The Yelm Tornadoes delivered the 3A state title Saturday, Dec. 3, when they beat back the Eastside Catholic Crusaders for a 20-13 victory and the school’s first-ever championship title.
With the Tornados’ first championship appearance in school history and the Crusaders’ fifth in the last ten years, it would be fair to say the Crusaders had the advantage – but the Tornadoes were not deterred.
The game opened with the kick-off to the Crusaders and an immediate penalty for the Tornadoes, setting the tone for a penalty-riddled quarter for the Tornadoes.
With both teams evenly matched, the ball made little progress in either direction. As the first quarter drew to a close, the Crusaders finally managed to break through when Jacob Dahl kicked a field goal for a 3-0 Crusader lead.
During the second quarter, the Crusader defense, as well as continued penalty calls, kept the Tornadoes bogged down. Just when it seemed there would be no change on the scoreboard, the Tornadoes moved from the 42-yard line to the 22-yard line on a completion from quarterback Damien Aalona to Kyler Ronquillo. With 11 seconds left in the quarter, Aalona found Aden Schaler in the end zone, putting the Tornadoes up 6-3 at the half.
The Crusaders managed to tie the score early in the third quarter with another field goal, but the even score was short-lived. Tornado wide receiver Tre Smith slipped behind the Crusader defense, shifting the momentum back to the Tornadoes. Smith then evaded Crusader Wassie Lugolobi for a 55-yard touchdown run and a Tornado lead, 12-6, to end the third quarter.
With both teams refusing to give up, the fourth quarter would not disappoint. The Crusaders scored first when quarterback Brady Mckelheer found his brother, Carson Mckelheer, who outran the Tornado defense for a 47-yard touchdown and a 12-12 tie. An Adam Jacobs point-after-touchdown put the Crusaders up by one, 13-12.
With 52 seconds left on the clock, a Crusaders interception threatened to end the Tornadoes’ first state showing in a loss. Instead, the Tornadoes created the surprise play of the game. In the would-be turnover, Crusader Tyson Weaver intercepted a pass intended for Tornado Ronquillo. But Ronquillo reacted quickly and stripped Weaver of the ball. With reclaimed possession, Ronquillo completed a 30-yard touchdown run for a total of 54 yards gained on the play and secured an 18-13 Tornado lead.
With a successful 2-point conversion, the Tornadoes held a 20-13 lead to take home the state title for the first time in school history.
The Crusaders ended the season with a 12-1 record while the new state champion Tornadoes finished undefeated, 14-0.