High School Football

Meridian displayed the heart of a champion; would it get the hardware to match?

Meridian players show their disappointment as they walk off the field after a 33-27 loss to Royal in the 1A state championship game Saturday, Nov. 2, at the Tacoma Dome.
Meridian players show their disappointment as they walk off the field after a 33-27 loss to Royal in the 1A state championship game Saturday, Nov. 2, at the Tacoma Dome. eabell@bhamherald.com

Getting a high school coach to pick a favorite team from year to year is like trying to get a mother to pick a favorite child – it just won’t be done. But if you listen and watch close enough, you can pick up on some clues of when a coach has a squad they really like.

Legendary Meridian football coach Bob Ames always smiles when he talks about the 2017 version of the Trojans. Sure he’s used the terms “small” and “slow” to describe them, but he says that every year. This year, when he says “they’re real nice kids,” you get the sense he isn’t just saying it to avoid a question – he really means it. And he’s come up with the nickname “pound puppies” to describe them.

“This is a special group,” Ames admitted Saturday. “They stuck with us through thick and thin. They liked what we were doing, never complained, worked hard and had fun, and here they were – we had a chance to upset the best team in the state.”

They most certainly did.

Meridian did nearly everything except win the game, pushing the two-time defending state champions to the brink before succumbing 33-27 to top-ranked Royal in an exciting back-and-forth battle for the Class 1A state title Saturday at the Tacoma Dome. Alonso Hernandez-Rangel’s third touchdown of the afternoon from 7 yards out broke what was a tie game with 2:32 to play.

Meridian (13-1) reached midfield on a last-ditch attempt to come back, but Simon Burkett’s Hail Mary attempt fell to the turf just short of the end zone in the southeast corner of the arena as time expired, ending the Trojans’ dreams of bringing home the fourth state title in school history this year, as the Knights (14-0) stretched their win streak to 41 games dating back to a state playoff loss in 2014 and claimed a hard-earned third straight crown.

“Everybody wants to win,” Meridian senior Tony Schleimer said. “We wanted this so bad, but you can’t be too upset – we played a great game.”

1203 Meridian STATE FOOT 2
Meridian’s Simon Burkett is sacked by Royal’s Jack Diaz on third down with a little more than five minutes left in the game Saturday, Nov. 2, at the Tacoma Dome. Evan Abell eabell@bhamherald.com

That’s a bit of an understatement, but considering Meridian was a sizable underdog, we’ll let it pass.

Ames’ pound puppies played with every bit of heart and determination you could ask for – they just simply ran into the best 1A team in the state.

But every time Royal thought it might start pulling away, the Trojans had an answer. The Knights, who averaged beating teams by nearly 47 points per game this year, never led by more than eight Saturday.

The 27 points Meridian scored were the most Royal gave up this year, and the Trojans’ four offensive touchdowns were twice as many as anybody else managed against the Knights.

1203 Meridian STATE FOOT 3
Meridian's Simon Burkett falls into the end zone with Royal defenders clinging to him for a touchdown in the 1A state championship game Saturday, Nov. 2, at the Tacoma Dome. Evan Abell eabell@bhamherald.com

“They’re really good,” Ames said of Royal. “I’m proud that our kids didn’t fall into the ‘oh my gosh they’re big and if they score a touchdown we’re going to fold.’”

In fact, you got the sense that if Meridian had just 15 or 30 more seconds on the clock, it would have been the Trojans celebrating with the big trophy.

“Nobody’s come that close, so we’re pretty proud,” Schleimer said.

Royal struck first on its third possession, when the Knights capped off a 10-play, 53-yard drive when Sawyer Jenks found Corbin Christensen from 14 yards out in the left front corner of the end zone with 3:47 left in the first.

1203 Meridian STATE FOOT 4
Meridian’s Dylan Hickok fights through a tackle by Royal’s Logan Gilbert in the 1A state championship game Saturday, Nov. 2, at the Tacoma Dome. Evan Abell eabell@bhamherald.com

Meridian immediately answered, as Burkett guided the Trojans on a 13-play, 65-yard drive before finding Bryce Vandenhaak on fourth-and-goal from the 4 on the third play of the second quarter.

And so it began.

Royal’s 44-yard double pass from Christensen to Angel Farias Ramos with 2:12 left in the half, was answered by Burkett’s 15-yard scramble to the end zone with 1:11 to play. The Knights’ 1-yard dive by Hernandez-Rangel 14 seconds before the half was answered by the Burkett’s 55-yard touchdown pass to Dawson Logan on the second play from scrimmage in the third quarter. Hernandez scored on a 2-yard run with 3:51 left in the third, so Burkett sprinted 10 yards to the end zone on Meridian’s ensuing possession.

“Just knowing we had confidence in ourselves and feeling we could get it done kept us in it,” said Burkett, who passed for 305 yards and two TDs and rushed for 40 and two more scores. “We just came up short at the end. ... We knew we were outmatched by size, but our effort was second to none.”

Meridian looked like it might take its first lead early in the the fourth quarter after Burkett tied it at 27, as Manny Sabalza stepped in front of a Jenks pass and returned it to the Royal 43. But the possession didn’t produce any points, as on fourth down Kevin Galliano was tripped up on a play that definitely could have been called pass interference and the ball went back to Royal on downs.

1203 Meridian STATE FOOT 5
Meridian’s Bryce VandenHaak is dragged down by Royal’s Corbin Christensen in the 1A state championship game Saturday, Nov. 2, at the Tacoma Dome. Evan Abell eabell@bhamherald.com

“I thought he was going to take that to the house,” Ames said of Sabalza’s interception. “Our defensive guys and offensive guys did a great job scheming and gave us a chance – they put us in position.”

And though Saturday’s loss stings, Meridian should feel proud of what it accomplished this season, advancing to the sixth title game in school history.

