MONROE — Even though it’s been a quarter-century since the Monroe football team was last in this position, the Bearcats expected to be here.
Monroe returns to the state playoffs for the first time since 1991 with a Class 4A first-round matchup against second-ranked Sumner at 7 p.m. Friday at Sunset Chevrolet Stadium in Sumner. The Bearcats will be searching for the first state-playoff win in program history.
“Obviously this game means a lot, not just for the team, but for the community,” said second-year Monroe head coach Michael Bumpus, a former Washington State University receiver who earned a brief stint with the Seattle Seahawks.
“But for us, we expected to be here at the beginning of the season. As a staff, we knew what kind of guys we had as players. And I think coming back for my second year with a lot of guys returning, we knew that we had a chance to get here. It’s fun that we’re finally here and it’s a reality.”
The Bearcats (9-1) are led by one of the area’s top running backs in senior JJ Jerome, who has rushed for 1,893 yards and 21 touchdowns this season at an average of 10.9 yards per carry. Jerome has surpassed the 200-yard mark in five of the team’s 10 games.
“He’s clearly our most valuable player,” Bumpus said. “As a head coach and a coordinator, he makes my job easier at times, making great runs and being a leader out there for his team… The funny part is he’s only played a full game maybe two or three (times) this year, and he’s still putting up crazy numbers.”
Balancing Monroe’s offense is quarterback Zach Zimmerman, who has thrown for 1,694 yards, 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The dual-threat senior also has 10 rushing scores this year after running for a season-high 107 yards and three touchdowns in last week’s 48-28 district-crossover win over Auburn Riverside. Junior receiver Isaiah Cole is Zimmerman’s favorite target, with 741 yards receiving and 10 touchdown catches.
“It’s nice when you have a solid run game and a solid pass game,” Bumpus said. “It makes us difficult to prepare for.”
Monroe rolled to an 8-0 start and had won seven games by 40 or more points heading into the de facto Wesco 4A title game against Lake Stevens on Oct. 28. The Bearcats entered the showdown looking to end the Vikings’ three-year reign atop the league, but instead were dealt a painful 42-3 defeat. With all of the buildup leading into the much-anticipated rivalry clash, the result was a tough pill to swallow.
“I had to remind our guys that we’re 8-1 and we’re a good football team,” Bumpus said. “We played our worst game, and Lake Stevens probably played their best game of the season. Sometimes it just happens that way. So that’s been our approach — to bounce back, learn from our mistake, learn from that loss, humble yourself and just get back to the basics.”
Monroe had to bounce back quickly, with a winner-to-state game against Auburn Riverside the following week. The Bearcats trailed 14-0 in the second quarter of that contest, but recovered with 28 second-quarter points on their way to a 20-point victory.
The Bearcats face another tough test Friday night against Sumner (10-0), which moved from 3A to 4A in the offseason and is making its fifth consecutive state playoff appearance. The unbeaten Spartans claimed the South Puget Sound League 4A title and handed fourth-ranked Graham-Kapowsin its lone loss of the season.
Sumner is highlighted by senior running back Connor Wedington, a University of Washington commit who has rushed for 1,343 yards and 18 touchdowns.
“He’s one of the fastest guys I’ve seen,” Bumpus said. “It’s just (about) us being disciplined, gang-tackling, wrapping him up and hitting hard… It’s going to take more than one guy to bring that kid down, so if we get 11 hats to the ball and keep everything in front of us, we’ll have a shot.”
Wedington is complemented by junior running back Tre Weed, who had 208 yards rushing and 93 yards receiving in last week’s 47-14 district-crossover win over Glacier Peak. Junior quarterback Luke Ross has piloted a strong aerial attack, passing for 1,393 yards, 22 touchdowns and just three interceptions. And junior linebacker Ben Wilson, a Division-I prospect, spearheads the Spartans’ defense.
To Bumpus, what stands out most is Sumner’s defensive discipline and overall explosiveness on both sides of the ball.
“They’re the most disciplined team I’ve scouted this year,” Bumpus said. “And then just their explosiveness on offense and defense. They probably have the best linebacker in the state. And offensively, they probably have one of the best running backs.”
After spending most of the season as heavy favorites over the opposition, Monroe suddenly finds itself in a historically familiar role Friday night. The Bearcats will be the underdog, as they’ve been so many times over the last quarter-century. But once the whistle blows, Bumpus said, that all goes out the window.
“It’s all football,” he said. “When it comes down to this point, it’s Xs and Os and my guys versus your guys. Yeah, we’re underdogs. But we’re definitely not going to play like it.”
Correction: Sumner moved from Class 3A to Class 4A in the offseason. A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to Sumner as a 4A school in recent years.
Monroe (9-1) vs. No. 2 Sumner (10-0)
When: 7 p.m., Friday
Where: Sunset Chevrolet Stadium (Sumner)
Monroe: 2nd in Wesco 4A; beat Auburn Riverside 48-28 last week
Sumner: 1st in SPSL 4A; beat Glacier Peak 47-14 last week
Herald pick: Sumner
No. 5 Lake Stevens (10-0) vs. Bellarmine Prep (7-3)
When: 7 p.m., Saturday
Where: Lake Stevens High School
Lake Stevens: 1st in Wesco 4A; beat Federal Way 42-10 last week
Bellarmine Prep: 4th in SPSL 4A; beat Todd Beamer 17-2 last week
Lake Stevens is making its fifth state playoff appearance in the last six seasons and is seeking its third trip to the quarterfinals in that span. The fifth-ranked Vikings cruised to their fourth consecutive Wesco 4A title this fall and have won every game by at least 30 points. Junior quarterback Conor Bardue has completed 71.4 percent of his passes for 2,565 yards, 39 touchdowns and just four interceptions to help lead a prolific offense that’s averaging 46.1 points per game. The Vikings feature a dynamic trio of receivers in senior Jake Rasmussen, senior Hunter Eckstrom and junior Anthony Hutchinson, each of whom has at least 600 yards receiving and nine touchdown catches. Rasmussen leads the team with 14 touchdown receptions, including eight in the final two games of the regular season. Balancing Lake Stevens’ high-octane attack is senior running back Blake May, who rushed for 217 yards and three touchdowns in last week’s district rout of Federal Way to push his season total to 1,339 yards and 17 scores. The Vikings’ defense has been equally dominant, limiting opponents to just 7.2 points per game. Bellarmine Prep is making its seventh consecutive state playoff appearance and is looking to reach the quarterfinals for the sixth time in seven years. The Lions’ three losses this season came to Olympia, second-ranked Sumner and fourth-ranked Graham-Kapowsin.
