SUMNER - Meridian coach Bob Ames may still be trying to figure out how his Trojans left Sunset Stadium with a win.
By no means was it pretty but, for the sixth time in seven years, Meridian is heading to the state tournament.
The Trojans overcame their stagnant second-half offense and inability to close to earn a 26-15 Class 1A Tri-District Playoff win against Eatonville on Saturday, Nov. 3, in Sumner.
"It was an unpretty game on both sides. I don't know. I really don't know," said Ames when asked how his Trojans pulled out a win. "Our kids just played their tails off. We were lucky to come out with it."
Meridian - District 1/3's No. 4 seed - faces La Center in the first round of state either Friday, Nov. 9 or Saturday, Nov. 10.
As much as the Trojans failed to put the game away in the final 12 minutes - a fumble inside their own 20, a turnover on downs inside the Eatonville 5 and fumble on the Cruisers' 1-yard line - Eatonville wasn't able to capitalize on any Meridian mistakes.
"We get inside the end zone and don't score," Ames said. "That's kind of been our MO this year."
Luckily for the Trojans, a solid first half proved to be enough to send Meridian to the state round of 16.
The Trojans opened the game with a 10-play, 83-yard scoring drive that was capped by a Max McGuinn 1-yard quarterback sneak.
Eatonville's Brendan Davis picked off an errant McGuinn pass during the Trojans' second possession. The turnover led to a 45-yard TD pass from Cruisers' quarterback Zach Fairhart to receiver Caleb Keefer. The Eatonville junior got behind the Meridian secondary on a third-and-4, caught Fairhart's ball and strolled into the end zone to put the Cruisers in front 7-6 early in the first quarter.
Meridian went to its ground game following McGuinn's interception. Letrez Jones and Junior Castro combined for nine carries during the ensuing Trojans possession. Jones finished the drive with a 1-yard score around the right end to give the Trojans a 12-7 lead three seconds into the second quarter.
It took Meridian just over 12 minutes to surpass the nine-point per game average Eatonville's defense posted during the first nine weeks of the season.
Meridian had a chance to add to its first-half advantage midway through the second quarter, but on a fourth-and-12 on the Eatonville 19, Castro dropped a pass in the back of the end zone, which would have given the Trojans a two-possession lead.
The Cruisers cut Meridian's lead to 12-9 following an Eatonville punt that pinned Meridian at its own 3-yard line. After a Jones 2-yard loss on first down, an Eatonville defender tripped up Castro a yard into his end zone for a safety with four minutes until halftime.
Right before halftime, McGuinn led Meridian on an eight-play, 62-yard scoring drive after an Eatonville fake punt.
In just over a minute, the Trojans' senior signal caller ran for 20 yards and completed four straight passes for 33 yards, including a 2-yard pop pass for a touchdown to tight end Jeremy Brockmann with 1.6 seconds remaining on the clock. The score put the Trojans in front 19-9.
"Max has his moments," Ames said. "He is a high school kid."
Meridian's defense limited Eatonville to 39 first-half rushing yards, while the Trojans' trio of McGuinn, Jones and Castro ran for 174 yards. Minus Fairhart's 45-yard TD pass, Meridian only gave up 55 total yards in the first two quarters.
Neither offense could get anything going in the third quarter until Eatonville's Fairhart took a quarterback draw up the middle for 28 yards. Fairhart fumbled at Meridian's 1-yard line, but Keefer fell on the ball in the end zone to cut the Trojans' lead to 19-15 with seven seconds left in the third.
After the score, the Cruisers began taking over the momentum of the game.
On the Trojans' next possession, McGuinn and Castro fumbled an exchange and Eatonville pounced on the ball on Meridian's 28. A TD would have put Eatonville in front, but the Trojans came up with a big stop, forcing a turnover on downs after four plays.
The Trojans picked up their first first down of the second half at the 10-minute mark of the fourth quarter, but Eatonville forced a Meridian punt with 5:17 left in the game.
On the second play of Eatonville's next drive, Fairhart bobbled a shotgun snap. Meridian fell on the ball at the Cruisers' 22, but was unable to seal the game after a McGuinn pass to Chad Richter went for a 1 yard on a fourth-and-goal on the Eatonville 2.
After a McGuinn interception on the Cruisers' next drive, Meridian drove to Eatonville's 2, but Castro fumbled to give the Cruisers one more shot to engineer a game-winning drive.
On a fourth-and-10 on its own 1, Relijah McMillen intercepted a Fairhart pass, returned it to the 1, fumbled, and Castro recovered the ball in the end zone to give the Trojans a 26-15 lead and the win.
"We just played hard," Ames said. "I'm a little awed (with our play), as well."
McGuinn finished with a team-high 86 rushing yards, and Castro and Jones each ran for 81 yards.
Reach Andrew Lang at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-756-2862.
Meridian 6 13 0 7- 26
Eatonville 7 2 6 0- 15
MER - Max McGuinn 1 run (kick fail)
EAT - Caleb Keefer 45 pass from Zach Fairhart.
MER - Letrez Jones 1 run (pass fail)
EAT - Safety
MER - Jeremy Brockmann 2 pass from McGuinn (Casey Bromet kick)
EAT - Keefer fumble recovery (kick fail)
MER - Castro fumble recovery (Bromet kick)
First downs 17 13
Rushing Att-Yards 49-248 26-128
Comp-Att-Int 10-18-2 10-28-2
Passing yards 94 107
Penalties-yards 8-55 3-24
Fumbles-lost 4-2 3-2
RUSHING - Meridian: Max McGuinn 14-86, Junior Castro 17-81, Latrez Jones 18-81. Eatonville: Brandon Atkins 12-33, Zach Fairhart 6-62, Jeff Patterson 5-6, George Tomal 3-27
PASSING - Meridian: Max McGuinn 10-18-2-94. Eatonville: Zach Fairhart 9-27-2-110, Jesse Bollen1-1-0-(-3).
RECEIVING - Meridian: Trevin Todd 3-21, Latrez Jones 2-21, Relijah McMillen 1-17, Jeremy Brockmann 1-2, Junior Castro 1-26, Sam Chambers 1-6, Chad Richter 1-1. Eatonville: Caleb Keefer 4-66, Brendan Davis 3-28, Chase Ketter 2-16, Jonathon Warner 1-(-3).
Reach ANDREW LANG at email@example.com or call ext. 862.