For those who labored through the Royale Review series, a question: Which is your favorite touchdown allowed by the Royal defense? The one by Connell or Columbia-Burbank in the regular season? Or perhaps the one by La Salle or Newport in the playoffs? I’ll go with recency-bias and pick the fourth touchdown given up by the Knights defense last week against Newport in the semifinals.
The Royal Knights, Best of a Generation
Offensively, Royal resembles more a college team than a high school one in their sophistication. The don’t lineup in exotic formations, at least by today’s standards. Base formations are shotgun-spread and single- or double-tight I-set. Standard running plays for the Knights probably don’t number more than a half-dozen: zone, power, trap, counter, perhaps a little jet-sweep and option thrown in for variety. Every play has counter run or pass off of it.
They rely on scheme, play-calling, and execution to win. The excellence is in the nuance. For example, when the Knights run play-action off their power or counter plays, they not only fake to the back but the lineman will carry out the pull or trap, further confounding reads for linebackers. It’s a level of competence and confidence you don’t often see at this level.
Moreover, they can throw every bit as well as they run, and they are outstanding at both. Junior QB Sawyer Jenks has thrown 38 touchdowns on the year, to just 4 interceptions. Running backs Alonso Hernandez and Lorenzo Myrick have 1100 and 700 yards, respectively, on the season and both average better than 7 yards per carry.
The whole offensive identity could be surmised with “balance.” And sometimes sportswriting uses “balance” as a euphemism for “not very good at any aspect of the game.” Not the case here, at all. Royal is balanced in tendencies, balanced in production, balanced in execution, balanced as a program. At the x-and-o level, this makes for very difficult preparation, as they don’t betray defensive keys easily in either formation or personnel.
Defensively… What Royal has done defensively this season is absolutely stunning. Royal is probably the best defensive 1A football team that the state has seen since the 1A-4A classification system was introduced. As good as the Knights are offensively, the defense is better and it’s not really close. They can take away anything an opponents wants to do, all at the same time. They’ve produced more than 40 turnovers, including 19 interceptions. And that’s if the QB even has time to throw. In last week’s semifinal game against Newport, Royal had double-digit sacks.
Doesn't matter who they play.
Perhaps the finest 1A team in our lifetime. 38 points allowed on the year. Won't be close.
— ScoreCzar (@ScoreCzar) November 22, 2017
Royal has likely not given up any points during competitive portions of games except for the Connell game. It’s amazing accomplishment and should be appreciated.
As Royal dominated on the field, they dominated their all-league selections. Eleven Knights made the first team All-SCAC Team, or about half of the positions. Senior WR Corbin Christensen was also offensive POY.
Meanwhilst, our ragtag band has been practicing on darkened and borrowed fields amidst dwindling numbers.
The really, really big time this week, so even more inkwells tipped over.
First, Ryland Spencer of CascadiaPreps.com has their panel picks Tuesday morning:
1A State Final
The 1A classification could decide who wins the prediction challenge this week. You will see why in the later slides.
Eastern Washington commit Simon Burkett and the Meridian Trojans are looking to get legendary head coach Bob Ames another state championship, but will have to beat defending state champion Royal Knights, who are currently riding the state’s longest winning streak (40 games).
Scott Eklund: Meridian Trojans
ScoreCzar: Royal Knights
Ryland Spencer: Royal Knights
Next, CascadiaPreps.com published a more in-depth preview, drawing our friend Tyler Anderson from History of Whatcom County High School Football and Mike Noftle on the Royal side. Go read the whole thing, but here are some excerpts.
Royal on Offense by Mike Noftle
Three Players to Watch
Sawyer Jenks – 2019 QB: Jenks is having one of the most productive years of any first-year starter in the history of the program. In a very balanced offense, he has thrown for 38 TDs against just 4 interceptions. At 6’ 5”, he sees well in the pocket and is very accurate throwing on the move.
Corbin Christensen – 2018 WR: Christensen is equally threatening on the deep plays and he is in the screen game. He has accumulated 16 TDs and 1,070 yards on 52 receptions; averaging 20.5 yards per touch. At 6’ 3”, his radius of catch is impressive and he has the ability to get up over the top of smaller DBs. In open space, his elusiveness yields plenty of yards after the catch.
Raynor Beierle – 2018 OL: One of two returning starters on the O-Line, Beierle is an emotional leader for the Knights offensive front. At 6’ 2” and 265 pounds, he can be a mauler, but he also pulls well and seldom misses his target. Once he locks in, his tenacity is hard to handle.
What to Watch For
Royal has an incredibly balanced offense, accumulating 39 passing TDs and 37 rushing TDs on the season. Much of this can be attributed to the effort and cohesiveness of the offensive line. Jenks has only been sacked 7 times all season and the run game has shone brightly in the playoff run with at least 200 yards rushing in each of the previous two contests.
