By Ray Jaun Stelly
The Seattle Medium
Eastside Catholic, the number two seed in the WIAA 3A state football playoffs, looked to punch their ticket to the final four but they’d have to get past the Ferndale Golden Eagles, champions of the Wesco 3A North Division, in order to do so .
Entering the contest with a 9-2 record, Ferndale’s defense has been extremely impressive allowing an average of 14 points per game throughout the playoffs. Meanwhile, on offense the Eagles scored a combined 79 points in their wins against Seattle Prep and Kelso High School.
The Crusaders, who came into the game with a perfect 10-0 record, have managed to hold opponents to a field goal or scoreless during the playoffs, and their high-powered offense has found success averaging 38 points. Riding a double-digit winning streak on the season, Eastside Catholic looked to carry their momentum into win number eleven.
Both teams fumbled on their first possession. Ferndale’s Jake Mason and Eastside Catholic’s Ambrose Marsh recovered the fumbles.
Shaking off the pre-game jitters, Eastside Catholic Quarterback Brady McKelheer helped get things back on track for the Crusaders as he found Masen Uribe for a 47-yard pass completion, which setup a five-yard touchdown run by Richie Fotualii-Aliifua to give the Crusaders a 7-0 to end the first quarter.
Ferndale would respond quickly to begin the second quarter with Isaiah Carlson rushing in for a three-yard touchdown, but the Golden Eagles extra point attempt was unsuccessful as they trailed Eastside Catholic 7-6.
The Crusaders would retain possession for next five minutes before Fotualii-Aliifua scored his second touchdown of the game and extended Eastside Catholic’s lead to 14-6.
Down by eight points, Ferndale didn’t panic and with 58 seconds remaining before halftime quarterback Bishop Ootsey found Jordan Mason in the endzone cutting the Eastside Catholic lead to just two points at 14-12.
Ferndale would receive the first possession of the second half and had a chance to potentially take the lead, but the Crusaders defense began to take over the game. The Crusaders would go on to force quick three-and-outs and Ambrose Marsh’s interception help set the tone for Eastside Catholic in the third quarter.
Eastside Catholic would go on to score 14-unanswered third quarter points as McKelheer would connect with Gabe Hoffman on a 54-yard pass to setup Fotualii-Aliifua’s five-yard rushing touchdown. On their next possession, Fotualii-Aliifua would score his fourth and final touchdown on the day, rushing for eight yards into the endzone.
Trailing 28-12 going into the fourth, Ferndale would cut the deficit to 10 as Conner Walcker scored on a 10-yard touchdown run.
Eastside Catholic would respond as McKelheer would put the game out of reach, throwing a 35-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Ganashamoorthy to secure a 35-18 win.
Winning by double-digits for their 10th time this season, not only keeps Eastside Catholic undefeated but advances them to the final four where they’ll have to face O’Dea once more. The Crusaders beat O’Dea 24-17 earlier in the season handing them their only loss this year, now with a championship game at stake they’ll face off one last time.