The 1991 Cascade High School football team. (Photo provided by the Snohomish County Sports Hall of Fame)

The 1991 Cascade High School football team. (Photo provided by the Snohomish County Sports Hall of Fame)

‘A ragtag group’: Reliving Cascade’s state football title in 1991

Players and coaches remember the last Snohomish County team to win a title in the state’s largest classification.

It’s been 30 years since a team from Snohomish County won the large-classification high school football state championship. The Lake Stevens Vikings can end that drought when they face Graham-Kapowsin for the 4A state title Saturday at Mount Tahoma High School.

The last Snohomish County team to win the large-classification state title? That was the 1991 Cascade Bruins. Coached by the legendary Terry Ennis, the Bruins went 12-1, defeating Puyallup 14-7 in the AAA championship game at the Kingdome.

Here is an oral history of that 1991 Cascade team, as told by those who were a part of it.

Cascade reached the state playoffs each of the previous two seasons, but the Bruins were eliminated in the first round both times. Therefore, Cascade was not considered a favorite at the beginning of the season.

Jerry Jensen (All-state linebacker/fullback): We were nowhere near (thinking we were a state championship team). We played Kentwood in the first round the previous year, which had a couple Pac-10 players in Ernie Conwell and Richard Thomas, and they beat us soundly. We knew we had a good team, but (a state title) wasn’t really on our minds at the beginning of the year.

Dick Abrams (defensive coordinator): We were at an Apple Cup party in 1990, it was (linebackers coach) Paul Lawrence, Terry Ennis and I. Terry pulled Paul and I aside and said, “I think we’re going to win state.” For Terry to say that was unusual, he never made predictions. We were like, “What are you talking about?” But Terry saw it coming.

Roger Brodniak (starting cornerback until injured mid-season): It was an amazing group of seniors and (junior) Jerry Jensen. We just had a really good line that played both ways and played Terry Ennis physical, pound-people football. Then Jerry was such a great fit at fullback.

Kirk Nicholson (defensive line coach and special teams coordinator): We had a good team coming back, and we had a move-in that made us really good, a guy by the name of Ty Curley who was at Juanita the year before. He became our tailback and cornerback, and he gave us speed we didn’t have the previous year.

Dan Gilday (All-Wesco safety/receiver): We were the first generation of only being under coach Ennis, as he took the job when we were freshmen, so we didn’t know anything different.

Travis Cruse (All-Wesco tackle/defensive lineman): As a team we had known each other and played together for quite a while, all the way back to middle school. We’d been under coach Ennis’ system since we were freshmen, so the senior class was very familiar with what Cascade football was becoming at that point. And we didn’t really have superstars on the team, just a group of hard workers who put in a lot of offseason training and preparation.

Cascade suffered an early setback with a 16-6 non-league loss to defending AA state champion Tumwater. The Bruins responded by rolling through Wesco, including an impressive 33-0 victory over heavyweight Snohomish as they used the Wing-T offense to outscore their opponents 261-20 in seven league contests.

Jensen: Coach Ennis was amazing at teaching (the Wing-T). He knew it inside and out.

Gilday: It began and ended with how great our line was. Our line dominated almost every play of the game.

Jordy LePiane (All-state tackle/defensive tackle): Terry had a clear vision for how he wanted every play to look. He could see every player’s blocking or route running or throwing assignment, and no matter how many time we ran a play it was rare that Terry or one of the other coaches didn’t say, “Hey, you need to take a different angle at that, or you have to get off that block quicker.” Practices were intense, there were very high expectations on everybody to do everything right.

Sean McGowan (All-Wesco guard/defensive end who attended Holy Cross, which became Archbishop Murphy): We handed out pancake blocks like your mama flips flapjacks on Sunday.

Brodniak: There was an article that talked about Jerry (who initially didn’t want to play offense) turning the corner at fullback when he became more physical and almost took people on like a tackler.

Jensen: I was really a defensive-minded guy, and as a sophomore I didn’t get the opportunity to play offense, so I was just really focused on playing defense and being the best linebacker I could be. I can’t remember which coach it was, but he told me, “You can hit people on offense, too.”

Gilday: I think we passed maybe 50 times in 13 games.

McGowan: (On defense) for the most part everybody liked to deliver hits. The coaches were all about that, we liked being the hammer instead of the nail.

Abrams: Jerry Jensen is one of the best there’s even been in the state at playing middle linebacker.

Nicholson: I had an unbelievable defensive line, offensive lines could barely block those guys, let alone Jerry. We also had backups who were really good, we were able to run guys in and out and keep guys fresh. And Ty was a lockdown corner.

Brodniak: Our quarterback (Mark Lehner) was tough. He played linebacker and did not shy away from contact.

