Kennedy Catholic High School football was already on a historic run entering Saturday’s Class 4A state semifinals contest in Puyallup.
Last week, the Lancers routed Skyline in the quarterfinals to become the first Kennedy Catholic team to advance to the semifinals since 2006, when the program played in the 3A bracket.
This week, the Lancers’ high-flying passing attack scored early and often, upending No. 8 Emerald Ridge on the road, 42-28, to reach the final for the first time since that same 2006 season.
Next week, this group has a chance to reach another historic achievement — become the first Kennedy Catholic team to win a state championship.
“We worked all summer for this,” Lancers senior Maclane Watkins said following Saturday afternoon’s semifinals win in Puyallup. “Nobody else really believed that we’d be here except for us.
“So, for us to even get here, it means a lot. But, we’re here to go finish it.”
Kennedy Catholic found the end zone on nearly every drive against Emerald Ridge to secure its trip to next week’s title game.
On the game’s opening drive, the Lancers converted on a pair of third downs and a pair of fourth downs to take an early lead.
Sophomore quarterback Devon Forehand tossed a 37-yard completion to Watkins on a fourth-and-22 to set the Lancers up at the 1, and it took four attempts, but Arizona State commit Xe’ree Alexander eventually crossed the goal line for the 1-yard touchdown on fourth-and-goal.
That was the first of three touchdowns the Lancers converted on fourth down plays during the contest.
The Jaguars answered with a scoring drive on their first possession, which Logan Lisherness completed with a 1-yard scoring run late in the first quarter.
After forcing a turnover on downs, Emerald Ridge took the lead early in the second on a 3-yard touchdown run from Tayshaun Micks to make it 15-8.
Kennedy Catholic answered with a 41-yard touchdown pass from Forehand to Mason Hayes on the next drive, but the Jaguars held on to a 15-14 lead until late in the half.
The Lancers took it back for good with less than two minutes to play in the second quarter, when Forehand connected with Watkins on a 6-yard scoring pass on fourth-and-4.
A costly interception on Emerald Ridge’s next drive gave the Lancers another opportunity with 1:04 left, and they capitalized three plays later on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Forehand to Hayes.
Kennedy Catholic scored each of its three passing touchdowns in the first half in the final 7:49 to take a 30-15 lead into the break.
“I just think we found a rhythm,” Watkins said.
Emerald Ridge twice cut the lead back to single digits in the second half, but Kennedy Catholic had a quick answer for both of the Jaguars’ scoring drives in the final two quarters.
Not long after Emerald Ridge quarterback Jake Schakel found Tony Harste for an 8-yard score late in the third, Forehand tossed a 22-yard touchdown to Isaac Syph on third-and-9 to push the lead back to 15.
Schakel connected with Kajon Babcock for a 73-yard touchdown a minute later to cut the lead to one possession at 36-28 with 10:08 to play, but again Kennedy Catholic responded on its next possession.
Seven plays into the ensuing drive, Forehand tossed his fifth touchdown of the afternoon, connecting with Watkins on a fourth-and-8 for a 30-yard score to give the Lancers their final 14-point advantage with 7:20 left.
Emerald Ridge drove inside the Lancers’ 5 on its next drive, but an interception with less than four minutes left ended any late comeback bid.
The Lancers punted not long after, but hauled in a third interception with 1:35 to go to seal the win.
Dante Saldino, Nate Barnes and Thomas Bevilacqua each collected an interception for Kennedy Catholic.
Kennedy Catholic piled up 415 yards of total offense in the win, led by Forehand, who completed 23-of-28 passes for 331 yards and the five touchdowns.
“If the quarterback is on point like that, it’s unstoppable,” coach Shledon Cross said of the Lancers’ Air Raid offense. “ … When we just execute our offense, we’re really, really good. We’re a really good football team. What a gutsy performance by Devon Forehand.”
Forehand connected with five receivers in the win, most often Hayes (eight catches, 153 yards), Watkins (five catches, 97 yards) and Syph (eight catches, 58 yards).
“The Air Raid was here for sure,” Watkins said.
Emerald Ridge finished with 443 yards of total offense. Schakel completed 26-of-36 passes for 397 yards, the two touchdowns and three interceptions. Harste (eight catches, 117 yards), Washington commit Jacob Lane (six catches, 103 yards) and Babcock (two catches, 82 yards) led the Jaguars in receiving.
The loss ends a historic season for Emerald Ridge, which won a pair of games in the first trip to the state playoffs in school history, topping Eastlake in the first round, and upsetting top-seeded Chiawana in the quarterfinals a week ago.
“They gained a brotherhood,” Emerald Ridge coach Adam Schakel said of his group, which finished the season 10-3, also setting the program’s record for most wins in a single season.
The Lancers (12-1), now on a 12-game winning streak since dropping their season-opener to 3A state finalist Eastside Catholic, advanced to next Saturday’s title game.
Kennedy Catholic will play No. 2 Lake Stevens (11-2) for the 4A championship at 5 p.m. at Mount Tahoma Stadium in Tacoma.
The Vikings, last season’s 4A runner-up, topped defending champion Graham-Kapowsin, 42-28, on Saturday evening at Lake Stevens High School to secure their second straight trip to the final.