By Aaron Swaney Herald Writer
Gas cost just $1.05 a gallon, Bill Clinton was looking ahead to settling into the Oval Office for his first year as President and Grunge was king.
Oh, and all of the players on this year’s Monroe football team had yet to be born.
Why is that important? Because the Bearcats play in a playoff game for the first time in 19 years when they take on Skyline at 7:30 p.m. tonight.
“The kids are excited,” said Monroe head coach Dick Abrams. “All of their hard work has finally paid off.”
Not only has Monroe not made the playoffs since 1992, but the Bearcats have never won a state playoff game, according to the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association’s online database. Despite the large drought between playoff games, though, Abrams said the team isn’t too focused on it. As for the Monroe football fans, though, that’s a different matter entirely.
“The community has really gotten behind these kids and they were hungry for this type of success,” Abrams said. “It’s been good for the kids to have that kind of support.”
The streak nearly came to an end last season. Monroe went into the final game of Wesco North play tied for first place, needing just a win over Marysville Pilchuck to wrap up a playoff berth. But the Bearcats lost to the Tomahawks and fell to fourth place and out of the postseason because of head-to-head losses to MP and Lake Stevens.
This year Monroe wouldn’t be denied. After tough losses to Lake Stevens and Arlington, Monroe rebounded to beat MP 34-17 to tie Arlington and Snohomish for second place in the North and force a Kansas tiebreaker.
“We just kept trying to build and get better,” Abrams said of his team’s mindset through the losses to Arlington and Lake Stevens. “But that MP game was huge for us. To be able to come out and play that well against a good team was big for us.”
The next day Monroe knocked off Snohomish in the second round of the tiebreaker to clinch the playoff berth — the Bearcats earned the bye into the second round by a draw before the season started. Abrams said that was when it really started to feel like the postseason.
“The atmosphere surrounding the tiebreaker was great and it was good to see the kids get up for that game and play well,” Abrams said. “Any team could go home at that point and I don’t know if it was because it was during the day but it just felt big.”
To get a proper perspective of Monroe’s success this year, one must look back at the plan that former head coach Dave Telford put in place the previous three years. During his tenure, Telford turned around a moribund Monroe program and got them to the point where it could contend for the playoffs a year ago.
“Dave Telford really built the foundation for this,” Abrams said. “I was just lucky enough to step into it.”
Despite that improvement, though, Telford, frustrated by a pattern of decreased participation by his players in spring and summer football activities, stepped down as coach last fall, keeping him from seeing the culmination of his work.
Abrams took over Telford’s project this past spring and was handed a team with a strong core of senior leaders, including RB/LB Jordan Moore, WR/DB Austin Mulholland and linemen like David Lothrop, Luke Boyce, Keaton Manion and Ryan Jensen.
One thing Abrams did change was the style of play. Monroe, which lost quarterback Joey Roppo to graduation, went from a wide-open spread attack to more of a grind-it-out ground attack. With a player like Moore holding down much of the rushing duties, Abrams tagged Mitchell Price to replace Roppo and Price did an admirable job, throwing for 377 yards as Monroe jumped out to a 2-1 record with road wins over Edmonds-Woodway and Kamiak.
But Price suffered a concussion in Monroe’s first Wesco North contest against Stanwood and sophomore Hunter Bingham was pressed into duty and threw the game-winning touchdown to Mulholland with 7 minutes remaining as the Bearcats beat Stanwood 13-6.
“He plays without fear,” Abrams said of Bingham. “I know he’ll be OK (tonight) because he handled the pressure right from the start. I never hesitated puttin him out there.”
That’s a good thing because the pressure will be intense tonight. Not only is it a playoff game but it’s against a team that has played in the state title game six of the past seven years and has been state champs four of those times. Skyline is not only a state power, but it plays often on the national stage, including games against Lake Oswego the past two years and Oaks Christian (Westlake Village, Calif.) two years ago.
“You look at them and see a great program with all the ingredients,” Abrams said. “Offense, defense, there are really no weaknesses. There’s talent throughout the program.
“But I feel good about the way we can play.”