The most frightening aspect of Saturday’s first-round game at Civic Stadium – at least for the seven other teams still remaining in the Class 1A state playoff bracket – is that the Meridian football team can get a whole lot better.
Despite what the 63-21 final score and the Trojans’ unblemished record say, Meridian was far from perfect in a victory over Hoquiam. But with the exception of four turnovers, two of which were returned for touchdowns, and some other plays where they seemed just a smidgen off, the Trojans looked pretty darned good.
Certainly good enough that they’ll move on to host Montesano, a familiar foe this time of the year, at 1 p.m. Saturday at Civic Stadium in the state quarterfinals. The Bulldogs advanced with a 41-0 win over Charles Wright.
“We’ve just got to come back next week ready to go,” senior lineman Manny Sabalza said. “We’ll focus on not making as many mistakes and just be ready to go.”
Meridian (11-0) appeared ready to go Saturday, as on the first play from scrimmage, Eastern Washington-bound quarterback Simon Burkett found Lukas Hemenway open over the middle and hit him in stride, allowing Hemenway to zig zag his way 65 yards for a TD.
Meridian’s second drive lasted only slightly longer, as on the third play Burkett broke around the left end and raced 46 yards for a 14-0 lead despite having the ball slip out of his hands only to bounce perfectly back to him like a basketball dribbling on the court.
Burkett added an 11-yard scoring pass to TJ Dykstra, a 26-yard TD pass Dawson Logan on a fourth-and-17 play and a 20-yard toss to Kevin Galiano, which was his first touchdown catch of the year.
Burkett finished the half with 264 yards and four TDs to four different receivers – he would add another TD to another receiver in the third quarter and finish with 290 yards – and rushed for 107 yards and a TD. But he also lost a fumble and was intercepted twice, including one that Hoquaim’s Francis Sweeney returned 40 yards for the Grizzlies’ only points.
By the time of the first of Sweeney’s two pick-6s, Meridian was already up 35-0, and all it did was delay the running clock.
Cole Roberts’ 5-yard jaunt made the halftime score 42-7, and Burkett found Tony Schleimer from 16 yards out on Meridian’s first second-half drive to start the running clock.
The Trojans’ defense may have been overshadowed, but it certainly shouldn’t be overlooked, as for the second straight week it put the clamps on a playoff opponent. After allowing just a field goal in the district playoffs, the Meridian D didn’t surrender a point until 5.6 seconds remained on the game clock.
“We’re just coming out every week focusing on trying to get better on defense every week,” Sabalza said.
Hoquiam managed only 26 yards of total offense in the first half, thanks in part to tremendous pressure by the Trojans defensive front. Sabalza, Jake Cheney, Baker Otter and Roberts combined for four sacks in the first half, while Hemenway added an interception.
“Those were great plays by those guys, and it was amazing,” said Sabalza, who finished with two sacks and recovered a fumble at the Hoquiam 4 to set up one of two late scores by the Trojans. “Next week we’ve got to do that, too.”