Eastside Catholic meets O’Dea for 3A state title game spot | Prep football news

Issaquah-Sammamish Reporter sports reporter Josh Suman previews the 3A state semi-final between O'Dea and Eastside Catholic Friday in the Tacoma Dome.

Eastside Catholic (10-2 overall, 3-1 Metro Mountain) Vs. O’Dea (12-0, 4-0 Metro Mountain)

Where: Tacoma Dome, 2727 E. D St.

When: Friday, Nov. 29, 7:30 p.m.

What’s at stake

A spot in the 3A state championship game, rivalry bragging rights and payback for the Crusaders’ only conference loss of the season.

Last time they met

O’Dea exacted their own measure of revenge and left Charlie Acosta Field with a 63-45 victory Oct. 18, clinching the top seed in the Metro Mountain and spot in the conference title game in the process.

Numbers game

EC sophomore quarterback Harley Kirsch, in his first season as the full-time starter, has thrown for just under 3,000 yards and 31 touchdowns without a single interception on the year.

Historical context

EC has only two semi-final appearances in school history and last year was the first time they reached the championship game.

O’Dea, by contrast, has seven state title game appearances since 1991, including three titles.

In 1994, the Crusaders were downed in the Tacoma Dome in the program’s first semi-final shot under area legend Chuck Tarbox by Lake Stevens. The Irish beat the Vikings the following week for the championship.

EC owns only two wins over the Irish in the past decade and the two have played Bellevue in the past two state title games. The EC win in 2012 was also the springboard to the program’s first conference title since 2008.

The only team besides O’Dea to win a Metro League title since 2000 was a Nate Robinson-led Rainier Beach squad in 2001. That game ended a then-seven year streak of Irish titles and 71 straight Metro wins. O’Dea blasted Nathan Hale in this year’s conference title game.

Eastside Catholic and O’Dea have never played in a state tournament football game.

Who to watch

O’Dea junior running back Myles Gaskin was a one-man circus act when the two faced off earlier this year. He scampered around and through the Crusaders’ defense to the tune of five touchdowns, including an 80-yard scoring run.

Eastside Catholic sophomore Brandon Wellington has been a dynamic answer during the postseason and in the absence of senior power back Henry Jarvis.

More than 200 all-purpose yards and a 75-yard catch and run in the final minutes saved the day against Marysville-Pilchuck. He came back to carry the ball 13 times last week in the 21-16 win over Meadowdale and despite gaining only 16 yards, caught six passes for 130 yards and a score.

Big question: Which defense does enough?

They do it in contrasting styles, but both offenses are capable and loaded with talent.

Kirsch found coverage mishaps and open receivers all over the field with Jarvis finding lanes on the ground in the first meeting and while 45 points wasn’t enough on that night, it was nothing to gloss over when taken in context.

Consider the fact 45 points represented each of the following:

19 more than Issaquah, a 4A playoff team, put up against the O’Dea defense. The Eagles featured the 4A KingCo Crown Co-MVP in quarterback Jack Neary, and a first team running back in Jack Gellatly, along with three all conference wideouts.

More than the Irish allowed to teams not named Issaquah and Eastside Catholic, throughout the entire regular season and the Metro title game, when seven teams scored a combined 41.

More than three times more than their season average of 12.4 points per game allowed.

For the EC defense, the key is corralling Gaskin while standing up against senior quarterback Pierre Le Dorze.

Gaskin is 5-foot-10, 180 pounds of shiftiness and unexpected power. Le Dorze is a 6-foot-2, 210 pound wrecking ball.

Both will look for cracks and missed fits in the run game and the challenge for the Crusaders is holding down the two drastically different runners with maintained assignments and gang tackling. While the Irish defense will have to do much of its work with pre-snap reads and assignments, EC’s unit will be tested physically at the point of attack.

When Gaskin runs wide, the Crusaders have to contain. When he tries to cut back, they have to stay at home. All the while, they have to watch for Le Dorze on the keeper. But most importantly, they have to find a way to get both, and anyone else the Irish utilize, on the ground enough to give their own offense a chance.

Final word

While the game’s importance for this season is self-evident, the long term implications could also be significant.

EC has only a handful of seniors on this year’s two-deep and are bolstered by a number of juniors and sophomores, including Kirsch and Wellington.

In only three years at the head of the program, Jeremy Thielbahr is realizing the image he crafted and is self-admittedly “ahead of schedule” with a title game appearance already in the second year.

Part of that vision is EC as a perennial state title contender and Metro League favorite, a spot occupied by O’Dea for decades.

Thielbahr has previously talked about the importance of bouncing back from heavy graduation losses, as this year’s team was forced to do. Back-to-back 3A championship game appearances would make that an obvious conclusion and signify a changing of the guard in the conference, as well.

A loss won’t send the Crusaders backwards as a program, but a win sure would cement their place as the team to go toe-to-toe with Bellevue for state titles in coming years.