High School Football

Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest 1A football team of all?

The Royal, left, and Meridian football teams used strong play by their physical, opportunistic defenses to advance to the Class 1A state championship game Saturday.
The Royal, left, and Meridian football teams used strong play by their physical, opportunistic defenses to advance to the Class 1A state championship game Saturday. Rodney Harwood / Columbia Basin Herald (left) and Evan Abell / The Bellingham Herald

Each wears an all-black helmet without a logo and all-black home uniforms trimmed in gold. Both have legendary coaches and a case full of trophies. They boast matching 13-0 records, with each getting there thanks to high-powered, balanced offenses and physical, stingy defenses.

Separated at birth much?

But late Saturday afternoon there will be one major difference between the Meridan and Royal football teams – only one team will be posing with the Class 1A state championship trophy on the Tacoma Dome turf following the 1 p.m. showdown for the title. The other will be relegated to trying hide tears and force smiles for a postgame team picture with the runner-up plaque.

“In some respects, we’re mirror images of each other,” Trojans coach Bob Ames said. “The only difference is our mirror is the size of a bicycle mirror and their’s is the length of a wall in a (luxury) condo. They run a lot of the same stuff we run. They run the same patterns. Our kids are calling out all their patterns watching film, because it’s exactly what we run. But we don’t have their size.”

Whatcom County football fans are used to taking Ames’ David vs. Goliath routine with a grain of salt, as he goes to the extreme to make sure opponents don’t have bulletin board material.

This week Ames even said he plans to “bring a fine-tooth rake because the turf is long enough we might lose someone.”

Only problem is this time is he’s not overstating things – at least not up until the rake. Royal presents the ultimate challenge.

“They have just been physically stronger and bigger than their opponents,” wrote Wayne Riner, who coaches Royal’s 1A Southeast League rival Connell. “And they’re coached extremely well. ... They are as good as any team I faced in 25 years of coaching other than Pullman in 2006.”

Riner’s Eagles were the only team to come within an area code of beating the Knights this season before falling 24-21 in their Oct. 13 meeting in Royal City. The 21 points Connell scored were a season high against Royal – no other team managed more than seven and eight opponents were shut out – while the Eagles held the Knights to a season-low scoring output – they were held to 35 points three other times, including twice in the state playoffs.

While Meridian is seeking its fourth state title in school history Saturday and its first since 2006, Royal is playing for its third straight crown. In fact, the Knights’ 13-0 run to the Tacoma Dome is only part of 40-game win streak that stretches back to a 28-10 loss to Colville in the 2014 state quarterfinals.

The way they’ve done it this year, Riner said, is with outstanding defense.

“Their defense is by far the best defense they’ve ever had – not one weakness in their defense,” Riner wrote in an email. “We’re as physical as they are and matched up with them well; they could just make a few more big plays than us.”

In some respects, we’re mirror images of each other.

Meridian coach Bob Ames

Ames said part of the reason the Knights are so good is their size up front with a defensive line that averages well over 200 pounds, but they have plenty of size and talent at all three levels.

“We were watching them play Newport (in a 35-7 semifinal win Saturday), and they just couldn’t block them,” Ames said. “I think they must have had 15 quarterback sacks.”

Royal also has plenty of big-play ability on offense, led by receiver Corbin Christensen, whom Riner said “might be the best WR in the state.” He has 52 catches for 1,070 yards and 16 touchdowns this year.

Focus too much on him, and Alonso Hernandez will beat you on the ground. All he’s done is rush for 1,111 yards and 16 TDs on 157 carries.

They are as good as any team I faced in 25 years of coaching other than Pullman in 2006.

Connell coach Wayne Riner

“They’re a big-play team,” Riner wrote. “If we don’t give up cheap big plays, we could of beat them the last two years.”

But even preventing the big plays may not be enough, Riner said. You’ve got to make your own big plays.

“To knock them off, you would have to have seven turnovers and score on each of them,” Riner wrote.

Fortunately, Meridian’s defense has shown an affinity for creating opportunities for its high-scoring offense, which is led by Eastern Washington-bound quarterback Simon Burkett and his talented corps of skill position players. The Trojans created four turnovers in last week’s 34-14 semifinal win over La Center and numerous other opportunities in the past month.

“We’ll show up,” Ames said.

Class 1A state championship game

Meridian vs. Royal

Time: 1 p.m. Saturday

Site: Tacoma Dome

Live streaming: nfhsnetwork.com/washington/football

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