SUMNER — After a quarter-century wait, the stage certainly wasn’t too big for Monroe.
Making their first state playoff appearance since 1991, the Bearcats put a major scare into second-ranked Sumner by building a two-possession lead late in the third quarter. Then after two quick Sumner scores, Monroe regained the lead early in the fourth. A potential upset was brewing.
But Sumner ultimately prevailed, scoring the final 20 points in the back-and-forth thriller to hand the Bearcats a season-ending 58-42 loss in a Class 4A first-round state playoff game on Friday night at Sunset Chevrolet Stadium.
It ended one of the most successful seasons in program history for Monroe (9-2), which stormed to an 8-0 start this fall with seven wins by 40 points or more.
The Bearcats had unbeaten Sumner (11-0) on the ropes late in the third quarter after Monroe senior lineman Cody Schwindt stepped in front of a wide-receiver screen pass, deflected the ball to himself for an interception and rumbled to the Spartans’ 10-yard line.
That set up an 11-yard touchdown pass by senior quarterback Zach Zimmerman, who found junior receiver Isaiah Cole wide-open in the end zone to cap a string of 21 straight Monroe points and extend the lead to 35-23 with 3:16 remaining in the third.
But Sumner answered right back on the following play from scrimmage when junior Tre Weed snagged a contested catch over the middle and scampered downfield for a 65-yard touchdown to trim the margin to 35-30. The Spartans then intercepted Zimmerman on Monroe’s following possession, and senior receiver Tyson Rainwater caught a 26-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the fourth quarter to give Sumner a 38-35 edge.
On the Bearcats’ next possession, Zimmerman weaved his way for a 49-yard gain to the Sumner 4. Senior running back JJ Jerome plunged into the end zone two plays later to put Monroe back in front, 42-38, with 9:02 left. However, those were the last points the Bearcats scored.
Rainwater keyed the ensuing Sumner drive with a 48-yard reception, and senior running back Connor Wedington, a University of Washington commit, broke free for a 17-yard touchdown run on the next play to give the Spartans a 45-42 lead.
Sumner then laid a fumble-inducing hard hit on Zimmerman’s blind side and recovered the loose ball on the Bearcats’ 20. The Spartans capitalized with a field goal to push the margin to 48-42 with 6:01 to go.
After Monroe was forced to punt on its next possession, the Bearcats’ defense came up with a stop. However, the ensuing punt hit one of Monroe’s returners and the Spartans pounced on the ball. Sumner kicker Nick Phillips then booted a 45-yard field goal to make it a two-possession game and Rainwater returned an interception for a touchdown in the closing seconds to punch the Spartans’ ticket to the state quaterfinals.
Rainwater finished with nine catches for 247 yards and two touchdowns to lead Sumner’s high-powered attack. Junior quarterback Luke Ross passed for 313 yards and four touchdowns, and Wedington rushed for 118 yards and a score. Weed finished with 114 yards receiving, two touchdown catches and a scoring run.
Jerome led Monroe with 133 yards rushing and three touchdowns to finish his brilliant season with 2,026 yards and 24 scores. Cole had 97 yards receiving and two touchdown catches.
After Sumner drove for a field goal on the game’s opening possession, Cole returned the ensuing kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown, breaking free down the sideline and slipping out of a tackle to give the Bearcats an early 7-3 lead.
Monroe came up with another big play early in the second quarter when Zimmerman rolled left and heaved a 54-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Cole to put Monroe up 14-10.
Rainwater responded with a 40-yard reception and a 6-yard touchdown catch on Sumner’s next drive to put the Spartans back in front. Then after blocking a Monroe punt to set up a first-and-goal, Sumner cashed in with a short touchdown run to build a 23-14 advantage.
Late in the first half, Jerome broke free for a 38-yard gain and followed with a 2-yard scoring run to cut the margin to 23-21. Monroe senior defensive back Johnny Adams intercepted an ill-advised pass by Ross early in the third quarter and Jerome scored soon after on a 4-yard run to give the Bearcats a 28-23 lead.
Then after Schwindt recovered a fumble on the first play of Sumner’s ensuing possession, the turnover-fest continued with Jerome fumbling at the 1-yard line while trying to plow into the end zone. But Schwindt atoned for the goal-line giveaway with his deflected interception a few plays later, which led to Monroe’s 12-point lead late in the third.