Herald pick: Lake Stevens
Mariner (7-3) vs. No. 6 Woodinville (10-0)
When: 7 p.m., Friday
Where: Pop Keeney Stadium (Bothell)
Mariner: 3rd in Wesco 4A; beat Kennedy Catholic 51-6 last week
Woodinville: 1st in KingCo 4A; beat Puyallup 45-10 last week
Mariner earned its first state-playoff berth since 2007 with an emphatic district win . Mariner should face a much tougher test this week in sixth-ranked Woodinville, which reached the Class 4A state quarterfinals last season before falling to eventual state champion Gonzaga Prep. The unbeaten Falcons’ biggest win this year was a triple-overtime victory over ninth-ranked Skyline that determined the KingCo 4A title. Woodinville is allowing just 12.5 points per game and has held opponents to 10 points or fewer seven times. The Falcons are led by junior quarterback Jaden Sheffey — a Cedar Park Christian-Bothell transfer who has thrown 20 touchdown passes and five interceptions — and senior playmaker Mack Minnehan (11 rushing touchdowns).
Herald pick: Woodinville
Meadowdale (8-2) vs. Kelso (8-2)
When: 6 p.m., Friday
Where: Edmonds Stadium
Meadowdale: T-1st in Wesco 3A South; beat Lakeside 50-46 last week
Kelso: 2nd in GSHL 3A; beat Seattle Prep 19-14 last week
After topping Lakeside in the district crossover round last week to earn the program’s eighth state playoff appearance in the last decade, Meadowdale will be seeking its fifth trip to the quarterfinals in that span. The Mavericks are averaging 37.8 points per game, led by a trio of offensive playmakers. Senior quarterback Drew Tingstad has thrown for 2,583 yards, 23 touchdowns and six interceptions and also has rushed for seven scores. His favorite target is senior receiver Haelin Roberts, who has 885 yards receiving and seven touchdown catches. Senior running back Kela Marshall has added 1,064 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns. Kelso is allowing an average of 9.9 points per game and suffered its two losses to Lake Washington and Mountain View.
Herald pick: Meadowdale
Lynnwood (8-2) vs. Lincoln (8-2)
When: 7 p.m., Friday
Where: Lincoln Bowl (Tacoma)
Lynnwood: T-3rd in Wesco 3A South; beat Garfield 63-45 last week
Lincoln: T-1st in PCL; beat West Seattle 54-24 last week
Lynnwood advanced to the state playoffs for the first time since 1995 with a shootout win over Garfield in last week’s district crossover round. The Royals rallied from a 17-0 first-quarter deficit with 63 points over the final three quarters, led by a standout performance from quarterback Alton Hammond. The dual-threat senior accounted for five total touchdowns, passing for 212 yards and two scores and rushing for 163 yards and three scores. Hammond has thrown 10 touchdown passes and just one interception this season while leading an offense that’s averaging 38.8 points per game. Lincoln, making its third consecutive trip to the state playoffs, earned a 14-3 late-season win over sixth-ranked Bonney Lake to claim a share of the Pierce County League title. The Abes are allowing an average of 16.5 points per game and are scoring 37.7 points per contest, led by junior running back Tristian Kwon (1,502 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns) and senior receiver Camron Deloney (nine touchdown catches). Lincoln’s two losses came to top-ranked O’Dea and Stadium.
Herald pick: Lincoln
No. 1 Archbishop Murphy (10-0) vs. No. 6 North Kitsap (10-0)
When: 7 p.m., Friday
Where: North Kitsap High School
Archbishop Murphy: 1st in Cascade; beat Burlington-Edison 55-6 last week
North Kitsap: 1st in Olympic 2A; beat Orting 44-21 last week
Archbishop Murphy’s quest for the first Class 2A state title in program history continues with a first-round battle of unbeatens, as the top-ranked Wildcats take aim at their seventh state quarterfinal berth in the last nine seasons. Due to five opponent forfeits, Murphy has played just two games since mid-September, including last week’s district-crossover rout of Burlington-Edison. The Wildcats have been dominant in the five games they’ve played, outscoring their opponents by a combined 273-6 while showcasing a slew of playmakers on both sides of the ball. Murphy receiver Anfernee Gurley has 10 total touchdowns in the forfeit-shortened season, including five rushing scores, two punt-return touchdowns and a kickoff-return score. Senior running back and defensive back Collin Montez has rushed for eight touchdowns and scored twice on defense. Junior receiver and defensive back Kyler Gordon has five touchdown catches, two rushing scores and an interception return for a touchdown. North Kitsap cruised to the Olympic League title and has won all of its games by at least 21 points. The sixth-ranked Vikings are averaging 49.5 points per game and yielding just 9.4.
Herald pick: Archbishop Murphy