Metro 3A supremacy has remained just out of reach for the Eastside Catholic football team the last 14 seasons.
The major thorn in the Crusader’s side: O’Dea.
Losses over the past three years have included a two-touchdown defeat last season, a Hail Mary touchdown pass from O’Dea in the final seconds and an overtime loss. In fact, the Crusaders haven’t defeated the Irish since 1993 — the last time Eastside Catholic won a Metro championship.
But Eastside Catholic head coach Bill Marsh remains optimistic headed into 2008.
“We’ve had some great battles with them the past few years. We just hope this can be our year,” Marsh said.
The 10th-year Crusader head coach is off to a good start, returning 30 seniors to this year’s squad — part of a group that finished 8-2 overall and advanced to the divisional round of the class 3A state playoffs before falling 24-20 to Franklin Pierce.
Leading the returners is running back Mike Bush. Listed at 5-foot-8, 175 pounds, Bush became Eastside Catholic’s first ever 1,000-yard rusher last season, carrying the ball 161 times for 1,009 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“A lot of people compare him to Barry Sanders, but I say he’s more like Earl Campbell because he’ll run you over,” Marsh said. “He’s got some great cutback moves, but he’s just a wrecking ball out there. He’s got great vision, he can cut back on you, but with his strength, he can also run right through you.”
Bush, a player drawing serious interest from NCAA Division I college programs, will be joined in the backfield by senior Marion Bactol.
Eastside Catholic will have a new quarterback this season in senior Zach Cuaresma. The 5-foot-8, 150-pounder provides an element the Crusaders haven’t had in years.
“He’s probably one of the most mobile quarterbacks we’ve had here in a long time, so we’ll do a lot of sprint out, a lot of option,” Marsh said. “Things that we just haven’t done in a while. The last few years we’ve been predominately just an I-formation, drop back team. With him, he just gives us another neat dimension.”
Cuaresma saw limited time last season behind starter Chris Traynor. He completed 14 of 31 passes for 196 yards, one TD and two interceptions.
New receivers will need to step in and help Cuaresma this season as the leading receiver from last year, Vince Taylor, is playing safety at the University of Washington this fall. Receivers returning to this year’s team include Andrew Carlton and Spencer Esau. The offensive and defensive lines have three returners in Mick Davis, Bo Komen and Danny Alexander.
According to Marsh, the strength of the defense will come at the linebacker positions. The team returns three key elements in Nick Tengtio, Kellen Matsuno and Mike Tofflemire. Tengtio stands 5-foot-9, 190 pounds and has potential to be an all-state player, according to his coach. Matsuno was a first-team all-league player last season and Tofflemire, son of former Seattle Seahawk center Joe Tofflemire, is another senior with experience under his belt.
“We’re very excited about this year,” Marsh said.
Eastside Catholic starts the season off with a bang, playing 4A Eisenhower of Yakima at noon Sept. 6 in the “Kickoff Classic” at Qwest Field. The team will follow that up with its first-ever matchup against fellow Catholic school and 2A powerhouse Archbishop Murphy on Sept. 12, and a game at North Mason, Sept. 19. The Crusaders will then break in their new stadium on the Sammamish Plateau, Sept. 27, against league foe Lakeside.
The event will mark a historic day for a program that has played all its “home” games at various other schools on the Eastside, including Newport last year.
“It really is a dream come true for us,” Marsh said. “To be able to run out of a tunnel. You feel like you’re a little kid again, even though you’ve got to play the part of head coach. In those first few games, I think my butterflies will be going just as much as the kids’ will, to run through that tunnel for the first time and hear the crowd roar.”