PUYALLUP — The curse is over.
After losing each of its first six state-playoff games, the seventh time was the charm for Monroe’s long-struggling football program.
The Bearcats earned their first-ever state-playoff victory with a 21-14 win over Puyallup in a Class 4A first-round game Friday night at Sparks Stadium.
“We finally did it,” senior running back Isaiah Lewis said. “We broke that curse.
“This team’s for real, and now we’ve shown it. We’re proving it to everybody. I’m just so proud of my teammates. I’m about to cry, man.”
With the victory, Monroe (10-1) travels to face Sumner in next week’s quarterfinals. It will be a rematch of last year’s first-round matchup, when Sumner rallied for a 58-42 win to continue the Bearcats’ run of state-playoff losses.
But that streak came to an end Friday with Monroe’s historic victory.
“Our boys battled,” said third-year coach Michael Bumpus, who has guided the Bearcats to 19 wins over the past two seasons. “So proud of this group — just such a resilient group. We made history tonight.
“Words can’t express the joy that I feel right now.”
Last week, Monroe punched its ticket to state by rallying for a game-winning touchdown in the closing seconds of a wild 44-40 win over Mount Si.
This time, the Bearcats prevailed in a defensive slugfest.
Clinging to a seven-point lead with 2:24 left to play, Monroe junior Skyler Barr intercepted a fourth-down fade pass near the left pylon to thwart Puyallup’s attempt at a game-tying touchdown.
The Bearcats then ran out the clock and rushed onto the field to celebrate their historic win.
“It’s a great feeling,” Lewis said. “It was a whole team effort. Everybody on the team contributed. I’m just so proud of my team, my coaches, everybody.”
Running behind his team’s massive offensive line, Lewis rushed for 195 yards and a touchdown on 45 carries. Monroe’s high-powered ground attack controlled possession and chewed up the clock, as the Bearcats ran 80 offensive plays to Puyallup’s 52.
“I’m a pass-first guy,” said Bumpus, a former standout wide receiver at Washington State University who briefly played for the Seattle Seahawks. “But when you have that line and (Lewis) back there, you’ve got to go run-first.”
Monroe senior quarterback Jaedyn Prewitt threw for 193 yards and the go-ahead touchdown pass to senior Isaiah Cole with 7:10 left to play. Sophomore receiver Efton Chism III had six catches for a team-high 65 yards, while Cole finished with five catches for 55 yards.
Monroe opened the game with a methodical seven-minute drive that spanned 77 yards on 18 plays, but Puyallup (9-2) stuffed the Bearcats on fourth-and-goal from the 3-yard line to keep them off the board.
Monroe regained possession soon after, coming up with a strip-sack fumble recovery to take over at midfield.
The Bearcats then marched downfield again, and senior Ricky Baker capped the nine-play drive with a 2-yard touchdown plunge to give Monroe a 7-0 lead on the opening play of the second quarter.
That remained the score until the final play of the first half, when Puyallup junior quarterback Jacob Holcomb rolled left and heaved a pass to the end zone.
Junior receiver Darius Morrison hauled in the pass as time expired, making a leaping grab for a 26-yard touchdown that tied the game at 7 apiece heading into halftime.
After fumbling on his team’s opening drive of the second half, Lewis bounced back to lead the Bearcats downfield on their next possession. Lewis capped the 12-play drive with a 2-yard touchdown run up the middle, giving Monroe a 14-7 lead with less than three minutes to go in the third quarter.
Puyallup, the South Puget Sound League 4A champions, answered with a game-tying touchdown drive, keyed by Holcomb’s 13-yard scramble that set up fourth-and-2 from the Monroe 5-yard line.
On the ensuing play, junior running back Kyle Cramer cut up the middle for a 5-yard touchdown run that tied it at 14 on the opening play of the fourth quarter.
Monroe reclaimed the lead on its next possession with a 12-play, 68-yard scoring drive. Lewis extended the drive by taking a fourth-down shovel pass 12 yards to move the chains.
Cole, who made a midseason return from a torn ACL, ran a slant route two plays later and hauled in a 9-yard touchdown pass from Prewitt to give the Bearcats a 21-14 lead.
Puyallup answered by marching to the Monroe 8-yard line in the game’s closing minutes, but Barr intercepted Holcomb’s fourth-and-4 pass to preserve the Bearcats’ seven-point lead.
Monroe found itself in a somewhat precarious spot three plays later, facing 3-and-11 from its own 3-yard line. But with Puyallup on the verge of a key defensive stop, Chism III hauled in a diving 27-yard reception for a pivotal first down that helped run out the clock.
Monroe made five state appearances from 1986 to 1991, but exited in the first round each time. The Bearcats then snapped a 25-year state drought last season before falling to Sumner in the opening round.
This time, Monroe broke through and made program history.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Lewis said. “We knew this week that we had a chance to finally show ourselves that we’re the real deal and break that curse.”