West Valley punched the state’s top-ranked team in the mouth, weathered a few blows, but finished strong to become a state football finalist for the fourth time.
The unbeaten Eagles built a 17-0 first-half lead and held on for a 24-17 triumph that dealt visiting and mistake-prone Ellensburg its only loss of the season.
The victory Saturday evening in the second game of an Albi Stadium doubleheader sends them to the Tacoma Dome. They’ll play Lynden for the State 2A title on Saturday at 10 a.m.
“It’s really exciting to get to the Dome,” said linebacker Sam Schoesler, who had another big night. “This is special because a couple of years ago no one thought we’d ever do this. So to be able to do this, going undefeated, is exciting for the seniors, underclassmen, everyone.”
They got there with a punishing running game early and late, a couple of timely Drew Clausen-to-Mitch Peterson pass completions, a swarming defense and dominance in the trenches on both sides of the ball.
“We wanted to try and control the clock and keep the ball out of (quarterback Ethan) Sterkel’s hands,” said coach Craig Whitney. “Offensively and defensively our linemen wanted to prove something tonight. Our 13-0 record is for real, it didn’t just miraculously pop out of the sky.”
WV set the Bulldogs (12-1) on their heels from the outset when 200-pound sophomore back Dylan Ellsworth took a pitch and burst 44 yards to set up a touchdown on the game’s first possession.
On its next drive the Eagles moved to Ellensburg’s 12-yard-line on the strength of Peterson’s 35-yard catch-and-run to set up sophomore kicker Randell Ellsworth’s 29-yard field goal.
WV added another TD in the second quarter with Peterson hauling in a Clausen fourth-down pass from 28 yards out.
Ellensburg overcame a series of mistakes to make a game of it, covering 74 yards in just three plays that used up 31 seconds of the half’s final 1:18.
“We squandered a scoring opportunity at the end of the first half,” Whitney said. “Two plays in a row where we had receivers open and didn’t connect. They came down and got a quick one, which, as explosive as they are, got my heart beating a bit.”
The Bulldogs cut the score to 17-10 in the third quarter. But a blocked punt, recovered by Joseph Aubert at the Bulldogs’ 8-yard-line led to Clausen’s second rushing touchdown of the night.
“A lot of times we shot ourselves in the foot during the course of the game,” said Ellensburg coach Randy Affholter. “They played without making mistakes and we made mistakes. You can’t do that.”
After Ellensburg used up half of the final period to close to within 24-17, WV ground out the remainder of the game.
The Eagles rushed for 256 yards. Krys Smith gained 97 on 18 carries and Ellsworth had 96 on 12 totes. Clausen added 63 on 14 tries and passed for 106.
“We just went with what worked,” said Clausen. “We came out hot and usually don’t. We’re usually a second-half team. The only game they trailed was the first game of the season and we figured they wouldn’t handle it if they got down. Everything we needed to do we did it.”
WV held Sterkel to 172 aerial yards and kept the Bulldogs under 100 on the ground.