Royal’s two leading rushers (Alonso Hernandez and Lorenzo Myrick) have combined for 28 rushing TDs. Both have the ability to get to the edge, but both are equally happy to lower their shoulders between the tackles. Hernandez has 1,100 yards and averages over 7 yards per carry. Myrick has 700 yards and averages over 9 yards per touch.
While they avoid the talk of a three-peat, the Knights’ recent success in the Tacoma Dome has afforded the seniors and many of the juniors the confidence to thrive in big moments. With an opponent as skilled and athletic as the Meridian Trojans, it will certainly come in handy.
Royal on Defense by Mike Noftle
What to Watch For
While the athleticism and prowess of the Meridian offense has the ability to negate a defensive game plan, Royal’s defense has been the heart of their success this season. The front seven leads the way and the backend is talented enough to blanket receivers.
The Knights have forced 39 turnovers on the season; 19 interceptions and 20 recovered fumbles. They are holding opponents to less than 2 yards per rush attempt and under a 40% completion rate on pass attempts.
They have shutout 8 of 13 opponents and only one team posted more than 7 points against them. The higher quality of opponents in the playoffs hasn’t made much difference to this point; scoring 119 while only allowing 7 in the three combined playoff games.
Wednesday, the Bellingham Herald published their first piece on the game.
“In some respects, we’re mirror images of each other,” Trojans coach Bob Ames said. “The only difference is our mirror is the size of a bicycle mirror and their’s is the length of a wall in a (luxury) condo. They run a lot of the same stuff we run. They run the same patterns. Our kids are calling out all their patterns watching film, because it’s exactly what we run. But we don’t have their size.”
“They have just been physically stronger and bigger than their opponents,” wrote Wayne Riner, who coaches Royal’s 1A Southeast League rival Connell. “And they’re coached extremely well. … They are as good as any team I faced in 25 years of coaching other than Pullman in 2006.”
Riner’s Eagles were the only team to come within an area code of beating the Knights this season before falling 24-21 in their Oct. 13 meeting in Royal City. The 21 points Connell scored were a season high against Royal – no other team managed more than seven and eight opponents were shut out – while the Eagles held the Knights to a season-low scoring output – they were held to 35 points three other times, including twice in the state playoffs.
While Meridian is seeking its fourth state title in school history Saturday and its first since 2006, Royal is playing for its third straight crown. In fact, the Knights’ 13-0 run to the Tacoma Dome is only part of 40-game win streak that stretches back to a 28-10 loss to Colville in the 2014 state quarterfinals.
The way they’ve done it this year, Riner said, is with outstanding defense.
“Their defense is by far the best defense they’ve ever had – not one weakness in their defense,” Riner wrote in an email. “We’re as physical as they are and matched up with them well; they could just make a few more big plays than us.”
Wednesday evening, The Tacoma News Tribune ran their full state championship preview and picks.
NO. 1 ROYAL KNIGHTS (13-0) VS. NO. 2 MERIDIAN TROJANS (13-0)
1 p.m. Saturday at the Tacoma Dome
Road to the Dome — Royal: Defeated Freeman (first round), Okanogan (quarterfinals) and Newport (semifinals). Meridian: Defeated Hoquaim (first round), Montesano (quarterfinals) and La Center (semifinals)
Coaches — Royal: Wiley Allred. Meridian: Bob Ames.
About the Knights: The two-time defending state-champion Knights are looking to get their third and push their winning streak to 41 games in a row. And they’ll bring another Jenks to the Tacoma Dome to throw passes with Kaden Jenks’ younger brother, Sawyer Jenks (133 of 216, 2,610 yards, 38 TDs, 4 INTs). He frequently targets WR Corbin Christensen (52 receptions for 1,070 yards, 16 TDs) and even if those two only play like normal humans, RB Alonso Hernandez (157 carries for 1,111 yards and 16 TDs) has proven he can take over games, too. The Knights are exactly what you could hope for in a state team: devastatingly effective and with a lot of experience.
About the Trojans: This is only the sixth time in school history the Trojans have been in the state championship and the first time since 2006 when they won it all. And don’t count them out of this one as Eastern Washington University commit QB Simon Burkett (219 of 390, 2,938 yards, 25 TDs; 583 rushing yards, 10 TDs) has come in clutch for the team many times, including in their last game when he got three passing touchdowns along with one rushing touchdown against La Center. But key will certainly be how Meridian’s defense handles Royal’s high-flying offense.
TNT pick: Royal, 34-21
Columbia Basin Herald, Royal’s hometown paper, ran their game preview Thursday.
This is the one they want.
The work, the preparation, the bond of brotherhood has brought them to this moment, and the time is now for the two-time defending 1A state champion Royal football team.
The Knights (13-0) will face unbeaten Meridian (13-0) in the 1 p.m. game at the Tacoma Dome on Saturday with the 2017 1A state championship hanging in the balance.
