Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, it was almost a birthright for every black and gold-swaddled child born into the Meridian School District. At least once during every senior class’ high school career, you could count on the Trojans advancing to the state football semifinals and possibly playing for a state title.
In the 15 seasons between 1992 and 2006, Meridian made it to the state’s Final Four seven times. But the well seemingly dried up. Since 2006, a semifinal trip in 2010 was the only time Meridian would play on Thanksgiving weekend.
“It seems like it’s been 15, 20 years since we’ve been there,” Meridian coach Bob Ames said, “and we used to live there.”
Welcome home, Bob. Simon Burkett rushed for two touchdowns and passed for two more and the Trojans thoroughly dominated Saturday’s Class 1A state quarterfinal against fellow state heavyweight Montesano in a 28-7 victory, sending Meridian back the semifinals.
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“It's awesome, a great feeling,” junior Dylan Hickok said. “We haven't been this successful in a long time, so it feels good to be here.”
Meridian (12-0) will now face either La Center or Cascade Christian, who played late Saturday. The WIAA will release the time and location for all state semifinals Sunday, but Lummi’s Class 1B quarterfinal win Saturday should help the case to hold both teams’ semifinals at Civic Stadium in a doubleheader.
Ames is just happy they get to keep playing.
“Just look at our little pound puppies and how hard they play,” Ames said. “They don't think about it. They love practicing, they love playing. They love being with their guys. ... Now we get another game to play.”
Just as in their first two playoff wins this year, the reason Meridian is moving on is the outstanding play of its defense, which limited a Bulldogs squad that came in averaging 42.5 points scored per game to a single touchdown. That came on the heals of limiting Bothell Cedar Park Christian to a field goal in the district playoffs and keeping the Hoquiam offense out of the end zone until the game’s final play in the first round of the state playoffs.
“We just came out of our league, and those guys are really good,” Ames said. “Our guys have worked hard, but the competition we had for six weeks straight (in league) put us here.”
Saturday, Meridian silenced Montesano’s run game, holding the Bulldogs to 13 yards on 21 carries.
“We knew they were running a lot,” Hickok said. “We knew the key was to take away that run, and we did a good job of that.”
The passing game didn’t produce much more, as Trevor Ridgway passed for 132 yards and a TD and was intercepted once. Meridian also added four sacks and three more tackles for loss.
The key to that defensive play, Hickok said, was “everyone having a job and going out and doing it every Saturday.”
Sounds simple, right? Meridian made it look simple Saturday, as it took control early and never looked back.
The Trojans took the opening possession and marched 72 yards in five plays, as Burkett found Bryce Vandenhaak on a 29-yard go route to make it 7-0 just 2:05 into the game.
“It was really important to come out and get the momentum and get confidence for our guys,” Burkett said.
Burkett and the Trojans added to that confidence. After forcing a three-and-out, Dawson Logan tipped Montesano’s punt. Meridian took over at the Monte 21, and six plays later Burkett dove in to the end zone on a fourth-and-1 play from the 2.
Montesano got its one big play of the game late in the second quarter on a 45-yard pass from Ridgway to Kobe Gallinger, and two plays later Ridgway connected with Dakoyta Reninger from 8 yards out to cut the Trojans’ lead in half before halftime. But it never seemed like Meridian was seriously in trouble.
Burkett added a 19-yard scoring run and a 12-yard TD pass to TJ Dykstra in the fourth quarter, but the game really wasn’t as close as the score would show. Meridian had two long Burkett touchdown runs negated by penalty and another potential TD pass was dropped in the end zone.
Burkett finished with 100 yards rushing on 18 carries and passed for 151 yards. Vandenhaak rushed for 48 yards and had four catches for 85, while Cole Roberts added 37 on the ground and 24 receiving.
“We really knew we could get back (to the semifinals),” Burkett said. “To come out here and do it is real special for us.”