Weeks after being hired as Eastside Catholic’s head football coach, Dominic Daste ran into a familiar face as he was walking out of the school’s stadium on a spring evening.
It was a face he’d known of for years mostly through word of mouth, but was meeting in person for the first time: O’Dea coach Monte Kohler, the state’s winningest active coach, three-time 3A state champion, and now, his area rival.
The two exchanged well wishes. What didn’t need to be mentioned that day was the impact of the two programs they led, and the collision course they were on.
“I just congratulated him. I’m sure I said anything I can do to help, please let me know,” Kohler said. “I mean obviously not help him beat me … as far as the ins and outs of the league that I might have any kind of historical knowledge. He doesn’t need any help coaching, that’s for sure.”
On Friday, the head coaches will go head to head for the first time as No. 1 Eastside Catholic hosts No. 2 O’Dea in a Metro Mountain league game, and a rematch of last year’s 3A state championship, which the Crusaders won 31-13.
It’s perhaps the most anticipated regular season game across all classifications, as both teams (each 5-0) have been consensus top-two teams all season. And it kicks off a three-week stretch of the Washington high school football season of top-two teams playing against one another.
After Friday’s 3A top-two showdown, No. 2 Napavine (5-0), the 2018 runner up, takes on No. 1 Onalaska in a week seven 2B showdown on Oct. 18, followed by a 1B state championship rematch and rivalry game between No. 1 Odessa and No. 2 Almira-Coulee-Hartline in week eight (Oct. 25).
At O’Dea this week, Kohler said a walk down the hallways wouldn’t give way to the fact that a game of any special magnitude is days away.
“O’Dea doesn’t do it that way,” Kohler said. “We go about our business.”
But a careful observer on the practice field would notice the team is even more focused than normal.
Daste has heard about O’Dea’s sustained success under Kohler since his college days in the late 90s and early 2000s, when he roomed at University of Washington with fellow lineman Kyle Benn, who played for Kohler in the late 90s. Benn, who went on to be the best man at Daste’s wedding, made Daste well aware of Kohler’s impact on O’Dea nearly 20 years ago.
“Kyle’s dear to my heart, dear to O’Dea High School,” Kohler said. “Kyle just thinks the world of him, so when Kyle tells me that, my respect for (Daste) is tremendous. Because again, what Kyle says about his character, that’s pretty special.”
And Kohler’s name — in addition to O’Dea’s program — continued to come to the Los Angeles native’s attention during his days as a recruiting coordinator at Montana and beyond through his 14 years as a college assistant coach.
“Monte’s probably forgotten more football than I know,” Daste said. “I just have a lot of respect for what he does, how long he’s been doing it and been successful because it’s really hard. It is. Their program has been at a level of consistency you don’t see very often.”
Daste may as well count his own program in that company. The Crusaders are undefeated through five weeks with a regionally — and nationally — competitive schedule that featured Oregon’s Central Catholic and Pinnacle of Arizona. And the state’s most loaded offense has lived up to the hype.
The Crusaders have had O’Dea’s number across this decade. Eastside Catholic has won seven of the last nine years dating back to 2012. Before that, O’Dea won seven of the eight prior matchups going back to 2004.
Wideout Gee Scott Jr., an Ohio State commit, running backs Sam Adams II (a UW commit) and Gio Ursino, four-star tight end D.J. Rogers and junior quarterback Kobe Muasau headline an offense that is averaging 39 points per game, one that Kohler joked the only way to stop is to send out 12 or 13 players on defense.
“Obviously we guess wrong, they guess right, it’ll be a big play for them,” Kohler said.
But O’Dea’s defense has been stout with three-star two-way lineman Owen Prentice and defensive end Jalen Dixon leading the way.
The teams will meet on Friday at 7 p.m. at Eastside Catholic, the same place Kohler and Daste met for the first time in passing last spring.