Meridian holds Monte offense in check

BELLINGHAM — Montesano’s football season came to a bitter end on Saturday as the Bulldog offense that set its league on fire against the Meridian Trojans at Civic Stadium.

Meridian came away with a 28-7 win to advance to the state semifinals, bottling up Monte’s ground attack to hold it to its lowest point total of the year.

The Bulldogs finished the season with an 11-1 record. Meridian will face La Center — a triple-overtime winner over Cascade Christian — in the state semifinals.

The Trojans (12-0) won the coin toss, chose to receive the kick and effortlessly marched downfield. Simon Burkett capped off the drive with a 45-yard touchdown pass to Bryce Vandenhaak to put Meridian up 7-0 early in the first quarter.

After forcing a three-and-out on Monte’s first possession, Meridian went back to work and found itself in red zone territory again. The Bulldogs appeared to have come up with a goal-line stand, but the Trojans got a second chance to punch it in when the referees threw a controversial flag for pass interference on fourth-and-goal.

The call gave Meridian a second life on the drive and the Trojans took advantage, handing the ball off to Vandenhaak on the goal line to put the score at 14-0.

Montesano’s offense could not answer with a touchdown of its own in the first quarter. Carson Klinger was routinely bottled up in the backfield and struggled to find the blocks that would spring him for one of his signature long runs.

Bulldogs head coach Terry Jensen said a stagnant running game crippled their offensive attack.

“They controlled the line of scrimmage for the game and we’re not going to win any games with 20 yards rushing,” he said. “Their defense played outstanding. We had some chances to hit a few big plays but we didn’t execute well enough.”

While the offense struggled to move the ball downfield and only had six first downs in the contest, the defense kept the game close in the first half. Jared Wallace broke up two passes on third downs to force Meridian punts while Kobe Gallinger came away with a pick that ended up being Monte’s only takeaway.

The defense held up long enough for the offense to find its first bit of success when Dakoyta Reninger caught a 15-yard touchdown pass from Trevor Ridgway in the second quarter to make it 14-7.

Jensen said he was proud of the way his defensive unit held up for most of the game.

“I thought we played really well on defense. They kept us in the game,” he said. “Their quarterback probably had over 100 yards rushing the ball but overall I thought we played pretty well on defense. For what we produced on offense and to only give up 28 points, our defense was solid.”

When the teams took the field again for the second half, defense dominated again with Trojans and the Bulldogs playing to a stalemate in the third quarter.

The Bulldogs bend-but-don’t-break philosophy on defense could not contain Meridian in the fourth quarter when Burkett’s quarterback draw plays began to wear the defense down. The Trojans got huge chunks of yardage on the ground in the fourth quarter and added two more scores to put the game out of reach in the final minutes of the game.

Jensen said it was difficult to stop Burkett’s runs when they came out in a spread formation.

“They would empty the backfield and spread you out and go five wide so you’d have to cover the five because they’ll throw if you don’t go cover them,” he said. “That leaves six in the box and if you don’t tackle him, he’s gone.”

The loss was a disappointing one as many Bulldog seniors were overcome with emotion after the final whistle.

Jensen said the effort of his players cannot be measured on the scoreboard.

“Its not all about winning and losing. Its about life lessons,” he said. “We always tell them that if they can leave the program better than when you entered it then you’ve done your job. Our seniors have done that.”