TACOMA -- Down-to-the-wire championship games between two 1A powerhouses? Check.
Big plays by Connell's Matt Hadley and Cascade Christian's Tyler Walrath? Double check.
The Cougars' passing game proving to be the decisive factor? Ch ... wait. What?
That's right. Cascade Christian, that run-happy bunch from Puyallup featuring a full-house backfield, finally broke through for the 1A state title thanks to their passing game.
Kyle Stennes threw for 314 yards and four touchdowns as the Cougars rolled up 461 yards of offense in the 42-35 thriller Saturday morning at the Tacoma Dome.
"We saw that we could throw," said Cascade Christian coach Randy Davis, who has watched his team finish second the previous two seasons, including a 28-7 loss to Connell last season. "We've been a running team all year, and teams that know us, they know us as a run-first team and they've loaded the box and forced us to throw. Kyle has answered the bell all year long."
No doubt the lion's share of the credit goes to the Cougars. Their receivers ran good routes, their line kept the pressure off Stennes, and the senior quarterback clicked on 13 of 24 passes.
However, there were too many instances where Connell's defensive backs let receivers get behind them or simply lost track of them altogether.
"We had a good game plan, but our pass coverage was our Achilles' heel," said Hadley, not only a record-breaking running back but also a safety. "We just didn't do a very good job, and they kept making big plays."
Walrath, like Hadley a league MVP, scored on a 44-yard catch and run late in the first quarter when the defense allowed him the entire left side of the field. That after he broke off a 39-yard TD run earlier in the game.
Connell's defense was on the cusp of getting off the field numerous times, only to watch Stennes find a wide open target on third-and-long for a first down.
"We felt like we'd be able to throw the ball," Stennes said. "We've played well all season. We have three great running backs, and I trust all my receivers to catch the ball. And the line did a great job -- that was huge."
Indeed, had the game been played on the muddiest of fields rather than the sleek Tacoma Dome turf, Stennes' uniform still wouldn't have needed much of a wash.
He was pressured little and only had to pick himself off the turf once, when Alan Hawkins came hard off the end and forced him to get rid of the ball.
Aside from that, Stennes was able to stand in the pocket and wait for his targets to come open. Walrath caught three balls for 104 yards and two scores; tight end Joshua Schreffler five for 140 and two TDs, including a 75-yarder; Jake Archer five for 70.
Stennes wasn't of a mind to talk about his big numbers, spreading the praise all around. And he was most happy about finally winning a title after two previous near misses.
"We're not going to be the Bills!" he proclaimed.