MONROE — Charlie Kinnune’s voice cracked and faded as he belted out celebratory cheers on the field.
The moment wasn’t lost on Mount Si’s head coach, who after 28 years in the job knows the complex makings of a state playoff team.
His Mount Si Wildcats jumped up to a hot start and pulled away late to beat Monroe 34-20 on Saturday night at Monroe High School to clinch a 4A state playoff berth for the second consecutive season.
“Coming in to win this game here is huge,” Kinnune said.
Especially considering many of the seniors were sophomores the last time Mount Si played on that field — a season-ending loss on the same stage.
Clay Millen ran for two touchdowns and threw for another and junior Cole Norah added two touchdown runs for Mount Si. Efton Chism III caught two touchdown passes to lead Monroe.
Here are five takeaways:
KINNUNE: MOUNT SI PLAYING BEST FOOTBALL AT THE RIGHT TIME
Kinnune will gladly rattle off the facts: Mount Si did not punt once on Saturday night, and it scored on all but two possessions, thanks to a fumble and a missed field goal.
The offensive efficiency on display from the Millen-led Wildcats was right where Kinnune wants it heading into the 4A state playoffs. Led by three-star field general Clay Millen, who has carte blanche in play-calling and last-second audibles, the Wildcats set the tempo with their offense with two early touchdowns, and sealed things with late game control.
“We came out strong and we finished, and you can’t ask for anything more,” Kinnune said. “We responded all night, our offense responded to all their stuff. Clay Millen is phenomenal.”
After early losses to fellow playoff teams Woodinville (7-3) and Eastlake (24-18), Mount Si feels it is at its best at the perfect time.
Added Kinnune: “We ride the graduation wave, and when Cale Millen and Johnny Barrett graduates, that sets us back. We’re excited. We’re getting better right now, and teams that are getting better this time of year are going to be tough to handle. I wouldn’t want to defend us.”
COLE NORAH’S RETURN BOLSTERING WILDCATS’ RUN GAME
Norah’s two short-yardage touchdowns runs could have gone under-noticed to someone unfamiliar with his resolve to return to the gridiron this season.
Norah, a first team all-KingCo selection as a sophomore, underwent surgery for a torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament late January and came back in the team’s Week 5 loss to Eastlake. Since then, Kinnune said he’s added another dimension to the Wildcats’ run game.
He’s been a welcome addition, especially after the late-season loss of top receiving target senior Colby Botten to a broken ankle.
His two touchdown runs of one and six yards helped fend off a late push by Monroe.
After Monroe QB Gio Fregoso hit Chism III for a 21-yard touchdown pass to pull within seven early in the fourth quarter, Mount Si milked a drive that brought it to the six yard line with under five minutes to go.
Facing third and one, Millen called a last-second timeout after surveying the defense, and the way his offense was lined up.
“Clay didn’t like the look we had, maybe he thought we could get something better,” Norah said. “We called a timeout, got our heads collected.”
And on the next play, Norah found a big hole and took the ball six yards into the endzone for the touchdown that ultimately sealed the game.
“We’re hard to defend” with Norah, Kinnune said. “We’ve got really good receivers. Clay Millen is deadly accurate, great timing, and then when you can run the ball like that it’s just great.”
MOUNT SI WILL GO WHERE MILLEN TAKES IT
Norah has grown up and played with Millen since the two were young. He knows exactly what to expect when it comes to Millen’s leadership, poise and, above all, skill level.
“This kid’s crazy, I love this kid,” Norah said. “We know everything about each other, we can do whatever we want on the field. It’s just awesome to have that leadership from both of us in the backfield, and for him, especially as quarterback. Whatever he does we always listen, he’s a great commander-in-chief and we just love him to death. That’s our guy.”
And the Wildcats will rely on their quarterback to lead them into the postseason, regardless of what seed they are given when the seeding committee slots each qualified team on Sunday morning.
RYBAR, CHISM III PROVIDED SPARK WHEN MONROE NEEDED IT
Mount Si’s offense was humming early, and a 13-0 lead appeared on pace to grow when Rybar found a seam and broke loose for a 62-yard touchdown run.
It put Monroe on the board, but more importantly, jolted a staggering offense.
“It was huge because we didn’t get anything going until that play,” Chism III said. “We fumbled it, then he hit that so it was nice for us to get that momentum going.”
Chism did the same, turning two big-play touchdowns when the Bearcats needed it.
He caught a 36-yard touchdown pass with 18 seconds left in the first half on a play where he spun out of a tackle and dragged a defender five yards into the end zone.
Then he caught another touchdown pass from Fregoso, a 21-yarder over the middle, to pull the Bearcats within a touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
SWAN SONG FOR CHISM III, BLAKE RYBAR, OTHER MONROE SENIORS
When the scoreboard horn sounded, Chism III looked around in disbelief: his high school career was over. It was a moment he anticipated all week, noting the last time they dressed in the locker room among others lasts.
“It was kind of crazy just to be like, ‘damn,’ I’m never going to play here again,” he said.
The Eastern Washington commit still has a lot of football to play beyond high school, but Chism III took the moment to soak up and appreciate the ride it has been with his 23 fellow seniors, all of whom posed for a picture on the field after the game.
“I’m excited to get over to Eastern and play there, but you never play high school football again, so it’s going to be a tough one,” he said