On one side of the field, sheer joy. One Eastside Catholic football player held the Class 3A state championship trophy over his body while laying on his back on the Tacoma Dome turf.
On the other side — the Bellevue side — there were only tears and disappointment.
Eastside Catholic trailed by 28 points midway through the third quarter but Brandon Wellington scored the game-tying 11-yard touchdown run with just more than two minutes remaining, then scored the game-winner in overtime to lift the Crusaders to a 48-42 victory for its second consecutive title over the perennial powerhouse.
Move over Bellevue.
Never miss a local story.
There’s a new dynasty in town.
“I’m so happy for our seniors and our community,” Eastside Catholic coach Jeremy Thielbahr said. “Just really happy to show what we are and the resilience that our school has and the resilience of our football program and it was just a great win.
“It’s maybe one of the better feelings I’ve ever had.”
Christoph Hirota’s 12-yard TD run put Bellevue ahead 42-14 with 6:10 remaining in the third quarter.
Eastside Catholic’s sideline looked defeated. Players were spread out and quarterback Harley Kirsch crouched over his helmet behind a team huddle.
Then the comeback.
Eastside Catholic had punted on all but one of its drives before junior tight end Hunter Bryant (the team’s leading receiver coming in) caught his first pass of the game — a 28-yard touchdown from Kirsch.
He caught a 5-yard TD on Eastside Catholic’s ensuing drive to pull the Crusaders to within 42-28 just before the end of the third quarter.
Bellevue’s offense went conservative. QB Justus Rogers, a Washington State commit, threw two passes after the first half and both were incomplete.
And Eastside Catholic kept its foot on the pedal. Kirsch threw his third TD of the game when he found Cal commit Matt Laris for a 4-yard score with 5:49 to play.
Kirsch completed 21 of 31 passes for 249 yards though he threw two interceptions. He had thrown two interceptions all season entering the game.
Thielbahr said Kirsch’s mom was in the hospital being treated for cancer.
“What a warrior,” Thielbahr said. “Him being able to bounce back and make the plays and make the reads … he did a great job.”
After a Bellevue turnover on downs at midfield late in the fourth quarter, still leading 42-35, Kirsch threw an interception with 2 minutes to play … only it was called back on a Bellevue facemask.
Three plays later, Wellington (who earlier returned a kickoff 97 yards after returning two kicks for TDs against Lakes in the semifinals) ran from 10-yards out for the game-tying score
Bellevue’s Ercle Terrell had 33 carries for 227 yards and four touchdowns. Eastside Catholic last year ended Bellevue’s state record 67-game win streak and record six consecutive state titles with a 35-13 win in the title game.
“I’ve been coaching this game for a long time … this one is going to sting,” Bellevue coach Butch Goncharoff said. “We let this one get away. Credit to them.”