It’s always a tough task to beat the top-seeded defending champs in a state playoff game in their house.
It’s even tougher when over half your team is embroiled in the throws of illness.
A Montesano team besieged with sickness saw No. 1 Royal score 28 unanswered points in the first half en route to a 41-9 loss in the 1A State quarterfinals on Saturday in Royal City.
Despite entering the game with most of its key starters and personnel available to play, Montesano (9-3 overall) was hampered with an undisclosed illness that spread to more than half of its players this past week.
Never one to make excuses, Montesano head coach Terry Jensen said while the illness had an impact on his team’s performance, it was not the reason it came up short on Saturday.
“Certainly there was some type of impact. … It affected a lot of our kids, but I don’t think that’s the reason we lost,” Jensen said. “Energy levels, focus and that type of stuff can be a problem when you are sick and battling that type of stuff.”
Jensen said his team’s loss had more to do with execution than illness.
“Our kids battled and gave great effort, we just didn’t have the execution we’ve had in previous games,” he said. “We didn’t have the execution to play at that level. We needed to be better in a lot of different areas, and that includes me.”
Royal (10-1) opened the game by driving downfield and scoring when senior quarterback Dylan Allred hit junior tight end Bennett Brown with a 13-yard touchdown pass at the 9:43 mark.
The Bulldogs responded by driving into the Knights red zone before stalling out and settling for an 18-yard field goal from sophomore kicker Felix Romero.
Monte’s defense held the Knights to three-and-out on the ensuing possession.
The Bulldogs offense followed with a drive that culminated with a 35-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Jayden McElravy to senior receiver Kaleb Ames, with Ames rising to snare the pass between two Knights defenders then outrunning them all to the end zone.
Romero’s extra point gave the Bulldogs a 9-7 lead with just under six minutes left in the first quarter.
But it was all downhill for the Bulldogs after that as Monte would fail to score another point in the game while Royal tallied 28 straight points to end the first half with a 35-9 lead.
Monte’s woes began when Royal senior running back Kaleb Hernandez broke loose for a 55-yard run that set up a Knights touchdown later in the drive, with Allred connecting with receiver Edgar Delarosa for a 3-yard touchdown to regain the lead at 14-9.
Hernandez’s big run seemed to sap Monte’s momentum, according to Jensen.
“At that point, it seemed like some of the air went out for us,” the veteran head coach said.
Delarosa and Allred would hook up again for a first-quarter score on a 32-yard pass-and-catch with six seconds left in the first quarter.
The pair would connect on another 32-yard touchdown with 8:52 to go in the second quarter and the Knights would take a 35-9 lead going into halftime when sophomore running back Ethan Ellis scored on a 25-yard run.
Allred punched in a 2-yard touchdown run to close out the scoring at 41-9 with 5:24 left in the third quarter.
Royal outgained Monte 472-307, with the Knights gaining 279 yards on the ground to 122 for Monte and passed for 193 yard to Monte’s 185.
Jensen said Royal’s physicality up front and poor tackling by the Bulldogs defense were also contributing factors in the loss.
“We had a hard time tackling. We didn’t tackle very well,” he said. “We struggled with trying to control the line of scrimmage. They were more physical than we were. … When you get to that point and you’re playing the No. 1 seed, you have to play close to flawless and we didn’t do that.”
The loss ends a Montesano season that began with question marks as to how good the 2022 iteration of the Bulldogs would be and ended as one of the state’s eight remaining teams.
Jensen offered thanks to a senior class he said was “very coachable and hard workers.”
“We had a great group of seniors. I’d like to thank them and their parents for the great job they did,” he said. “We tell our seniors, ‘You’re job is to make the program better than when you started,’ and they certainly did that. We were trying to think of any problems our seniors have had over the course of four years and we couldn’t think of anything. … We’ll miss those guys.”
Jensen also thanked his coaching staff for doing “a really great job and putting in a lot of time.”
“Our goal was to get better every day and our assistant coaches did a great job of trying to carry that out and hold the kids accountable,” he said. “I’m proud of their efforts.”