McGowan: We had a deal where we never celebrated or talked smack. If you did that, a guy like Terry Ennis would grab you by the facemask and pull you off the field.

Abrams: We lost (to Tumwater), but we actually got better because of it. We made a couple personnel shifts, we moved Travis Cruse from tight end to tackle after the Tumwater game and he was great. We had three great linemen in Travis Cruse, Jordy LePiane and Sean McGowan who just performed in every game, they would not let us lose.

Cruse: I didn’t think the scores (in Wesco play) represented the difficulty we had through the year. Snohomish (a 33-0 victory against a team that eventually reached the state semifinals), Marysville, I remember those games were a challenge. The score may have looked lopsided, but they were hard-fought games.

LePiane: I was always the most sore after the Snohomish game.

Abrams: I remember on defense we had six shutouts, and I used to buy the kids donuts for shutouts. I almost went through my expense account with my wife because of buying donuts for those guys.

The 1991 Cascade High School football team beat Puyallup 14-7 in the AAA state championship game. (Photo provided by the Snohomish County Sports Hall of Fame)

Cascade continued to romp through the playoffs, including an impressive 21-0 semifinal victory over Shadle Park in frigid conditions at Spokane’s Joe Albi Stadium, setting up the matchup against Puyallup in the Kingbowl.

Abrams: We got to practice in the Kingdome the day before the game, and as we’re heading back on the school buses a kid comes up and says, “Our equipment is falling on the street.” We had forgotten to close the doors on the bus down below, so we had to stop and pick up our gear flying all over downtown Seattle. It did not make (Ennis) very happy.

McGowan: We were all overwhelmed. Not so much because of the setting, but we walked out for warmups and saw Puyallup and they looked the part. They had the collegiate-style jerseys and pants while we still had dated uniforms that were loose and not colorful. It looked like we were playing a college team, and they had Husky colors, so were we playing the Washington Huskies?

Nicholson: It was really cold that entire fall and we were playing every game outside until that one. But then we go into the Kingdome and it’s hot. What I remember is after the first quarter guys were taking their gear off and peeling down to pads and a jersey because it was so hot.

Jensen: Nowadays you have Hudl and all this access to film. Back then we didn’t have that, but our coaches got some and they found a cheat that they shared with us. (Puyallup) would switch their tackle and guard for pass protection, so any time they were going to pass we’d know.

Gilday: Defensive backs like Brandon Anderson and Darold Phinney stepped up and made big plays (each had interceptions in the game, as did Jensen).

Cruse: Give Puyallup credit, they came just as prepared from scouting us, they knew how to shut down the Wing-T (Curley ran for 153 yards, but the run game stalled in the red zone). Gilday getting both touchdowns in that game (both on passes in the second quarter, one from Lehner and one from Curley on a halfback pass as Cascade took a 14-0 lead) was very surprising. People joke about coach Ennis winning a state championship with two passing touchdowns, but he made the adjustments and the right play calls to get us where we needed to go.

Brodniak: Dan had amazing leaping ability and it was on display in the championship game.

Gilday: I can still hear (Ennis) saying it to me: “Blue strong over quick pitch pass (for the second TD).” I remember running on the field thinking, “He just called my number, I can’t believe we’re throwing the ball.” I can remember running out of the huddle, I can remember jumping with three guys for the ball, I can remember the surprise I felt cradling the ball in my arms and tumbling into the end zone. It was as much a surprise to me as anyone else.

Jensen: I was so exhausted during that game (which Jensen effectively ended by reaching for a first down that allowed Cascade to run out the clock). I remember late in the game, even early in the game, thinking, “I can not run the ball, please don’t give me the ball.”

Gilday: I remember we were letting the clock run out and Chad Staley was running out of the huddle and just jumping up and down on the field and I thought, “What is this guy doing?” Then it clicked and, ‘Yeah, there it is.”

LePiane: I think it was probably the first time I saw coach Ennis smile after a game.

Cruse: None of us were super athletes except maybe Jerry and Ty. But we had a team of super hard workers who were smart, and we believed in the Terry Ennis persona. He told us that if we worked hard and minimized our mistakes that we’d continue to have success. He was a special person in the world of high school football coaching.

LePiane: We didn’t expect to win the state championship, we seemed like a ragtag group. What we had were guys who worked hard, took the sport seriously, were athletic enough, and coach Ennis had us very focused every practice and every game on getting the job done.

After winning the state title, the 1991 Cascade High School football team was invited to meet with Washington State legislators in Olympia. (Photo provided by the Snohomish County Sports Hall of Fame)

This story has been modified to correct the score of Cascade’s game against Tumwater.

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