Mission accomplished for Skyline football team.
For the second straight season, the Spartans gathered at the Tacoma Dome 50-yard line and hoisted a championship trophy toward the hollow concrete roof — something they envisioned from the start of the season.
“Each and every week, they truly took it just one game at a time,” said first-year Skyline head coach Mat Taylor. “I think that helped with just being focused.”
Friday’s 20-15 victory over rival Issaquah made the Spartans only 10th large school (3A or 4A) to win consecutive state football championships and capped off a second straight 14-0 season.
Asked if this year’s class 4A title was any different than last year’s 3A crown, junior quarterback Jake Heaps let out a large grin.
“They’re both sweet, they’re both sweet,” he laughed.
Like the 2007 title over O’Dea, victory didn’t come easy for the Spartans who had to rally from behind in the fourth quarter to win.
“You couldn’t have asked for a better game,” Skyline senior Gino Simone said. “(Issaquah) came out and they put it to us, they fought real hard all game long.”
The Eagles, who were labeled heavy underdogs by a number regional media outlets, stood tall against the nationally ranked Spartans — a group who defeated them 38-0 earlier this year and were ranked as high as No. 6 by USA Today.
Issaquah out-gained the Spartans 339-237 yards. The Eagles had 22 first downs, to the nine of Skyline, and possessed the ball nearly 29 of 48 minutes. The hard work paid off for Issaquah at the 8:29 mark of the fourth quarter when junior Grant Gellatly capped off an 18-play drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. The drive, which included five third-down conversions, gave Issaquah its first lead and consumed over 6 1/2 minutes.
“I don’t know if anyone believed we were going to win, but I know the guys in our locker room did,” Issaquah coach Chris Bennett said.
Like they have done in similar situations this season and last, Skyline rallied with its back against the wall. The Spartans answered the Eagles’ score with a nine-play, 68-yard drive. Heaps, who completed 14 of 21 passes for 159 yards, capped the drive off with a 5-yard laser beam to senior Jake Knecht in the left front corner of the end zone. Heaps’ risky third-down pass zipped just in front of defender Ross Zuhl into the hands of Knecht.
“I got to give props to Jake, that was a great ball,” Knecht said. “He couldn’t have put it in a better spot. I couldn’t have asked for a better ending to that game, that was incredible.”
Spartan senior linebacker Ryan Somers thwarted Issaquah’s hopes for a comeback, intercepting Joey Bradley at the Skyline 49 with 2:06 left in the contest.
“We weren’t playing our game,” Somers said. “We just kept our heads, got back in it and made big plays down the stretch.”
The interception came two plays after two miraculous catches from Zuhl on tipped balls. The first went for 19 yards off a Skyline defender, and the second went off deflected off the foot of Eagle receiver Adam Dondoyano, then off a Skyline defender to Zuhl, who gained 10 yards.
Issaquah wasn’t done after the interception. The Eagles forced the Spartans to punt, but were unable to move the ball from their own 23 with no timeouts and 1:03 left.
“This is going to hurt a while,” Bennett said. “We feel like we out-played them and with a play here or there it would have been different, but it is what it is and we came up five points short tonight. I’m so proud of our guys, and we’ll be back.”
Skyline jumped out to a 14-3 halftime lead. The Spartans got on the board first with 26 seconds left in the first quarter when Heaps hit William Chandler for a 5-yard touchdown on a quick out.
Issaquah responded with a 26-yard field goal from Gavin Schumaker at the 6:52 mark of the second quarter. It was the only first-half points for the Eagles, who made it inside the Skyline 35-yard-line five times. The Eagles threw one interception, turned the ball over on downs twice and missed a field goal at the end of the half.
“We just left too many points on the field in the first half,” Bennett said.
Skyline padded its lead at the 4:05 mark of the second quarter when Heaps hit Knecht on a 45-yard bomb down the middle of the field.
“The safety just bit inside and we just took advantage of it,” Heaps said.
Issaquah was led by Bradley, who completed 20 of 36 passes for 237 yards. Gellatly carried the ball 22 times for 89 yards and two TDs — both from 1 yard out.
The Eagles ended their season with an 11-3 record, making the school’s only second appearance ever in a state title game.
“These guys are going to look back in about two to three months at what an awesome year it was,” Bennett said. “But it’s going to take a while, this one stings.”
The Spartans are already looking ahead to next season. Asked when he might start thinking about a third straight title in his senior year, Heaps responded, “On Monday, we’ll be back in the weight room and hopefully we’ll get another chance. It takes a lot of hard work.”