ROYAL CITY — This is the one they want.
The work, the preparation, the bond of brotherhood has brought them to this moment, and the time is now for the two-time defending 1A state champion Royal football team.
The Knights (13-0) will face unbeaten Meridian (13-0) in the 1 p.m. game at the Tacoma Dome on Saturday with the 2017 1A state championship hanging in the balance.
Royal football tradition has always been about less talking and more doing. Every step of the way this season they have reminded themselves, “This is not the one we want.”
As the wins piled up and the winning streak, which is now at 40, grew, Royal stayed the course. The goal has always been to win the last game of the season and they stand at the threshold with a great opponent standing between them and three-peat.
“We’re excited to be where we’re at. The kids are playing good football and we’re ready,” Royal coach Wiley Allred, whose program has won six state championships in the past 27 years. “Meridian has been there before too. We lost to them in 2006 in the semifinals the year they beat Connell (for the championship). They have a rich history.
“We both play fearless and fast and it’s fun to get into this championship situation and see what you can do.”
Royal wears the crown and as in any heavyweight title fight, it’s theirs until someone knocks the champ out.
The numbers are as impressive as the players putting them up. Meridian quarterback Simon Burkett, who has committed to Eastern Washington University, goes into the game having completed 213-of-358 passes for 3,563 yards and 43 touchdowns. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound senior, is a key to the Trojans offensive game plan, because he also has 583 yards rushing with 10 touchdowns. Burkett has accounted for 53 Meridian touchdowns. He’s also thrown 11 pass interceptions.
“We need to get to him a few times and get him out of rhythm,” said Allred, whose defense has registered 14 sacks in 13 games. “We need to keep him contained. I think winning the line of scrimmage is really important. There’s a lot of things we need to do and winning the line of scrimmage is a big one.”
The Royal defense goes into the game allowing just 3.46 points a game with eight shutouts in 13 contests. The Knights have outscored their opponents 309-to-21 since Connell scored the first touchdown of the season against them seven weeks into the schedule. Their run to the Dome included two shutouts and a late score (Freeman 35-0), (Okanogan 49-0) and (Newport 35-7).
They play lockdown defense behind an offense averaging 56.6 points a game, and it all starts up front.
“My job is about being a run stopper, but I like to think I can pin my ears back and rush the passer when I have to,” said Knights nose tackle Logan Gomez, who has seven tackles for loss. “We’ve been working hard for so long and I think it’s paying off.”
Defensive end Rams Gonzales agreed. “We’ve been playing together for so long, since third or fourth grade. It’s like a brotherhood, especially us guys up front,” the 6-foot-1, 218-pound senior said. “We want finish what we started.”
Linebackers Alonso Hernandez (73) and Lorenzo Myrick (55) lead the team in tackles. Isaac Ellis leads the team in tackles for loss with 10.
“I think our defense speaks for itself. We’re only giving up 3.46 points a game,” said cornerback Corbin Christensen, who has five interceptions, including two returns for touchdowns.
Meridian receiver Bryce Vandenhaak has set a couple of school records en route to 54 receptions for 1,359 yards and 19 touchdowns. Lukas Hemenway goes into the game with 647 yards receiving and six touchdowns
The Knights counter with an explosive offense cable of scoring from anywhere on the field. Quarterback Sawyer Jenks is 133-of-216 for 2,610 yards and 39 touchdowns. He likes to spread it around a little bit, but Christensen is the go-to guy and the SCAC offensive player of the year with 52 receptions for 1,070 yards and 16 touchdowns. Angel Farias has a 74-yard reception to his credit, hauling in 28 balls for 640 yards and seven touchdowns.
Hernandez has been the workhorse running the football (157-1,111 yards and 16 TDs), but Myrick (694 yards and 12 TDs) gives them a burst of speed when they need it.
The only numbers that matter at this point in the season are the ones on the scoreboard after two heavyweight 1A programs slug it out in the Dome.
Rodney Harwood is a sports writer at the Columbia Basin Herald and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org