The stage was set for an epic comeback that would have been great fodder for a movie script. But there would be no Hollywood ending for the Montesano Bulldogs on this night.
Down 20-3 after a first half that went from bad to utterly dreary, Montesano rallied in the second half to position itself for an inspirational comeback victory. But alas is wasn’t to be, as Deer Park thwarted the Buldogs’ comeback hopes and held on for a 20-17 victory in the 1A State Football quarterfinal round on Saturday at Jack Rottle Field.
In a prelude to Monte’s ominous first half, the Bulldogs offense drove its opening possession down to the Stags’ red zone. But Monte’s drive stalled at the 17-yard line and kicker Jordan King was called upon for a 34-yard field goal attempt to give Monte its typical early lead. But King’s kicked missed wide left to keep the game scoreless.
Deer Park (12-0) responded loudly on its first possession when speedy running back Matthew Jorgenesen cut back to his right side on a run and was off to the races, sprinting 72 yards for the game’s opening touchdown at the 5:38 mark of the first quarter.
“Getting that first-quarter lead was important to us,” Deer Park head coach Keith Stamps said. “(Montesano) has had early leads all year and running clocks most of the time. … I think some of that was partly due to our film study. … Our kids are film warriors and they really played a solid first half.”
As much as Jorgensen’s touchdown stung, it paled in comparison to the proverbial paralysis the Bulldogs experienced on the very next play. On the ensuing kickoff, standout Montesano wide receiver and the 1A Evergreen League co-MVP, Sam Winter, back-peddled a few steps to his left, caught the kickoff, and immediately collapsed to the ground in pain.
A silence fell over the packed Montesano stands as medical personnel worked on Winter for several minutes. The senior standout eventually got to his feet and hobbled over to the sideline. Winter remained in uniform and was on the sideline for the duration of the game, but he would not play another down.
“I don’t know if it necessarily had an affect on the team, but you are kind of shocked by it when it happens because (Winter) had been so healthy all season,” Montesano head coach Terry Jensen said. “We had to make some adjustments and it took us to long to make them, and that’s on me.”
Without one of its league MVPs unable to play, Montesano (11-1) turned to its other League MVP to lead the way. Monte quarterback Trace Ridgway responded by willing the Bulldogs offense down the field, driving to the Stags’ 20-yard line with less than two minutes to go in the first quarter.
But Monte’s drive stalled again inside the Stags’ red zone, forcing King to boot a 37-yard field goal to make it a 7-3 ballgame.
The run-heavy Stags took the following drive down to the Monte 41-yard line. A well-timed inside screen from Deer Park quarterback Chaz Bird to running back Bennett Lim gave the Stags a 13-3 lead at the 8:20 mark of the quarter.
Montesano’s offense struggled to sustain drives without the vertical-passing threat of Winter. But the Bulldogs defense found its footing, forcing the Stags to punt after linebacker Brent Hollatz and defensive lineman Kenny Koonrad combined to sack Bird, giving Monte’s offense one more shot before halftime.
But disaster struck again for Monte as returner Braden Dohrmann attempted to pick up a bouncing football with Deer Park players in the vicinity. Dohrmann couldn’t field the ball cleanly and the fumble was recovered by Deer Park’s Josh Alder at the Montesano 21-yard line.
The Stags made Monte pay when Jorgensen scored on a 12-yard run three plays later, giving Deer Park a 20-3 lead with just 10 seconds left in the half.
“(Deer Park) got after us right away. … I thought we played real well on defense tonight, but we struggled on the offensive side and part of that was their defense was a really good defense. They fly to the ball and we knew we had to be patient. We just didn’t execute as well as we could,” Jensen said before providing insight as to what the Bulldogs coaching staff told the team at halftime. “There wasn’t panic in the locker room. It was more that we needed to come out and start playing and I think that was triggered by our defense.”
Facing its biggest deficit of the season against its toughest opponent yet, Montesano decided it wouldn’t go down without a fight.
After the Bulldogs defense forced a Deer Park punt on the opening drive of the third quarter, Monte’s offense had a 12-play, 80-yard drive that culminated with a 2-yard touchdown run from running back Isaac Pierce, cutting the Stags’ lead to 20-10 with 3:11 left in the period.
Later in the third quarter, Monte’s defense — led by a key third-down pass deflection by Dohrmann — forced another punt by Deer Park. But Monte’s offense went three-and-out and was forced to punt.
The game remained 20-10 until midway through the fourth quarter. Montesano defensive lineman Conner Hollatz recovered a Deer Park fumble at midfield, setting up Monte’s offense with excellent field position.
The Bulldogs scored when Ridgway took a keeper through the middle of the Stags’ defense for a 9-yard touchdown that set off a thunderous roar from the Monte faithful. King followed with the point-after as the Bulldogs drew closer at 20-17 with 6:31 still to play.
Monte’s defense held Deer Park to another three-and-out possession, setting up the Bulldogs offense with a chance to take the lead late in the game and complete an improbable comeback.
Montesano drove from its own 46 down to the Deer Park 35-yard line with just over two minutes left in the game. But the Stags’ defense forced a 4th-and-5 play, with Montesano’s season hanging in the balance. On the play, Ridgway dropped back, looked to his left, then fired a pass toward Dohrmann, who couldn’t come down with a leaping catch as Monte turned the ball over on downs.
After Deer Park ran some clock and forced Monte to use its two remaining timeouts, the Bulldogs would have one more chance at the lead, but with just 13 second left on the clock on its own 24-yard line. A Ridgway pass deep downfield fell incomplete, ending the game — and Monte’s championship hopes — by a score of 20-17.
Monte rushed for 239 yards as a team, 154 of those coming in the second half.
Ridgway ran for a team high 105 yards on 21 carries in the loss.
Deer Park rushed for 172 yards total and were held to just 36 yards on the ground in the second half, all of those coming in the third quarter.
Jorgensen led the Stags with 132 rushing yards.
“(Montesano) answered in that second half. … We knew Montesano was a good football team and wasn’t going to pack it in at halftime,” Stamps said of Monte’s second-half performance. “We told our kids at halftime, ‘We drove over here to play 48 minutes and we’re going to have to go play 24 more.’ … I’m proud of our kids’ effort. We were gritty tonight. We were tough in the fourth quarter and were on our heels but made plays.”
“I thought our defense gave us a chance in the second half,” Jensen said. “We just ran out of time. … You’re down 20-3 in a playoff game, that’s a pretty steep climb.”
Though visibly distraught over the loss, Jensen stated he was proud of his team and that it was one of the best he’s coached in his legendary tenure at the school.
“I’m proud of the season we’ve had. This was one of my favorite years of coaching. … They’re one of the best teams I’ve ever coached. … They came focused and ready to practice, they were in on the scouting reports, we’ve had very little off-the-field problems. It’s a culmination of all those things that made this group pretty special. You’d just hate to see it end, but there is only one team that’s happy when this is all over, and we took our lumps today.”