The Meridian football team looked like it was on its way to a signature Trojan, grind-it-out win after leading 8-0 at halftime against King’s in a Class 1A Northwest District playoff game on Friday, Nov. 7, at King’s High School.
The Trojans had held King’s quarterback Koa Wilkins to just 5 of 13 passing for 50 yards in a scoreless first half . But the Knights made the proper adjustments and exploited their height in the second half to end Meridian’s season with a 36-22 defeat.
Meridian went up in the first quarter on a Nick Dritsas 4-yard touchdown run, after Dritsas and Kevin Castro had combined for 74 yards rushing on six plays.
The Knights key adjustments? More defensive pressure and targeting their tall, athletic wide receivers.
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They had tried to do that from the get-go, as Wilkins launched a 15-yard pass to the 6-foot-2 Jackson Hand on the first play of the game, but Dritsas was there to break it up. Those mid- to long-range pass attempts were fewer in the first half, but in the second half they poured them on.
After forcing a Meridian three-and-out in the first series of the second half, Wilkins launched a deep ball perfectly placed to Hand on the Knights’ second play of the half, which he turned into a 55-yard touchdown.
“We knew that we had to get pressure because they had such great athletes at wide receiver,” Meridian coach Bob Ames said. “We knew that we’d be in trouble, and they came right out there on I think the second play of the half.”
The Knights exploited Hand’s and 6-foot-1 Ryan Fransen’s height to the tune of 22 third-quarter points.
But they also locked down the defensive side. The Trojans were forced into more passing situations in the second half, taking away the dual rushing attack that had carried them to their first-half lead.
King’s keyed in on a couple of quarterback Tanner Tutterrow’s passes and grabbed two third-quarter interceptions. Each time he came back out of the field, Tutterrow appeared unwaveringly confident despite the miscues.
“Tanner brings leadership, great leadership to the team,” Castro said. “He was in the weight room all summer, leading us, making sure we were in there. He is a great captain.”
Tutterrow found Castro, Kyle Young, Marcus McGuinn and Cody Bachman for 167 yards on 11-of-22 passing in the game.
“He’s been a good leader for us,” Ames said of the senior quarterback. “He hasn’t always taken care of the football, but he’s able to flush mistakes away and come back and play another down, and that’s real important if you’re a leader, especially that position.”
Both Ames and Castro praised Wilkins’ poise and talent as he led the Knights in their second-half comeback.
“They went after our corners (in the second half),” Ames said. “Their QB was just dropping dimes on them. Those passes are beautiful to see, except when they’re happening to you.”
Said Castro: “Their quarterback is a great player, and they were able to get those deep balls on us that our guys unfortunately weren’t able to get back on, but I know they ran their hearts out — they gave it their all.”
Tutterrow led a brief comeback attempt for the Trojans late in the fourth, trying to conjure up some of the comeback magic that has benefited Meridian the past two weeks against Mount Baker and Nooksack Valley.
Tutterrow’s pass to Castro on a third down near midfield that got the Trojans into King’s territory, and his pass to Castro a few plays later put them in scoring position. From there, Dritsas punched in another 4-yard touchdown to make it 29-15.
Wilkins sat out most of the next series for the Knights, having his leg looked at by coaches and staff. Corey Kispert filled in at quarterback and dropped a perfect pass to Hand, who caught it over the shoulder and was brought down inside the Meridian 10. Wilkins came back in and fought his way up the middle for a 3-yard touchdown to make it 36-15.
Tutterrow threw an interception on the next possession, but as was his nature, he came out composed and led another scoring drive the next time out, capped by Castro’s 1-yard run.
With just over two minutes to go, Meridian tried to use its timeouts to get another shot on offense, but a personal foul against the Trojans on a third-and-long gave King’s a first down and essentially sealed their fate.
“We had to stop them, and we had a chance, but I don’t know what that penalty was,” Ames said. “It was typical of a hard-fought game.”
Castro finished with 91 yards on 15 carries, complimented by Dritsas’ 17 carries for 64 yards.
Meridian — Nick Dritsas 4 run (Dritsas run)
King’s — Jackson Hand 55 pass from Koa Wilkins (Wilkins run)
King’s — Corey Kispert 23 pass from Wilkins (Jack VanDyke kick)
King’s — Kispert 11 pass from Wilkins (VanDyke kick)
King’s — Ryan Fransen 4 pass 65 pass from Wilkins (VanDyke kick)
Meridian — Dritsas 4 run (Joel Escbach kick)
King’s — Wilkins 3 run (VanDyke kick)
Meridian — Kevin Castro 1 run (Escbach kick)
RUSHING — Meridian: Kevin Castro 15-91, Nick Dritsas 17-64, Tanner Tutterrow 8-0, Dakota Jones 1-(-6). King’s: Koa Wilkins 14-54, Caleb Perry 3-22, Andrew Cline 1-5, Jackson Whitaker 4-5, Cooper Wright 1-1.
PASSING — Meridian: Tanner Tutterrow 11-23-3-0-167. King’s: Koa Wilkins 10-22-0-4-204, Corey Kispert 2-3-0-0-39, Cooper Wright 1-1-0-0-37.
RECEIVING — Meridian: Kyle Young 3-66, Kevin Castro 4-45, Cody Bachman 3-48, Marcus McGuinn 1-8. King’s: Jackson Hand 3-105, Ryan Fransen 4-111, Atley Shapiro 1-13, Jake Welch 2-14, Corey Kispert 2-34, Jacob Hatloe 1-3.