When Monroe walked off the field after being unceremoniously thumped by Lake Stevens in Week 3, Bearcats coach Michael Bumpus knew right away that his team would not let that loss derail its season.
Were they frustrated? Sure, considering the Bearcats couldn’t vanquish the mighty Vikings and topple their reign atop Wesco 4A, as Lake Stevens routed Monroe, 73-28, for its sixth consecutive victory in the head-to-head matchup.
With plenty of the season remaining after that game, Monroe rebounded nicely and the Bearcats put together a six-game winning streak to close the regular season and captured the No. 2 seed out of Wesco 4A to host a home playoff game in Week 10.
“That flipped the switch for us,” senior wide receiver Efton Chism III said of the loss to Lake Stevens. “We were like, ‘Dang, we shouldn’t be playing like that.’ That’s not who we are. We’re just trying to prove to the rest of the state that one game doesn’t define us.”
Punching its ticket into the 16-team state playoff bracket will require Monroe winning an intriguing Week 10 playoff matchup. The Bearcats will host Mount Si, the No. 3 seed out of KingCo, in a winner-to-state, loser-out game at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Not only are both schools almost mirror images of each other in how they fit in with their respective conferences — both are the eastern-most schools in their league and pull from more rural communities — Monroe and Mount Si have recent history. This will be the third time the two schools have played each other over the past four seasons, with the most recent matchup another Week 10 playoff game in 2017, which Monroe won 44-40 in a down-to-the-wire finish.
Defeating the Wildcats in a Week 10 game for a second time will be a tall task.
Mount Si’s offense is led by quarterback Clay Millen, the son of former University of Washington and NFL quarterback Hugh Millen, and brother of Oregon freshman Cale Millen. Millen has thrown 23 touchdowns and zero interceptions with almost 2,000 yards passing this season. He’s rated as a three-star recruit by 247Sports.
“They got Millen over there tossing the rock. He’s one of the best in the state, best in the nation,” Bumpus said. “(We) just want to slow him down, you can never expect to stop him. He’s talented. He can make every throw out there. He can also run. So it’s really just about trying to contain him, and also just forcing them to be a little undisciplined.”
Millen is bolstered by a stout defense, as the Wildcats have allowed just 12.6 points per game this season.
Mount Si will face one of the most dynamic offenses in the state, however. Monroe, led by a trio of quarterback Gio Fregoso, running back Blake Rybar and Chism, averages 43 points per game this season.
Conventional wisdom says something has to give.
“I expect a battle, man,” Bumpus said. “I think we’re evenly matched and I think their scheme does well against what we want to do. It’s going to be a chess match. I’m sure (Mount Si coach Charlie) Kinnune will make some adjustments (and) I’ll make some adjustments, so it’s really about just matching their discipline because on defense they’re not going to mess up their assignments. That’s not what well-coached teams do, especially now in the playoffs.”
Although each of Monroe’s games during its active six-game winning streak have been decided by at least three touchdowns, the Bearcats feel battle tested after facing two other KingCo teams this season, Eastlake and Woodinville.
Officially in the standings Monroe was credited with a loss against Eastlake, even though the Bearcats won the game at the time, 42-41 in overtime. The Bearcats were later forced to forfeit the game after using an ineligible player, according to Monroe athletic director Jeanette Siemers.
The Bearcats narrowly lost to Woodinville 21-20 in a Week 2 showdown with last season’s 4A state runner-up. The next week the Bearcats lost to Lake Stevens.
With some recent lopsided wins and a gauntlet to start the season, Monroe is feeling as confident as ever.
“It’s just about being resilient and that’s what Monroe is all about,” Bumpus said.
“I moved to Monroe about eight years ago and people were telling me I’m crazy for moving to ‘that small town in the country.’ … But I think our football team is just like our town, man. Humble, blue collar and just work your (butt) off.
“As long as we’re healthy, I’m confident we can compete with anybody.”
Herald writer Zac Hereth contributed to this story.