TACOMA — After a snap sailed over the head of Lincoln-Tacoma’s punter and was batted through the back of the end zone for a safety, the Monroe High School football team held an 8-7 lead late in the first quarter.
It looked like the Bearcats were ready to hang with the talent-stocked Abes in their Class 3A first-round state playoff clash.
But an interception and long return down to the Monroe 13-yard line by Zy Zy Sayavong put a halt to the Bearcats’ momentum, and a barrage of Lincoln scoring drives ensued as the Abes pulled away with a dominant showing.
University of Missouri-bound quarterback Gabarri Johnson threw four touchdown passes and ran for another score as fourth-seeded Lincoln delivered 42 unanswered points and beat 13th-seeded Monroe 49-16 Saturday at the Lincoln Bowl.
“I just think we ran out of gas unfortunately,” Bearcats coach Scott Darrow said. “… The times that we had plays to make we just didn’t and they did, so that’s how it goes unfortunately.”
The Pierce County League champion Abes (11-0) advance to face fifth-seeded Bellevue next week in the state quarterfinals. The Wesco 3A South champion Bearcats finish the season 9-2.
“We just told our kids that everybody but one team goes through this at some point in the season,” Darrow said. “It’s always really sad. We have a great group of kids that are seniors here, and they did an awesome job. We were Wesco (3A South) champions this year, and we’re proud of that.”
Monroe started the game like it has many this season, quickly reaching the end zone on its opening drive.
Speedy sophomore Mason Davis took a jet sweep around the right side for a 39-yard gain on the first play from scrimmage. A defensive pass interference helped the Bearcats march into the red zone, and junior quarterback Blake Springer rolled to his left and connected with senior Kody Edelbrock for a diving 5-yard TD catch and 6-0 lead at the 9:38 mark of the first quarter.
A Monroe fumble midway through the first set the Abes up with a short field at the Bearcats’ 39. Johnson, a four-star recruit according to 247sports.com, completed a pair of passes to pick up a first down and then launched a pass over the top of the Bearcat defense for a 28-yard scoring strike to Jemani Teplasy for a 7-6 lead.
Monroe responded with a drive into the Lincoln red zone, but three straight incompletions led to a turnover on downs.
The Bearcats received a golden opportunity to score soon after. Monroe’s punt-return unit pressured Lincoln’s punter and brought him down well behind the line of scrimmage before he could get a punt off for a turnover on downs. The Bearcats took over at the Abes’ 14 but didn’t gain a yard and settled for a 30-yard field-goal try that sailed just wide of the uprights.
Monroe’s defense made up for the missed scoring chance by forcing a three-and-out, and the snap on the ensuing punt sailed over the punter’s head and into the end zone for a safety.
Sayavong’s long interception return came soon after, and Johnson’s 12-yard pass to Sebastian Esekielu set up Kelly Sio-Fetaui for a 1-yard TD plunge. Johnson followed by running in the two-point try for a 15-8 lead with 10:27 remaining in the half.
After a Monroe turnover on downs, Lincoln took over at its own 31. The Abes faced fourth-and-4 near midfield and Johnson delivered a game-changing play when he took a keeper up the middle and bounced it outside for a 31-yard scamper down to the Bearcats’ 13. Johnson scored on an 8-yard run two plays later to extend the lead to 22-8.
Lincoln’s Josiah Williams came up with an interception on the first play of Monroe’s next drive, and the Abes took advantage with a score just before the half.
Johnson again made a big play with his legs when he escaped pressure near midfield and took off for a 26-yard run on third-and-10.
“That’s kind of why they’re so dangerous,” Darrow said. “When things break down, he’s able to get some game-breaking (plays).”
The 6-foot senior delivered a well-placed ball to go-to wideout Drake Granberry for a 28-yard TD on the next play to go up 29-6.
“He makes the coaches look good,” Lincoln coach Masaki Matsumoto said of his star signal-caller. “Gabarri’s special. He’s done that all year, and he’s a great kid, a once-in-lifetime talent. We’re fortunate to have him.”
After forcing a three-and-out to start the half, the Bearcats quickly moved the ball down the field with a steady dose of quick passes by Springer. But Lincoln’s defense again clamped down in the red zone to force a turnover on downs.
“There were just too many chances we didn’t hit,” Darrow said.
Johnson added to the lead with second-half TD passes to Esekielu and Teplasy, and Granberry scored on a 1-yard run.
“There was a point and time where I was a little worried,” Matsumoto said. “It seemed like they were getting all the momentum. We weren’t playing (or) coaching very well at the point where they got the safety on the high snap, but we always hit those moments in games. I think that’s the beauty of playing good teams in the regular season. We’ve been able to overcome that, and we were able to do the same thing in this game, so I was really proud of the way the team overcame that adversity.”
Springer linked up with Edelbrock for a 9-yard score in the final minutes.
Johnson finished 17-of-27 for 230 yards and added 98 yards rushing. Lincoln’s defense forced three interceptions, a fumble and five turnovers on down.
Davis led Monroe with 98 yards on eight offensive touches and Springer went 19-of-42 for 184 yards.
“It is what it is. We’ll learn from it,” Darrow said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys coming back, and I think we’re going to be great next year. It was a tough loss tonight, but ultimately we’re not going anywhere.”
“I think to be champions at any level of football, whether it’s the NFL or college or whatever, you’ve got to have your heart broken,” he added. “I think that’s what happened for us tonight. I hope that motivates our kids this offseason.”