The feeling, likely, is mutual.
The Crusaders faced Meadowdale in the 3A state playoffs for the second time in two years and again got all they could handle from the Mavericks, whose defense kept Eastside Catholic in check most of the game. But the Crusaders made a few key plays and -- for the second straight year -- ended Meadowdale's season with a 21-16 victory Saturday night at Seattle Memorial Stadium.
"We got past a team that causes us a lot of difficulties," Eastside Catholic head coach Jeremy Thielbahr said. "We knew it was going to be a battle. I was saying it from the beginning: 'This Meadowdale team is tough. We've got to play good to win.' I don't know if we played good but I think we played well enough to squeak out a victory against a good Wesco team.
"? I'm a major with a Ph. D in Wesco football right now."
A year after eliminating the Mavericks 27-13 in the quad-districts -- and after defeating Wesco 3A North champion Marysville Pilchuck for the second straight year as well -- the Crusaders again got Meadowdale's best. The Mavericks' defense kept Eastside Catholic's ground game in check, allowing just 16 yards on 13 carries to running back Brandon Wellington. He ran for 99 yards against the Tomahawks the week before.
However, the Crusaders' sophomore quarterback Harley Kirsch made up for the rushing struggles by completing 25 of 37 passes for 386 yards and throwing two long touchdowns.
"We had a hard time running the football against this team," Thielbahr said. "That's something we wanted to accomplish when we got out here and we weren't able to. They've done a good job. My hat's off to Meadowdale. They always play us tough now. It's a tough matchup for us. They do some things that cause us problems."
Perhaps Meadowdale's biggest defensive stand came in the closing seconds of the first half. After Eastside Catholic reached first-and-goal at the 6-yard line, the Mavericks forced three straight incomplete passes. On fourth down, the Crusaders set up for a 23-yard field goal but the attempt by Ian Dorney was blocked by Meadowdale.
Meadowdale's defense also got its team the ball back late in the game. After a 13-yard touchdown catch by Charlie White -- who out-jumped three Eastside Catholic defenders to make the grab -- the Mavericks got a stop on fourth down. That gave the ball back to Mavericks quarterback Jeremiah Evans and his offense on their own 31-yard line with 4:02 to play in the game.
The Mavericks drove down the field, but an interception on a deep throw with 1:41 to go ended the threat.
"There was no doubt in our mind we were going to go down there and score on that last drive," Meadowdale head coach Mike Don said. "(Eastside Catholic just) did a great job."
Meadowdale was forced to throw on the final drive, which wasn't the gameplan the Mavericks had coming in. Throughout the game they continued to give the ball to junior running back Malik Braxton, who carried 31 times for 207 yards.
"We said, 'We're going to pound the rock,' and we kept doing it," Braxton said. "And it was working. We just came up short. They're a good team."
Evans was 4-for-10 passing for 78 yards and a touchdown. He also had seven carries for 50 yards and a 26-yard rushing touchdown.
The victory sends Eastside Catholic (10-2 overall) back to the Tacoma Dome for the second straight season. The Crusaders, who lost to Bellevue 35-3 in the 3A state championship last year, faces O'Dea in a semifinal game next weekend in Tacoma.
Don, for one, likes their chances.
"That's a big, physical football team with some athletes," Don said. "They've got a lot of big bodies, 220-pound running backs and linebackers and we don't have those kids. They did a great job. They're fundamentally sound. They really don't make a lot of mistakes. The quarterback is yet to throw a pick this year, which to me is just absolutely amazing."
After the game, the Meadowdale (7-5) players hugged on the field as their season came to a close. Braxton said that the Mavericks are proud of themselves for getting to the quarterfinals.
The junior then promised that next year's team also will be a force to be reckoned with, even though several key seniors including Evans, his brother, Josiah, a receiver, and defensive lineman Joseph Alkhedairy won't be back.
"It means a lot, getting here," Braxton said. "All the tears. We're holding our heads up high. We made it this far. Only eight teams got here. We feel good. We're going to come out strong (next season), I promise you that. You better watch out for Meadowdale next year."
Thielbahr agrees. He just hopes the Crusaders don't have to face the Mavericks for a third consecutive season.
"That's a great Meadowdale team who's going to be in the playoffs every year," Thielbahr said. "They have been for the past two years and we've ended their season. ? I'm tired of Wesco. Wesco football is good. They're going to be deep in the playoffs. We're going to see Meadowdale and (Marysville) Pilchuck and Glacier Peak and all those guys periodically throughout the year."
At Seattle Memorial Stadium
Meadowdale 0 6 3 7 -- 16
Eastside Catholic 7 0 14 0 -- 21
EC–Devon Arbis-Jackson 44 pass from Harley Kirsch (Ian Dorney kick)
M–Jeremiah Evans 26 run (kick failed)
EC–Elisha Pa'aga 1 run (Dorney kick)
M–Brett Schafer 19 FG
EC–Brandon Wellington 69 pass from Kirsch
M–Charlie White 13 pass from Evans (Schafer kick)
Records–Meadowdale 7-5 overall. Eastside Catholic 10-2.
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