MOSES LAKE — The key to the whole shooting match was to contain the elusive Newport quarterback Koa Pancho.
With the sacks, the Royal defense held the Grizzlies to minus-19 yards rushing in the first half and advanced to the Tacoma Dome for the third straight season with a 35-7 victory in the 1A state semifinal game at Lions Field on Saturday.
Royal (13-0) went into the game with eight defensive shutouts, including the two previous state playoff games. Saturday afternoon was another defensive showcase for a team allowing just 3.46 points against through the first 13 games.
The Grizzlies (11-2) were minus-19 in rushing yards and finished with just 172 yards in total offense.
“I think our defense speaks for itself. We’re only allowing 3.46 points a game,” said Corbin Christensen, who had a pass interception. “We got beat a couple of times, but our D-line picked us up, for sure.
“We were man-on-man on the back end quite a bit. But even when we went zone coverage, it was play the guy and when (Pancho) rolled, still stay with that man.”
Newport came into the game off a 21-7 victory over Colville in the quarterfinals, so the Griz had plenty of bite. But the Royal defensive scheme was orchestrated with such a force, the Knights controlled the game from start-to-finish.
“We had to come out and play with our hair on fire,” defensive end Ramses Gonzalez said with a smile. “We practiced all week to contain (Pancho) inside and not let him get outside. We squeezed him in slowly, but surely. In the first half, he took a nice hit and got up limping. We knew if we kept that up he’d slow down and that's what he did.”
Royal took a 21-point lead with two Alonso Hernandez touchdown runs, coupled with a sweet 5-yard reception on a corner route where Christensen climbed the ladder and plucked the ball out of the sky over the top of the defender.
Pancho finally found Jacob Kirkwood on a 10-yard scoring pass with 8:20 left in the third quarter to cut the Knights lead to two scores and jump-start some excitement on the Newport sidelines.
Royal responded with a meticulous, 65-yard drive that ended with the first of Lorenzo Myrick’s second-half scores when the 5-foot-9, 165-pound sophomore broke through the second level on his way to a 21-yard burst.
“I felt a lot better when we answered to make it 28-7,” Royal coach Wiley Allred said. “I didn’t want them to feel like they had played their way back in it.”
As crushing as the Knights defense was in the first half, they were equally as relentless after giving up the touchdown. Defensive lineman Manuel Alvarez showed his athletic talent when he chased Pancho out of the pocket, then came back and made the tackle on a screen, squelching fourth-and-13 on the 38 to take over on downs.
The Knights offense, which put up 84 points in the first two rounds of the playoffs, scored one more on a 39-yard burst by Myrick to seal the deal and another trip to the Tacoma Dome.
“We definitely knew we needed to establish both the run game and the passing game. It was kind of nice to be able to handle the ball off to those guys and let them go to work,” Sawyer Jenks said. “The program has been to the Dome the past couple of years, but this is kind of big for us because it’s our chance to show everybody what we can do.”
Myrick finished with 128 yards rushing and Hernandez added 96. Jenks was 14-of-23 for 186 yards passing and Christensen caught eight balls for 144 yards and a touchdown. Pancho passed for 191 yards, completing 17-of-26.
Royal (13-0) will face Meridian (13-0) for the 1A state championship in the 1 p.m. game on Saturday in the Tacoma Dome.
Newport 0 0 7 0 - 7
Royal 14 7 7 7 - 35
R - Alonso Hernandez 1 run (Osvaldo Guerrero kick)
R - Hernandez 5 run (Guerrero kick)
R - Corbin Christensen 5 pass from Sawyer Jenks (Guerrero kick)
N - Jacob Kirkwood 10 pass from Koa Pancho (Adam Moorhead kick)
R - Lorenzo Myrick 21 run (Guerrero kick)
R - Myrick 39 run (Guerrero kick)