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Bellevue beats O'Dea 35-16 for fourth straight title | 3A Football
Saturday, 12/31/2011
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Bellevue senior Andy Boulware is hoisted into the air by his teammates as h...

Bellevue High School Team Page

TACOMA — Who needs a trophy when you can celebrate with a WWE-style championship belt? As the final seconds ticked off the clock during top-ranked Bellevue's 35-16 victory No. 3 O'Dea, signaling the celebration of the Wolverines' fourth straight Class 3A state title, a wrestling title belt appeared on the field.

It started in the hands of coach Butch Goncharoff — still dripping from a Gatorade shower — and ended around the waist of offensive lineman Michael Kneip. It was the culmination of something that started in the season opener against Oaks Christian in California.

"We saw when the (Green Bay) Packers did it last year and all the guys were like, 'We've got to do that next year,' " Kneip said. "We've being doing high-fives and then strapping it up."

When a team wins nine state titles in 11 years, celebrations evolve. In addition to the belt, T-shirts commemorating all 10 of the Wolverines' state championships were passed around.

"I need to take a step back and enjoy it," said Goncharoff, who improved to 45-2 in the postseason. "That's what I told the kids, don't take it for granted, because these things don't happen all the time. Winning one is hard."

Winning one might be hard, but Bellevue (14-0) has turned it into a science, stringing together victories in 20 straight playoff games.

"We came out here and accomplished what we wanted to do this season," senior quarterback Tyler Hasty said.

After committing four turnovers in the first half of their semifinal win over Kamiakin last week, the Wolverines seized control early. They forced the Irish into a three-and-out on the game's first possession and then marched 70 yards for a touchdown.

Running back John Nguyen put Bellevue (14-0) on the board. The junior ran it on six straight plays before scoring from a yard out.

Bellevue only had two offensive possessions in the first half, but scored on both. O'Dea (13-1) had the ball for 17 minutes, 3 seconds over the first two quarters and had two long drives (51 and 75 yards) that only produced a 27-yard field goal.

"The kids played hard," O'Dea coach Monte Kohler said. "They (Bellevue) are very good at what they do. I'm proud of our effort. They made some big plays."

Any momentum built by Bart Hardwick's kick with 1:05 left in the half, however, was erased when Bellevue sophomore Bishard Baker brought the ensuing kickoff back 89 yards for a touchdown to give his team a 21-3 lead at halftime.

"It's great, but I got to stay humble," Baker said. "I've still got two more years left. It's just fun playing as a sophomore."

Bellevue's offense stalled in the third quarter — the Wolverines had the ball for a total of 20 seconds — but a second big play on special teams helped seal the win. Scott Whiting returned a punt 80 yards and, one play later, Nguyen, who rushed for 52 yards, scored his second touchdown of the night, a 5-yard run with 37 seconds left in the third quarter.

O'Dea ate up more than half of the fourth quarter on an 80-yard drive that ended in a 6-yard touchdown pass from Pierre Le Dorze to Kent McKinney. Tatum Taylor made things interesting by returning a fumble for a 49-yard TD with 4:09 left. The Irish, who rushed for 283 yards, moved the ball, chewed up the clock all night and created a little drama late, but couldn't dig out of the early hole, couldn't keep Bellevue from hoisting another state title.

"I've been waiting for this my whole life," said Kneip. He had a T-shirt slung over his shoulder and the title belt around his waist.