Montesano controlled the game and its own destiny with an emphatic 48-0 win over Hoquiam at Jack Rottle Field in Montesano on Friday.
With the win, Montesano (7-0, 2-0 Evergreen 1A) is the only undefeated team left in the 1A Evergreen League and can win the league title if it closes out the season with wins over Tenino and Elma.
Monte had to deal with a solid opening drive from Hoquiam (4-2, 1-1), which appeared to be on its way to score on its first possession.
Malaki Eaton came away with a big 15-yard run that brought the Grizzlies to 1st-and-goal. However, the drive stalled out when a combination of penalties and tackles for losses forced Hoquiam to go for it on 4th-and-goal 28 yards from the goal line.
Hoquiam turned the ball over on downs, setting Montesano up with solid field position for its first drive.
Hoquiam head coach Jeremy McMillan said his team can’t keep hurting itself with penalties in key moments.
“We’ve been talking about it since game one. We’re the most penalized team in the state in every division from youth on up,” he said. “Penalties and turnovers, you can’t have that in a game like this. You take on a team like Monte, you have to play near perfect.”
Montesano head coach Terry Jensen said the defensive unit really stood out on Friday.
“It was an outstanding defensive performance. It totally set the tone. (Hoquiam) got that first drive and got down there to the red zone and they got some penalties to back them up,” he said. “After that, they really struggled to move the ball. I have to give credit to defensive coordinator Brian Hollatz. He had a great game plan.”
Monte’s penetration into the backfield would be a theme on Friday as the Bulldogs picked up nine sacks. One of the players who made life difficult for Hoquiam quarterback Dane McMillan was Monte defensive lineman Tanner Nicklas, who came away with two sacks.
Nicklas said a variety of looks they presented up front made Monte’s defense difficult to block.
“We had our (up the middle) blitzing and our outside linebackers blitzing off the edge. We had different fronts for the defensive line, we ran a four front and a three front. We had our defensive ends go (outside) and that put a lot of pressure on the quarterback and had a free shot for our nose (tackle) just about every time.”
Montesano got its first touchdown of the night with a methodical drive that concluded with quarterback Trace Ridgway finding Sam Winter in the corner of the end zone on a fade route with 4:52 left in the first.
The Bulldogs offense exploded in the second quarter with four touchdowns to put the game out of reach before halftime.
Monte running back Aydan Darst took it to the house three times in the homecoming game on his way to gathering 61 yards on the ground in the first half.
Ridgway was also solid on the ground and contributed an 8-yard touchdown run with 6:17 in the second quarter to bring the score to 21-0.
The junior quarterback also broke off a big 21-yard run that set up Darst for a 4-yard touchdown run at 5:15 in the second quarter, putting the Bulldogs up 28-0.
A lot of Monte’s big runs came with sweeps to the outside, which Jensen said were a key part of the offensive game plan.
“We wanted to make them move from side to side and we thought we had some speed advantages on the perimeter,” he said. “We were able to get outside and Darst ran the ball well and we had some great blocking out there too.”
Darst added his last touchdown of the night with 17 seconds left on the clock on an 8-yard outside run to give the Bulldogs a commanding 34-0 lead.
Hoquiam head coach Jeremy McMillan said the sting of the loss was somewhat mitigated by the fact that it wasn’t season-ending, but he sees a lot of room for improvement for the Grizzlies to play on Monte’s level.
“We just have to play better. It’s like I told the kids, ‘The only way this turns into an ugly L is if you don’t learn from it,’” he said. “This is a good dish of humility. We have to get better and there are a lot of little things to get better at.”
Hoquiam will have a chance to tweak some things with a non-league game at Sequim at 6:30 p.m. on Friday.
Montesano’s run to the league title will continue with a home game against Tenino on Friday at 7 p.m.
Jensen isn’t looking past the two remaining games on the schedule and said his team is in good position to dictate its own fate.
“We’re in control of our destiny because if we win out, we can be league champs. Our focus is to do that so we can get a home crossover game and get better every week,” he said.