LACEY – Brandon Belisario was reduced to a spectator during North Thurston’s playoff run last year.
The Rams’ starting running back was transformed into a cheerleader on crutches, the end result of a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered during the regular season.
Healthy and stronger than ever, the senior is loving life a lot more on the field than he ever did as a wounded member of the pep squad.
Belisario spearheaded a powerful ground attack, rushing for 103 yards, while Ryan Mets threw three first-half touchdown passes as North Thurston opened postseason play by hammering visiting Rainier Beach, 40-0, in a district clash Saturday at South Sound Stadium.
“These are the games you work so hard for,” Belisario said. “It felt amazing being out there. Everyone was blocking. Everyone was out there laying the wood down. I’m not sure we’ve played as well as we played tonight this year.”
The victory improves the Rams to 8-2 on the season and advances them to the Class 3A state playoffs.
“The kids came in focused,” North Thurston coach Rocky Patchin said. “We had a great week of practice and all phases were clicking tonight.”
North Thurston will travel to the Tri-Cities to play Mid-Columbia Conference champion Kennewick (7-2-1) in the first round.
It is the second consecutive year and third time in the last four seasons the Rams have made the state playoffs.
Rainier Beach, the fourth-place team from the Metro League, finishes its season at 5-5.
North Thurston dominated the first half, outgaining the Vikings, 278-93, in total yards and picking off Rainier Beach quarterback Robert Calloway twice en route to a 33-0 lead at halftime.
Belisario had 96 yards on 11 carries in the first half, the bulk of it coming on the Rams’ opening series when he rushed seven times for 67 yards before Mo Manning capped the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run.
The Rams put up 27 points in the second quarter, mostly due to Mets’ arm as the junior hit Tru Hicks (7 yards), Bobby Cervantes (16) and Josh Cahill (5) on scoring strikes.
Manning put an exclamation point on North Thurston’s strong half by returning an interception 54 yards for a score in the final seconds of the second quarter.
Fullback Ande Grantham pushed the lead to 40-0 towards the end of the third quarter on a 19-yard TD run.
North Thurston finished with 403 yards – 311 coming on the ground.
Belisario needed just 13 carries to reach the century mark, while Manning gained 79 yards on 10 carries, and Hicks, who also had an interception on defense, rushed for 66 on three touches.
NATHAN HALE 19, SHELTON 6: The Highclimbers season comes to an end at 7-3 overall after scoring a season-low in points at Seattle Memorial Stadium.
Senior running back Ralph Kinne scored Sheltons loan touchdown in the first quarter and finished with 124 yards. Through 10 games, Kinne rushed for 2,348 yards and 29 touchdowns. Shelton had six turnovers, including four fumbles against the Raiders (8-2).