t college football, this is high school football,” Kneip said. “They’re high school kids just like us, they go to class and all that kind of stuff. It’s just about putting belief in our heads.”
Going up against the Crusaders, Kneip said the players need to trust each other and not let the moment get too big.
“It should be fun,” Kneip said. “There’s so much history with these two programs and you couldn’t ask for a better matchup.”