With less than a minute to play and a state championship on the line, Coach Brad Beller huddled his Washington Warriors team together for a final strategic move.
Washington led 17-14 and after taking a knee three times, the Warriors had to decide if they were going to punt on fourth-and-24 or try to run a play, gain a few yards, and chew up some more clock.
“During the timeout I asked if any of their players weren’t firing off the ball,” recalled Beller. “Two of our offensive linemen said their guys were just standing there. I thought we could get some yards back without punting to them or getting a punt blocked. We just played it out and hoped to lull them to sleep to where we could get around the edge.”
The plan worked like a charm. Washington caught Millwood by surprise, converted on the first down, and ran out the remainder of the clock to clinch its first state championship since 1996.
The title provided sweet vindication for the Warriors, who lost in the 2A finals in each of the past two seasons.
“I really think it does mean more,” claimed Beller on winning the title after coming up short two years in a row. “Going through the struggle and adversity the last couple of years, you work so hard all year and to get that close and to come up short two times in a row, I think our past losses are what made this one even more special.”
“In a lot of ways, not just the coaches, but even from the town, it was a sigh of relief,” added Beller, who just completed his 13th season at Washington. “There was a lot of excitement, don’t get me wrong, but there was also a feeling of relief after being there the last three years. You could just feel the angst and the release that we were finally able to get it done.”
The Warriors (15-0) got it done thanks to a stout defense that held the high-powered Millwood offense to just 160 yards in the title game. Washington allowed just 7 points per game over its final 13 contests.
“You know your defense is going to give yourself a chance and that’s exactly what our defense did all year,” said Beller. “What was amazing about this defense was, there were some really good players, but they all relied on one another. It was a true team defensive unit.”
Offensively, Washington found its groove late in the season when quarterback Major Cantrell and running back Cole Scott were finally healthy. Scott rushed for four touchdowns in the semifinal win over Oklahoma Christian. Cantrell threw the game-winning touchdown pass to Nate Roberts in the title game.
“Both of them were injured during the year and missed some games,” said Beller. “I think that’s what made it even more special was the continuity of our offense took a little while to get going because we had so many injuries on the offensive side of the ball. It brought a lot of energy and confidence to our team when they came back. During our playoff run, our offense exploded because we finally had all our pieces back.”
After having to wait 26 years to celebrate a state football championship, the Washington community has been celebrating the victory in style.
“When we got back that night, they had a huge firework show for us,” recalled Beller. “Everyone met at our indoor facility. We brought the gold ball in there, handed out medals and shirts and everything. There was a Christmas parade that some of our kids went through. We will also do something big for them at an upcoming home basketball game. When we get our rings in, we’ll have a big ring celebration too. There’ll be several things that we’ll do over the next couple of months to commemorate this and celebrate what the guys have done.”