Eastside Catholic handles rival O’Dea, going back to 3A state title game | Prep football news

The Crusaders handled the Irish 28-14 to punch a title game ticket.

For more than a month, Eastside Catholic fought to gain a state semi-final rematch with Metro Mountain rival O’Dea.

Friday night in the Tacoma Dome, they made it pay off in the biggest way possible.

Coach Jeremy Thielbahr’s Crusaders handled the conference champion Irish throughout in the second meeting between the two in as many months, winning 28-14 and punching a second consecutive 3A title game ticket.

“It’s exciting to see our kids react and jump back off the defeat,” he said. “It has shown it’s not where you start, it’s where you end.”

In the first game between the two, O’Dea ran wild as junior Myles Gaskin put up five scores to lead a lopsided affair. But the tale was far different in the semi-finals, as Eastside Catholic built a 21-7 halftime lead and held the Irish to their lowest point total of the season.

Senior Elisha Pa’aga said the first matchup between the two was on the mind of the Crusaders’ defense during the week’s preparation and set the tone for redemption in the Dome.

“It was good we lost to them,” he said. “It was a good opportunity for us to come out and fight. I’m just really proud of our guys.”

The defense made its presence felt immediately, as sophomore Brandon Wellington snared the first of two interceptions on the game after the Crusaders began the game with a three-and-out.

That set up the first of three Harley Kirsch touchdown passes on the game, as the sophomore found Matt Laris in the corner of the end zone to cap an eight play drive that took nearly four minutes and put EC in front 7-0.

Gaskin got loose for his longest run of the game, a 61-yard score, to even things up early in the second quarter.

But another interception by Wellington sandwiched by a pair of touchdowns, the first a 63-yard strike from Kirsch to Colin MacIlvennie, put the Crusaders in control.

“Nobody believed in us,” Pa’aga said. “We believed we were going to come out and win.”

Wellington found the end zone from 22 yard out to make it 28-7 midway through the third to put a cap on an outstanding two-way performance and Kirsch said postgame the stable of playmakers that also included Colin Boit and Devon Arbis-Jackson once again simplified his own job.

“They are absolutely amazing,” he said. “They catch everything.”

The Irish pulled within 14 again early in the third quarter on a Pierre Le Dorze touchdown pass, but mustered only a punt and yet another interception on their final two drives.

“They tackled well and took it away,” Thielbahr said of his defense. “That is what we talk about in the offseason.”

The rematch win over O’Dea likely send the Crusaders to another with even bigger implications.

The five-time defending 3A state champions from Bellevue, nationally ranked and unbeaten, face Shadle Park Saturday in Spokane for the other spot in the championship game. While the final result was not set when EC wrapped up its own semi-final win, players and coaches were expecting the Wolverines to hold up their end and set a rematch of last year’s title game, a 35-3 Bellevue win.

“We want Bellevue. We want the toughest,” Pa’aga said. “We’re expecting to play Bellevue and we’re excited to play Bellevue,” Thielbahr added.