For the first time in three weeks, the Meridian football team played like a squad that rode a roller coaster through the regular season to a 4-5 record.
This wasn’t the team that needed only four plays to knock off Nooksack Valley in a tie-breaker just to reach the postseason, and it certainly wasn’t the one that went on the road to beat two ranked opponents in the Class 1A Northwest District playoffs and the first round of the state playoffs.
For 12 horrifying minutes, the Trojans finally looked like a team that was playing with house money. And the problem with that? The house always wins.
Third-ranked Connell scored the game’s first 28 points in the first quarter and escorted Meridian to the exit with a 56-21 loss in the 1A state quarterfinals Saturday at Civic Stadium.
“What a great team – talented, athletic, well-coached,” Trojans coach Bob Ames said of Connell. “That’s why you get in the playoffs is to play teams like that. We struggled mightily in that first half.”
In the first quarter, especially, that’s a bit of an understatement.
On their first four possessions, the Eagles (11-1) got 7- and 8-yard touchdown runs by Brian Hawkins along with a pair of scoring throws from Hawkins to Steven Kroontje that covered 75 and 36 yards. Those four drives covered a total of 189 yards.
Meridian’s total offensive output during that time? Negative 4 yards to go along with the first of three Trojans interceptions.
“Some of our guys, I don’t know, didn’t trust what we had planned,” Ames said. “It was one of those things where things don’t go well, and wham, wham, wham, you’re down. Our kids fought back, though.”
That, they most certainly did.
In fact, if not for three turnovers inside Connell’s 10-yard line, including one on a questionable fumble at the goal line, and a fourth turnover on downs at the Eagles’ 5, Meridian would have had a shot to make a game of it.
Though he struggled early, Trojans quarterback Simon Burkett hit 34 of 57 passes for 417 yards and three touchdowns. His top targets were TJ Dykstra, who caught 14 passes for 191 yards and two TDs, and Tony Schleimer, who snared 11 passes for 45 yards.
“Simon was hot. … I don’t think they’ve been thrown on like that, and I don’t think they’ve had very many games where they’ve had to play their ones the whole game,” Ames said. “As they got tired, we figured we’d be in better shape than they were.”
But Connell seemed to have an answer for every scoring drive the Trojans were able to muster, as Hawkins finished with 105 yards rushing and 219 yards passing and Jaxs Whitby rushed for 107 yards and two TDs.
And that was enough to end Meridian’s season with a 6-6 record.
“Considering the adversity with the injuries and that kind of stuff, it was awesome to see them come together,” Ames said. “Just look at our little guys out there fighting. That’s what high school football is all about.”
Meridian listed 12 seniors on its roster. While the Trojans will return most of their key skill position players next year, there will be some big losses along the lines.
“That senior group was Meridian football players, and that’s saying a lot,” Ames said. “They epitomized the selflessness and the hard work and the sportsmanship and the teamness. I can’t say enough about them. … It was a fun season. Here we are, we played in the state quarters. Fifth place in state, that’s awesome.”
Con – Brian Hawkins 7 run (Luis Ramos kick)
Con – Hawkins 8 run (Ramos kick)
Con – Steven Kroontje 75 pass from Hawkins (Ramos kick)
Con – Kroontje 36 pass from Hawkins (Ramos kick)
Mer – Lukas Hemenway 12 pass from Simon Burkett (Nick Sebastian kick)
Con – Hawkins 11 run (Ramos kick)
Con – Jaxs Whitby 1 run (Ramos kick)
Mer – TJ Dykstra 8 pass from Burkett (Sebastian kick)
Con – Ramos 47 run (Ramos kick)
Mer – Dykstra 9 pass from Burkett (Sebastian kick)
Con – Whitby 16 run (Ramos kick)
RUSHING – Connell: .Jaxs Whitbey 17-107, Brian Hawkins 12-105, Luis Ramos 3-54, Jarrod Tuttle 2-20, Tristen Garland 3-35. Meridian: Simon Burkett 5-39, Lukas Hemenway 1-3, Cole Roberts 2-5, Tony Schleimer 3-21, Dawson Logan 1-7.
PASSING – Connell: Brian Hawkins 11-15-0-219. Meridian: Simon Burkett 34-57-3-417.
RECEIVING – Connell: Caleb Price 3-47, Tristen Garland 1-7, Steven Kroontje 3-127, Jaxs Whitby 1-9, Jarrod Tuttle 1-19, Joseph Salisbury 2-10. Meridian: Andrew Logan 2-(-2), Tony Schleimer 11-145, TJ Dykstra 14-191, Lukas Hemenway 2-20, Dawson Logan 3-25, Josh Plagerman 1-1, Dawson Phillips 1-37.