By David Pan/Lynnwood Today editor
The Meadowdale Mavericks proved that they deserved to be in the state playoffs.
Meadowdale kept a potent Eastside Catholic offense that scored 42 points last week against Marysville-Pilchuck largely in check all night and the Maverick offense was in position to score what could have been the winning touchdown with just under 90 seconds left in the game.
But Evile Kalaniuvalu intercepted a Meadowdale pass in the red zone to help Eastside Catholic escape with a 21-16 victory in a 3A state semifinal football game Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Seattle.
“Our kids battled to the end,” said Meadowdale coach Mike Don. “We knew we were playing good football late in the year and that we deserved to be here. Our kids provide it tonight. They just kept battling all game long through adversity. I think we gave Eastside Catholic everything they wanted tonight.”
Eastside Catholic took a 7-6 lead into halftime and then scored a pair of TDs in the third quarter, while Meadowdale managed only a field goal and trailed 21-9 as the teams headed into the fourth quarter.
But much like as they have all season long, the Mavericks clawed their way back into the game.
Meadowdale lost three straight games, its final two regular season contests and a district seeding game, before beating Timberline and Lakes the last two weeks.
“We had adversity and I think that really says a lot about our kids and the way they were able to battle through adversity,” Don said. “We weren’t always playing our best. We did some great things late in the year. We were able to battle there at the end and to where we thought we were going to be. We wanted to a playoff team. We wanted to make a run in the playoffs.
In the first half, the Mavericks missed an extra point and then allowed Eastside Catholic to drive from its own 1 to the Meadowdale 6 before blocking a field goal attempt at the end of the first half.
Whatever momentum the Mavericks had going into halftime seemed to dissipate when Eastside Catholic’s Brandon Wellington returned the opening kickoff 75 yards to the Meadowdale 18.
Seven plays later on fourth and goal from the 1, Elisha Pa’Aga ran for a touchdown to give the Crusaders a 14-6 lead. The Mavericks were able to respond, moving the ball down to the Eastside 2 but then had to settle for a 19-yard field goal by Brett Schafer.
With 1:25 left in the third quarter, Eastside Catholic quarterback Harley Kirsch scrambled to his right under heavy pressure from Meadowdale and then threw across the field to a streaking Brandon Wellington, who found himself wide open when the Meadowdale defender slipped and fell to the turf. Wellington ran 69 yards for a touchdown to give the Crusaders a 21-9 advantage.
Meadowdale responded by driving down to the Eastside Catholic 23 but was unable to convert on fourth-and -2 and turned the ball over on downs less than a minute into the fourth quarter. But the Mavericks defense stiffened and forced Eastside Catholic to punt.
On Meadowdale’s ensuing offensive series, quarterback Jeremiah Evans found a leaping Charlie White for a 13-yard touchdown and the Mavericks cut the deficit to 21-16.
The Meadowdale defense again forced a three-and-out and the Mavericks took over the ball at their own 31 with 4:02 left in the fourth quarter. A 23-yard run by junior running back Malik Braxton, who finished with 205 yards on 30 carries, moved the ball to the Eastside 46. The Mavericks were at the 38 when Kalaniuvalu intercepted a pass to seal the victory.
“We gave ourselves an opportunity to win,” Don said. “That’s all that matters.”
Eastside Catholic took a 7-0 lead on a 44-yard pass from Kirsch to Devon Arbis-Jackson with 3:59 left in the first quarter. Meadowdale cut the deficit to 7-6 on a 26-yard run by Evans at the 8:56 mark of the second quarter but the extra point attempt hit the left goal post and bounced back into the field.
After the game, Don expressed his appreciation to all the players, especially the seniors.
“These kids fought tooth and nail. They did everything you asked of them,” the first-year Meadowdale coach said. “They welcomed me into the program. We’re just going to keep trying to build.”