MONROE — Edmonds-Woodway High School football coach John Gradwohl’s only regret was that he hadn’t made Aaron Barraza a bigger focal point earlier.
In the Warriors’ first four games, the senior running back got limited carries. But on Friday night, he was their workhorse.
And he lifted Edmonds-Woodway to a key league victory.
Barraza ran for 197 yards and four touchdowns — including a pair of long, electrifying fourth-quarter scores — to lead the visiting Warriors to a 33-28 win over Monroe in a clash of Wesco 3A South contenders.
“We should’ve gotten to him a lot (earlier),” Gradwohl said. “He’s running hard. And the fullbacks did a great job. The line did a great job. But you can see he’s got great vision.
“And it just took me way too long to figure it out,” he added with a laugh.
After getting 20 carries in the first four games, Barraza ran 22 times Friday night. He did most of his damage after halftime, rushing for 182 yards and three TDs on 15 second-half carries.
Barraza showcased exceptional vision, shiftiness and speed on his two long fourth-quarter touchdowns, which helped turn a one-point deficit into a 12-point lead.
“I just saw safeties coming and tried to find and maneuver my way out and cut my way through the blocks,” Barraza said.
“I love my line, man,” he added. “I love my line. It was all my line.”
Cole Pruett had a similarly big performance for the Bearcats, catching 11 passes for 190 yards and two TDs. The speedy senior receiver finished with 200 yards from scrimmage and highlighted a Monroe passing attack that totaled 424 yards.
But although the Bearcats moved the ball well, Edmonds-Woodway’s defense came up with four takeaways to help minimize the damage.
The Warriors intercepted three passes, including an impressive pick by senior defensive lineman Treasure Jordan that led to a touchdown. Edmonds-Woodway also forced a key strip-sack fumble in the fourth quarter to preserve a one-score lead.
“We had a lot of chances out there we just didn’t connect on,” Monroe coach Scott Darrow said. “I think we left some points on the field, obviously, but that’s a really good team. And when you do that against a good team, you often lose.”
With the victory, the Warriors (2-3, 2-1 Wesco 3A South) moved into second place in the league standings and earned the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Bearcats (2-3, 1-1). Both teams trail first-place Snohomish (2-2, 2-0) in what’s expected to be a three-team race for the Wesco 3A South crown.
Edmonds-Woodway suffered a tough 21-14 loss to Snohomish two weeks ago, but bounced back in a big way Friday night.
“This win means a lot,” Jordan said. “… This was a great win.”
With the game tied midway through the third quarter, Barraza weaved his way for a 13-yard TD to give the Warriors a 20-14 lead.
Monroe answered right back, with Pruett taking a wide-receiver screen for a go-ahead 30-yard score.
Barraza continued the back-and-forth scoring on the next possession, breaking the first of his two fourth-quarter TDs. He took a handoff up the middle, bounced outside, raced down the left sideline and dived inside the left pylon for a 38-yard score to give Edmonds-Woodway a 26-21 lead with 10:31 to play.
“He just runs extremely hard,” Darrow said. “We saw him on film, but they hadn’t really used him like they did last night, obviously. They run counter really well. … And he’s just tough to tackle.”
The Bearcats responded with a long 15-play drive, using an effective short passing game to march to the Edmonds-Woodway 11-yard line.
But just when it looked like Monroe was about to retake the lead, the Warriors’ defensive front turned the tide with back-to-back sacks.
The first sack pushed the Bearcats into a third-and-19 from the 20-yard line. And on the second sack, Edmonds-Woodway jarred the ball free and came up with a game-changing fumble recovery.
“They moved the ball up and down the field,” Gradwohl said. “We’re lucky we made some big plays at opportune times.”
On the ensuing possession, a pair of penalties backed the Warriors into a third-and-23 situation. But once again, Barraza came through.
Similar to his previous long run, Barraza took a handoff up the middle and then bounced outside before blazing down the left sideline. He outran several defenders on his way to the end zone, scoring on a 59-yard TD that stretched the margin to 33-21 with 2:51 to play.
Monroe added a late touchdown, but Edmonds-Woodway recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran out the clock.
“They’re a heck of a football team,” Gradwohl said. “They’re gonna win a lot of games this year. And I’m just glad that I don’t have to play them again, hopefully.”
In the first quarter, Pruett opened the scoring with a highlight-reel 48-yard catch-and-run TD. After receiving a short pass, he initially appeared to get tackled by a defender. But as he was being taken down, Pruett spun around on top of the defender without ever touching the ground. He then popped up and ran the rest of the way to give the Bearcats a 7-0 lead.
In the latter part of the second quarter, Edmonds-Woodway senior quarterback Alec Rust ran in a play-action keeper for an 18-yard TD to even the score.
On the ensuing Monroe possession, the 265-pound Jordan leaped up to deflect a screen pass to himself for an interception. He then rumbled about 10 yards to the Bearcats 6-yard line to set up Barraza’s first TD.
“He played lights-out tonight,” Gradwohl said of Jordan. “And for him to make that play was awesome. Obviously it gave us a short field, and that was huge.”
Pruett responded with a long kickoff return, which Monroe followed with a game-tying 10-yard TD pass from senior Evan Leggett to sophomore Rylan Aalbu with 10 seconds left in the half.
Pruett was one of four Bearcats to finish with at least 60 yards receiving. Aalbu had seven catches for 80 yards and two TDs. Senior Wahi Emmsley added six receptions for 75 yards and junior Eli Miller had four catches for 61 yards.
Sophomore Blake Springer took most of the snaps at quarterback for Monroe, finishing 26-of-37 passing for 338 yards, three TDs and one interception.
The Bearcats continue league play against Meadowdale and Shorecrest the next two weeks before facing Snohomish in a pivotal Oct. 22 regular-season finale. That matchup could ultimately determine whether there’s a three-way tie for the Wesco 3A South title, or whether Snohomish wins its third consecutive league crown.
“We’ve just gotta tackle better than we did,” Darrow said. “We’ll work on that, obviously. And we’ve gotta take opportunities we get and connect.”