Most high school football players and coaches spend their entire careers just trying to get one shot at a state title.
The Royal Knights got a chance to win two Class 1A championships in as many years and took advantage, beating SCAC East foe Connell 25-10 on Saturday at the Tacoma Dome. It’s the seventh state championship for the Knights (13-0) and the second time they’ve won it in consecutive years. Royal last did it in 2004 and 2005.
On winning the state title this year versus last year, Royal senior quarterback Kaden Jenks said: “It’s a big difference, knowing this is your last game. This is exactly how every person dreams to go out.”
Wiley Allred was a bit more reserved about winning his sixth state title as the Knights’ coach, but he was pleased to get the job done against a talented Connell team.
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“It feels great,” Allred said. “Every year’s different, and it’s extra special because it was so tough, I think. That’s a great team.”
Locked in a quarterback duel with Connell’s Brian Hawkins, Jenks outshined his counterpart in the end. He had a combined 392 rushing and passing yards, and accounted for all three of Royal’s touchdowns (two passing and one rushing).
Jenks paid the price for his 146 rushing yards on 20 carries, as he limped between plays the entire second half. But nothing was going to keep him from staying on the field.
“I’m a little sore, but it’s wearing off a little with all the winning going on,” Jenks said.
Hawkins had 135 passing yards with a touchdown and picked up 118 yards on the ground, accounting for all but 41 yards of the Eagles’ offense.
“That kid’s a player — he’s a great football player, he’s a great basketball player, he’s a great kid,” Connell coach Wayne Riner said. “He’s a 4.0 student and a fine young man. That’s why it hurts to see him have to go out like this.”
Living up to the expectation that the SCAC East rivals were not only the top two 1A teams in the state, but also two of the most evenly matched teams in any classification, Royal and Connell played to a fitting stalemate in the first half.
Hawkins led the Eagles (12-2) on a 70-yard, game-opening drive that culminated in a 31-yard scoring strike to tight end Steven Kroontje. Connell’s defense looked to be building on the momentum after stopping Royal on its first two offensive snaps, but Jenks avoided a three-and-out in style, hitting Juan Niebla on a deep post route for a 62-yard touchdown to tie it.
On the next two drives, Connell’s Luis Ramos and Royal’s Niebla hit 25-yard field goals, and then Hawkins and Jenks each threw interceptions inside their opponent’s 5-yard line to ensure a 10-10 tie at halftime.
But on both sides of the ball, Royal looked like a different, better team after halftime.
On back-to-back drives to close the third quarter, Jenks led the Knights on touchdown drives of 65 and 50 yards to ice the game. On the first touchdown drive, Jenks threw to Corbin Christensen in the back of the end zone for a 22-yard score.
“We knew Corbin was going to have a one-on-one matchup, and I just had to put it in the right spot,” Jenks said. “He’s a great player, he can go up and get it, and he went and got it to make a great play.”
On the Knights’ final touchdown drive, Jenks hit CJ Quintero on a perfect 44-yard fade route down the sideline to set up a 1-yard quarterback sneak into the end zone.
“We saw it was two-on-two over there, and I took my guy, put my trust in him, and he didn’t let me down,” Jenks said of the pass to Quintero.
While Jenks piloted the offense, Allred said it was the second-half shutout pitched by the defense that lifted the Knights to another championship.
“We made a couple adjustments to some looks we hadn’t seen, and they presented us with a couple third-down opportunities we hadn’t seen in the first half that we were able to take advantage of,” Royal defensive coordinator Jeremy Scroggins said. “We have great kids, man. They watched a lot of film.”
Hawkins created a couple of big plays for the Eagles in the second half, including a 57-yard option keeper late in the fourth quarter that gave Connell some life, but the Royal defense refused to yield a score.
“Just like any championship team that gets here, you’ve gotta be able to flush it,” Scroggins said. “Against any team, big plays are going to win and lose championships, and it’s all about the next play.”
This was the third meeting between the Knights and Eagles in the state playoffs and the second in a state championship game. Royal has won all three state meetings, including the 1A title games in 2007 and 2016, and it is on a five-game winning streak in the overall series.
The Knights have won 27 games in a row.
C — Steven Kroontje 31 pass from Brian Hawkins (Luis Ramos kick)
R — Juan Niebla 62 pass from Kaden Jenks (Alonzo Hernandez kick)
C — FG Ramos 25
R — FG Niebla 25
C — Corbin Christensen 22 pass from Jenks (Hernandez kick)
C — Jenks 1 run (CJ Quintero pass from Christensen)
RUSHING — C, Hawkins 14-118; Jaxs Whitby 7-39; Tristen Garland 1-2. R, Jenks 20-146; Niebla 1-4; Hernandez 2-3; Danny Cuevas 4-2; Isaac Ellis 3-1.
PASSING — C, Hawkins 10-24-2—135. R, Jenks 12-24-2—246.
RECEIVING — C, Garland 4-41; Kroontje 3-69; Whitby 2-14; Jarrod Tuttle 1-11. R, Christensen 4-85; Niebla 2-65; Quintero 2-55; Adrian Trinidad 2-18; Ellis 1-17; Juan Ojeda 1-6.