Royal football tradition has always been about less talking and more doing. Every step of the way this season they have reminded themselves, “This is not the one we want.”
As the wins piled up and the winning streak, which is now at 40, grew, Royal stayed the course. The goal has always been to win the last game of the season and they stand at the threshold with a great opponent standing between them and three-peat.
Royal wears the crown and as in any heavyweight title fight, it’s theirs until someone knocks the champ out.
The numbers are as impressive as the players putting them up. Meridian quarterback Simon Burkett, who has committed to Eastern Washington University, goes into the game having completed 213-of-358 passes for 3,563 yards and 43 touchdowns. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound senior, is a key to the Trojans offensive game plan, because he also has 583 yards rushing with 10 touchdowns. Burkett has accounted for 53 Meridian touchdowns. He’s also thrown 11 pass interceptions.
“We need to get to him a few times and get him out of rhythm,” said Allred, whose defense has registered 14 sacks in 13 games. “We need to keep him contained. I think winning the line of scrimmage is really important. There’s a lot of things we need to do and winning the line of scrimmage is a big one.”
The Royal defense goes into the game allowing just 3.46 points a game with eight shutouts in 13 contests. The Knights have outscored their opponents 309-to-21 since Connell scored the first touchdown of the season against them seven weeks into the schedule. Their run to the Dome included two shutouts and a late score (Freeman 35-0), (Okanogan 49-0) and (Newport 35-7).
They play lockdown defense behind an offense averaging 56.6 points a game, and it all starts up front.
Friday morning the Tri-City Herald ran their pregame story, “Greatness achieved: Royal’s 40-game win streak, third straight 1A title on the line.”
There may come a time when Royal City is a destination spot for football coaches in search of the secret to success.
The Royal Knights, riding a 40-game winning streak, will play for their third consecutive Class 1A state championship at 1 p.m. Saturday against Meridian at the Tacoma Dome. They’re in the hunt to add an eighth state title to their program’s storied history.
But none of those impressive facts show up on the scoreboard, something Royal coach Wiley Allred knows all too well.
“You are playing another 13-0 team that is after the same thing,” Allred said. “Things are falling into place, kids are stepping up and improving every week. We look at (Meridian), and we have to focus on what we aren’t doing right. Our opponent does a lot of different things on both sides of the ball that we have to be aware of.”
Royal, of course, has offensive weapons of its own, but it’s the defense that has been most dominant. The unit has barely been scored upon, posting eight shutouts in 13 games and allowing just 45 points all season (21 of those went to rival Connell, ranked No. 2 at the time). That boils down to little more than a field goal a game for the other team.
And as the competition has gotten better in the playoffs, so has Royal’s defense: 35-0 over Freeman, 49-0 over Okanogan and 35-7 over Newport in the semifinals last weekend.
On offense, the Knights have a bevy of weapons to choose from in their balanced attack, led by junior quarterback Sawyer Jenks (133-for-216, 2,610 yards, 38 TDs, 4 INTs). Jenks is the younger brother of Kaden Jenks, who quarterbacked the Knights to their last two state titles.
Corbin Christensen, the SCAC Offensive Player of the Year, is Jenks’ favorite receiver, hauling in 52 passes for 1,076 yards and 16 touchdowns.
The key to this sustained run, Allred said, is a true group effort.
“To have success, you have to get the kids out, and we get a large number,” he said. “We have good assistant coaches, good community support, and the kids have faith in us. You have to have good kids on the field, and they impress me quite often. They are bright kids and really good football players.”
It doesn’t hurt to start them young.
“Good participation in the kids program is the key,” Allred said. “It gets to the point where the young kids can’t wait to put on that uniform.”
Under the Dome
The Knights won their first state title in 1996 under coach Bob Nielsen, after placing second in 1994 (that game was played at the now departed KingDome).
Allred took over the program from his mentor in 1999, and the success has continued.
Royal won titles in 2000, ’04, ’05 and ’07 before this latest run in 2015 and ’16. They placed second in ’02 and ’12.
Royal’s 40-game win streak ranks No. 7 in the nation among current streaks. Kimberly (Wisc.) has the No. 1 current streak at 70.
The Knights’ run started the first game of 2015 (45-0 win over Ephrata) and includes 15 shutouts.
“We want to keep it going,” Allred said. “It will be a battle.”
Kickoff is 1PM Saturday in the Tacoma Dome. KPUG will be carrying the game live on-air and online. WIAA & NFHSNetwork will also be video broadcasting the game online, details at www.nfhsnetwork.com/events/wiaa-wa/cccb11c4de. I think there’s a fee to watch but I’m not certain.
Unfortunately, Tyler from History of Whatcom County Football is unable to attend the game. We owe him a huge thanks for livestreaming the last two games.
Read more game day specifics here. That post has been updated several times.
That’s about it. It’s the last game of the season, let’s enjoy.