BELLEVUE — Advancing to your first state championship can be emotional, but that’s not what first-year Eastside Catholic coach Dominic Daste was thinking about Saturday.
Sophomore lineman Peter Taoipu’s mother Lima, who had a stroke in July and had been in a coma since, died on Thanksgiving. The Crusaders wore their black jerseys in her memory.
And after second-seeded Eastside Catholic defeated third-seeded Lincoln 34-21 in the Class 3A state football semifinals at Sammamish High, Daste called the Taoipu’s family into the team huddle to share in the victory.
“She was his biggest fan,” Taoipu’s older sister Mina said of their mother. “This means so much. We really appreciate everything they do. … It’s a brotherhood. It’s more than football.”
The unity between the Crusaders (11-1) was evident after forcing the Abes (10-3) to punt on their opening possession. Eastside used five plays to cut through Lincoln’s touted defense and score on a 10-yard pass from junior quarterback Kobe Muasau to junior J.T. Tuimoloau.
Lincoln’s next possession was disrupted by an interception from Eastside senior Gee Scott Jr. that teammate Sam Adams II converted into a touchdown on the ensuing possession to make to score 14-0 with 5:27 left in the opening quarter.
“Our kids played well; they really did,” Daste said. “Our kids wanted to play for Peter. It takes a lot for kids and for a guy like Peter to come out here and play well. … It’s a lot.”
Scott, an Ohio State commit, collected another interception in the second quarter, but the Abes were able to hold the Crusaders without a score. One 10-play drive was stopped by junior defensive back Julien Simon intercepting Muasau’s pass at the goal line.
Senior running back Abner Sio-Fetaui was also able to get going offensively. The Pierce County League MVP had a 9-yard scoring run with 7:35 on the clock to close the gap for Lincoln to 14-7 at halftime.
The Crusaders shined in the third quarter with a 51-yard touchdown run from senior Gio Ursino with 9:52 on the clock. And after the Abes turned the ball over on downs, Ursino caught a 31-yard touchdown pass to make the score 28-7 after the PAT.
Ursino finished with 119 rushing yards on 14 carries.
“The receiving touchdown I had, we ran that play in the first quarter and saw it was wide open, so I said we need to run this, again,” Ursino said. “This feels great. And we played this game for Peter’s mom, so it made it all that more emotional.”
Eastside wasn’t without glitches. An unsportsmanlike penalty on senior Ayden Hector put Lincoln in position for Sio-Fetaui to punch in his second score of the game with 9:58 left in the fourth quarter.
Sio-Fetaui finished with 127 rushing yards on 27 carries.
The Crusaders responded with their own scoring drive, Adams II running in the 5-yard touchdown to put his team up 34-14 with 7:41 left in the game. The loss is the Abes’ first since a nonleague matchup against Lake Stevens in September.
Eastside will play top-seeded O’Dea (12-0), which beat No. 5 Kennewick 29-7, for the state championship Saturday at Sparks Stadium in Puyallup at noon. The Crusaders defeated the Fighting Irish for the title last year under former coach Jeremy Thielbahr. O’Dea beat Eastside Catholic 28-6 in their regular-season meeting in October.
“This week has been really hard,” said Scott, who caught four passes for 90 yards and punted. “But we stuck together. I’m so proud of my guys to rally together and Peter played a great game. I’m so proud of him.”