The Trojans listed 10 seniors on their 37-player roster, and some of the losses will definitely be big. But Meridian will return a strong core. What remains to be seen is if they will bring the same level of heart, grit and determination that this year’s Trojans did.

“Our guys never talked about winning or losing,” Ames said. “That’s not just talking; they just didn’t. The came every week ready to play.”

Boxscore

Royal

7

14

6

6

33

Meridian

0

13

8

6

27

First quarter

Royal – Corbin Christensen 10 pass from Sawyer Jenks (Osvaldo Guerrero kick), 3:47

Second quarter

Meridian – Bryce Vandenhaak 4 pass from Simon Burkett (Taylor Snook kick), 11:38

Royal – Angel Farias Ramos 44 pass from Christensen (Guerrero kick), 2:12

Meridian – Burkett 15 run (kick failed), 1:11

Royal – Alonso Hernandez-Rangel 1 run (Guerrero kick), 0:14.

Third quarter

Meridian – Dawson Logan 55 pass from Burkett (Lukas Hemenway pass from Burkett), 11:16

Royal – Hernandez-Rangel 2 run (kick blocked), 3:51

Fourth quarter

Meridian – Burkett 10 run (kick failed), 11:22

Royal – Hernandez-Rangel 7 run (kick blocked), 2:32

Team statistics

Royal

Meridian

First downs

19

19

Rushing yards

158

44

Rushing attempts

31

19

Rushing average

5.1

2.3

Passing yards

233

311

Cmp.-Att.-Int.

18-35-1

23-48-2

Total offense

391

355

Fumbles-lost

0-0

3-1

Penalties-yards

14-123

8-85

Time of possession

24:53

23:07

Third-down conversions

3-11

5-14

Fourth-down conversions

0-4

3-5

Sacks-yards

5-34

0-0

Individual stats

PASSING

ROYAL

Cmp.

Att.

Yards

TD

Int.

Sawyer Jenks

17

34

189

1

1

Corbin Christensen

1

1

44

1

0

MERIDIAN

Cmp.

Att.

Yards

TD

Int.

Simon Burkett

22

47

305

2

2

Bryce Vandenhaak

1

1

6

0

0

RUSHING

ROYAL

Att.

Yards

Avg.

TD

Alonson Hernandez

24

143

6.0

3

Lorenzo Myrick

5

18

3.6

0

Jack Diaz

1

2

2.0

0

Angel Farias Ramos

1

-5

-5.0

0

MERIDIAN

Att.

Yards

Avg.

TD

Simon Burkett

16

40

2.5

2

Bryce Vandenhaak

1

2

2.0

0

Cole Roberts

2

2

1.0

0

RECEIVING

ROYAL

Att.

Yards

TD

Corbin Christensen

9

98

1

Angel Farias Ramos

5

78

1

Lorenzo Myrick

2

44

0

Isaac Ellis

1

10

0

Carlos Quintero

1

3

0

MERIDIAN

Att.

Yards

TD

Bryce Vandenhaak

6

95

1

Dawson Logan

4

114

1

Tony Schleimer

4

27

0

Lukas Hemenway

2

19

0

TJ Dykstra

2

18

0

Cole Roberts

2

2

0

Dylan Hickok

1

18

0

Simon Burkett

1

6

0

Meridian in state titles games

Year

Class

Opponent

Result

1984

1A

Cashmere

L 32-7

1999

2A

Yakima East Valley

W 57-14

2000

2A

Omak

L 30-14

2003

2A

Pullman

W 34-10

2006

1A

Connell

W 27-22

2017

1A

Royal

L 33-27

Class 1A state champions

Year

Winner

Loser

Score

1973

Raymond

Connell

35-6

1974

Raymond

Cle Elum-Roslyn

19-8

1975

Raymond

Winlock

20-7

1976

Winlock

Orting

23-6

1977

Chewelah

Winlock

20-0

1978

Blaine

Granger

20-7

1979

Omak

Langley

7-6

1980

Lynden

Burbank Columbia

19-14

1981

Colfax

Montesano

6-0

1982

North Mason

Woodland

28-14

1983

Montesano

Riverside

35-27

1984

Cashmere

Meridian

32-7

1985

Eatonville

Cashmere

14-0

1986

Ephrata

Lynden Christian

32-15

1987

Ephrata

Lynden

21-12

1988

Castle Rock

Ephrata

23-20

1989

Toppenish

Charles Wright

31-16

1990

Eatonville

Ephrata

10-6

1991

Lynden

Medical Lake

34-14

1992

Eatonville

Zillah

26-23

1993

Riverside

Lynden Christian

17-14 (OT)

1994

Montesano

Royal

27-21

1995

Ridgefield

Leavenworth Cascade

44-30

1996

Royal

Toledo

70-0

1997

Lynden Christian

Colfax

22-20

1998

Kalama

Okanogan

14-6

1999

Okanogan

Kalama

28-0

2000

Royal

Tacoma Baptist

49-17

2001

Colfax

Tacoma Baptist

49-7

2002

Archbishop Murphy

Royal

35-14

2003

Archbishop Murphy

Zillah

20-0

2004

Royal

Freeman

29-7

2005

Royal

Tonasket

34-14

2006

Meridian

Connell

27-22

2007

Royal

Connell

28-16

2008

Cashmere

Cascade Christian

10-9

2009

Connell

Cascade Christian

28-7

2010

Cascade Christian

Connell

42-35

2011

Connell

Cascade Christian

28-7

2012

Montesano

Royal

43-28

2013

Freeman

Mount Baker

31-13

2014

Cascade Christian

Colville

27-26

2015

Royal

King’s

28-7

2016

Royal

Connell

25-10

2017

Royal

Meridian

33-27

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