TACOMA -- All season long, Royal had jumped on teams early and watched its opponents self-destruct.
Get a quick lead and cruise to a 30-, 40- and 50-point win was the blueprint.
Everything was going to script early in the Class 1A state title game Saturday, but Montesano stole the momentum before halftime and made enough big plays in the second half to end Royal’s hopes of a perfect season.
The Bulldogs (12-2) beat the Knights 43-28 at the Tacoma Dome to win the school’s first state title since 1994.
“It’s crushing,” Royal quarterback Alex Myrick said. “Making the state game and coming up empty-handed ...”
Royal (13-1) led 21-10 and had the ball inside the 20 with 6 minutes left in the first half, but a field-goal attempt was blocked, and the Bulldogs quickly stole the momentum.
Elliot Mendenhall scored on a 41-yard run to pull Montesano within 21-16, and after a failed fourth-down attempt by the Knights at midfield, the Bulldogs turned the game upside down.
Quarterback Matthew Jensen rolled to the right sideline and threw a perfect pass to the end zone, where Richard Smith made a diving grab as time expired, giving Montesano a 22-21 lead.
Just like that, Royal’s big lead was gone, and the Knights trailed at the half for the first time this season.
“That didn’t change our attitudes much,” Royal senior Carter Christensen said. “We went into halftime thinking, ‘We can move the ball on these guys. We can stop them.’ But they came out and made a lot of plays, and they are the state champions.”
After a quick touchdown by Montesano for a 29-21 lead, the Knights appeared poised to pull even when the Bulldogs’ defense denied Royal four times inside the 6.
On fourth down, Myrick appeared to score on a sneak, but he was ruled down on the half-inch line.
Four plays later, Mendenhall took a pitch down the right side 82 yards for a touchdown and a 35-21 lead.
“From my point, I thought he was in,” Christensen said. “But you have to go with what is called and roll with the blows. “Getting to the 1-yard line doesn’t count. That was our biggest problem. We didn’t get many stops, but we had a lot of chances to score, and that is what it came down to -- not putting it in the end zone.”
The Knights pulled within 36-28 on a touchdown by Damien Delarosa, but the defense was beaten again thanks to Montesano’s passing game.
Jensen finished the game 15-for-20 for 268 yards and two touchdowns, consistently finding gaps in Royal’s defense.
“The passing wasn’t a surprise, but we did probably plan too hard on the run game,” Royal coach Wiley Allred said. “Our coverage had a flaw inside ... we weren’t getting a jam on the receiver.
“We just didn’t play well enough. We had opportunities. There will be a lot of ‘What ifs?’ but Montesano played a better game.”
The Knights entered the game undefeated, having only been challenged in a 31-28 semifinal victory the previous week against River View.
But they ran into a balanced Montesano team that would not be denied.
“We just kind of fell apart, and they took advantage,” Royal’s Brady Dixon said. “We played hard. It was just they did things better. I’ve been with these guys since I can remember. It hurts real bad.”
Montesano 43, Royal 28
Royal 14 7 7 0 — 28
Montesano 10 12 14 7 — 43
M—FG Anthony Louthan 41, 10:54
R—Brady Dixon 14 pass from Alex Myrick (Christian Guerrero kick), 4:05
M—Ben Ohashi 64 pass from Matthew Jensen (Louthan kick), 3:28
R—Kent Christensen 10 pass from Myrick (Guerrero kick), 1:01
R—Dixon 37 pass from Myrick (Guerrero kick), 10:07
M—Elliot Mendenhall 41 run (pass failed), 3:57
M—Richard Smith 42 pass from Jensen (pass failed), :00
M—Tucker Ibabao 4 run (Louthan kick), 8:06
M—Mendenhall 82 run (Louthan kick), 3:12
R—Damien Delarosa 2 run (Guerrero kick), :40
M—Ibabao 43 run (Louthan kick), 9:26
Rushing—Royal: Delarosa 17-158, Myrick 28-127, Laddie Goroski 2-21, Guerrero 2-11. Montesano: Mendenhall 13-174, Ibabao 11-89, Jensen 10-29, Shad Rogers 1-0.
Passing—Royal: Myrick 9-15-0—102. Montesano: Jensen 15-20-0—268.
Receiving—Royal: Dixon 3-58, K. Christensen 3-27, Goroski 2-8, Guerrero 1-9. Montesano: Ohashi 5-83, Smith 4-105, Rogers 4-69, Mendenhall 1-16.
First downs—R 20, M 19. Penalties-yards—R 5-25, M 5-54. Fumbles-lost—R 0-0, M 0-0. Punts-Avg.—R 1-52, M 1-16