By David Krueger Herald Writer
Monroe High School’s football team has taken the Wesco 4A North by storm this year, surprising many who didn’t think the Bearcats would jump out of the gate with a 2-0 division record and grab the inside track to a North championship.
However, there are some not surprised by this early development — the Monroe football team.
The Bearcats are the only team in the North still undefeated in league play and they look to continue that trend, as well as begin to pull away in the standings, when they face Arlington at 7 tonight at Monroe High School.
“We know it’s a really important game for us. The kids know that,” Monroe head coach Dick Abrams said. “Arlington’s going to be a really strong test. It’s a big game for both programs, as far as playoffs go. We’re excited about playing it.”
“This game means everything to this program,” said senior co-captain Tanner Lippincott, a center and defensive lineman. “Last year was the first time we have been in the playoffs in forever.”
Despite its command in the North, the season has been a little bumpy for Monroe, which is 3-3 overall. The Bearcats are yet to record consecutive wins — or losses — this season, having alternated between the two since being beaten 41-26 by Jackson in their season opener.
While pleased that his team has won its division games, Abrams thinks that the Bearcats could have beaten every squad they’ve seen so far.
“I think we could have played better in a lot of games,” Abrams said. “We’ve had some tough competition. (Wesco South 4A leader) Jackson, Mariner (which is 4-2), (Kingco’s) Woodinville — they’re all tough teams. I think we learned from playing those teams, which helps us.”
The Bearcats — whose mascot is another name for a binturong, a nocturnal bear/cat hybrid that is indigenous to Southeast Asia — also are breaking in a new quarterback. Sort of.
Junior Hunter Bingham came into last week’s game against Snohomish and helped lead the Bearcats to a 22-18 win over the Panthers, throwing and running for a touchdown. Bingham, who replaced Mitchell Price after he hurt his hip, isn’t entirely new to starting. He was the Bearcats starter for the last half of the 2011 season and has evoked confidence from his coach and teammates.
“You have to be able to adapt and overcome,” Lippincott said. “The thing with Hunter is, the team rallies around him and trusts him. (Bingham and Price) are equally as good.”
Abrams said he doesn’t have a timeline on when Price, who was on crutches at Tuesday’s practice, might return. The coach echoed Lippincott’s comments, saying he believes both quarterbacks give the Bearcats a good chance to win.
“I think they’re pretty similar. Both have the ability to throw the ball and both have the ability to run if they have to,” Abrams said. “Hunter played the last six games for us last season, so they both have experience. I feel comfortable with either one of them.”
While the offense breaks in a “new” quarterback, the defense is preparing for Arlington quarterback Skylor Elgarico, a dual threat that has been running wild all over the football field since being chosen as the Eagles’ starter in Week 3. Arlington has gone 3-1 since Elgarico — who Abrams says is “probably one of the top two players in the league” — took over behind center.
“Their QB, No. 9 (Elgarico), we know he’s a good runner and likes to hold on to the ball,” Lippincott said.
Bingham, who plays strong safety and linebacker on defense, and senior co-captain Dylan Judson, a tight end and linebacker, agreed.
“We want to kind of limit his options,” Bingham said.
“Let him know we’re there,” Judson added quickly.
With so much parity in the North this year, the Bearcats — who beat Lake Stevens in Week 4 before the Vikings defeated Arlington in Week 6 — know just because they beat a common opponent, doesn’t mean they’ll beat Arlington.
“We beat Lake Stevens, Lake Stevens beat them, but that doesn’t mean anything,” Judson said. “That was last week.”
For his part, Abrams is preaching to his team the importance of every game. With such a small division — five teams make up Wesco 4A North — each victory carries extra weight.
“We’re taking it like every game that we play is our most important game of the year,” Abrams said. “That’s how we have to play. Being in such a small league that we’re in, every game is critical.
“… The parity in our league this year is tremendous. On any given night you could lose by three touchdowns, beat someone by three touchdowns or go into overtime.”
The Bearcats, who are returning home after spending the past three weeks playing road games, appear to have gotten the coach’s message.
“We have to execute,” Lippincott said. “We have to come every down and play to win.”
Added Judson: “It’s not going to be easy. We have to work for it.”
Then the duo’s “new” quarterback acutely summed it up.
“We want to be the sole team on top of the Wesco North,” Bingham said.