Every state title is special, and each one is a little different.
Take it from Wiley Allred, he’s been around for a few of them.
The Royal High School football team won its eighth state championship — the seventh under Allred — and third straight on Saturday at the Tacoma Dome, topping Meridian 33-27 in a topsy-turvy Class 1A final.
Despite the six-point margin of victory, this might have been the closest, scrappiest championship Allred and the No. 1 Knights (14-0) have claimed, making it all the more gratifying.
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“They’re all new and great because you’ve got different kids,” Allred said. “To replace (2015 and ‘16 quarterback) Kaden Jenks, and obviously his younger brother (Sawyer) gets to run the show this year, and he’s just getting better too, it’s awesome.”
For a Knights team that had only won one game by fewer than 28 points this season, the mistakes seemed to pile up. On top of struggling to tackle Eastern Washington-commit quarterback Simon Burkett and blowing some coverages for huge pass plays, the Knights also committed 14 penalties for 123 yards and had two extra points blocked.
But they didn’t flinch. They never trailed, and made enough plays late to persevere.
“When you get in the finals, with the right kinds of kids, you know they’re going to battle,” Allred said. “And both teams did today.”
The normally pass-happy Knights solved some early offensive woes by the pounding the rock, led by senior workhorse Alonso Hernandez-Rangel, who toted it 24 times for 143 yards and three touchdowns.
“I came out trying to help my team get the win, and that’s what I was able to do,” Hernandez-Rangel said. “That’s what I strive for, to help my brothers.”
The running game seemed to slow the momentum of a Meridian offense that had a counter for every blow Royal could strike. All four of the Trojans touchdowns came on drives following Royal touchdowns, and the only score they couldn’t answer was the game’s final touchdown, a 7-yard run by Hernandez-Rangel with 2:32 to go.
The 6-foot-3, 185-pound Burkett was the architect of just about everything positive for Meridian’s offense, as he finished the day completing 22 of 47 passes for 305 yards, and either threw for or ran in each of the team’s touchdowns. But the Knights forced him to make a handful of mistakes, with Corbin Christensen and Angel Farias Ramos coming up with interceptions, and Jack Diaz recovering a late fumble by the QB.
“We started with six-man pressure, and then we finally changed to five and had a spy, and I think that saved us from some 20-yard runs,” Allred said. “That kid is a really good quarterback, obviously he’s Division I for a reason.”
After starting its first two possessions in Meridian territory, Royal finally opened the scoring with a 10-yard passing touchdown from Sawyer Jenks to Christensen on a drive that started at its own 47. Meridian answered on the ensuing drive, with Bryce VandenHaak hauling in a 3-yard pass from Burkett to tie it back up at 7-all early in the second quarter.
Midway through the period, Royal reclaimed the lead on a double-pass play that saw Christensen hit Farias Ramos with a 44-yard TD pass for a 14-7 lead.
“Every Thursday we run our trick plays to make sure they’re ready to go,” Christensen said. “That one’s that’s just been sitting there. We ran it once before, against La Salle, and it was a total fail. But luckily I was able to just throw it up far enough to let Angel go up and get it.”
But Meridian again answered on the ensuing drive, with Burkett picking up a long third down on a 28-yard pass to VandenHaak, and then on the next play scrambling into the end zone from 15 yards out.
A missed PAT by Meridian kicker Taylor Snook — one of two for him on the day — and a four-play, 69-yard drive by Royal that ended with a short Hernandez-Rangel TD run with just a few seconds left in the first half gave the Knights a 21-13 lead at intermission.
Meridian opened the second half by going 75 yards in two plays, capped by a 55-yard heave from Burkett to Dawson Logan for the score.
Hernandez-Rangel scored his second touchdown late in the third quarter, and Burkett got his second early in the fourth to keep things tied at 27-all. A defensive three-and-out for Royal gave it great field position, which Hernandez-Rangel took advantage of with the final touchdown of the game.
Carlos Quintero forced the Burkett fumble that Diaz recovered on the ensuing drive, but the Knights failed to get a first down on the following possession, turning it over to Meridian with 38 seconds on the clock. Burkett got the Trojans out near midfield with a 41-yard completion to Dawson, but that was as close as they’d get as his Hail Mary attempt was batted down in front of the goal line as time expired.
“This is the best feeling in the world, it’s good to end on a win,” said Christensen, a senior.
WE’RE GOING STREAKING
The Knights earned their 41st consecutive victory and became the seventh school to win three or more consecutive WIAA titles at the same level, and the second 1A school to do it.
Royal’s Ramses Gonzales had 2 sacks and 2 1/2 tackles for loss, and Hernandez-Rangel had 2 sacks and 2 TFLs. ... Aside from Burkett (who rushed 16 times for 40 yards), the Trojans ran the ball just three times, picking up 4 yards. ... Christensen led the Knights with 98 receiving yards on nine catches. Dawson Logan had 114 yards on just four catches for Meridian.
R—Corbin Christensen 10 pass from Sawyer Jenks (Osvaldo Guerrero kick)
M—Bryce VandenHaak 3 pass from Simon Burkett (Taylor Snook kick)
R—Angel Farias Ramos 44 pass from Christensen (Guerrero kick)
M—Burkett 15 run (kick failed)
R—Alonso Hernandez-Rangel 1 run (Guerrero kick)
M—Dawson Logan 55 pass from Burkett (Lukas Hemenway pass from Burkett)
R—Hernandez-Rangel 2 run (kick blocked)
M—Burkett 10 run (kick failed)
R—Hernandez-Rangel 7 run (kick blocked)
RUSHING — M, Burkett 16-40; Cole Roberts 2-2; VandenHaak 1-2. R, Hernandez-Rangel 24-148; Lorenzo Myrick 5-20; Jack Diaz 1-2; Farias Ramos 1-(minus 5).
PASSING — M, Burkett 22-47-2—305; VandenHaak 1-1-0—6. R, Jenks 17-34-1—189; Christensen 1-1-0—44.
RECEIVING — M, VandenHaak 6-95; Logan 4-114; Tony Schleimer 4-27; Lukas Hemenway 2-19; TJ Dykstra 2-18; Cole Roberts 2-2; Dylan Hickok 1-18; Kevin Galiano 1-12; Burkett 1-6. R, Christensen 9-98; Farias Ramos 5-78; Lorenzo Myrick 2-44; Isaac Ellis 1-10; Carlos Quintero 1-3.