History was made inside Federal Way Memorial Stadium on Friday, Oct. 14. The Kent-Meridian Royals took down the Thomas Jefferson Raiders in an exhilarating last second victory, 32-29.
Coming into the contest, both teams were winless in their respective 2022 campaigns.
The game was thrilling from start to finish. After a TJ fumble, Kent-Meridian got out to an early 7-0 lead thanks to a 60-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Jaydon Saelee to senior Jamarion Johnson.
Thomas Jefferson responded immediately with a touchdown drive of their own. The Raiders got on the board with a one-yard touchdown run by freshman QB Mabin Guillen to even the score at 7-7.
Kent-Meridian found the end zone twice before the first half ended. The offense was fueled by sophomore running back Maurice “Mookie” Gosbey. Gosbey showed excellent explosiveness in the running game. As a young running back, he knows how to use his speed and exploit defenses.
Head Coach Justin Callander was so happy for his sophomore leader to have that sort of impact on the game.
“Mookie is all over the place. He’s one of our best players on the team, he works his butt off … He’s one of the strongest on the team and he is only a sophomore. He’s a great story, and a great kid. And I had been teaching him since seventh grade,” Callander said.
The end of the first half finished with a TJ touchdown, inching them close to the Royals. An 18-yard reception on a jump ball to junior Dylan Bell got the Raiders within 8. After the TJ missed the extra point, the half ended, 13-22, with Kent-Meridian in the lead.
KM started the second half with the ball, ending the drive with a field goal. The Kent-Meridian offense could not take advantage of a surprise onside kick recovery after the field goal.
A few minutes later in the third quarter, two Raiders broke through the KM offensive line and blocked a punt with the ball bouncing out of bounds at the three yard line. The Raiders punched the football into the end zone on a three yard run from senior Josue Toledo. That ended the third quarter with a score of 21-25, the Royals clinging to a four point lead.
In the fourth quarter, Kent-Meridian scored on a miraculous 28-yard throw and catch from Royal QB Jayden Saelee to junior Kyle Brown, who broke three TJ tackles to get across the goal line, increasing the lead, 32-21. On their next possession, the Raiders drove the length of the field. One a one-yard run, the senior Toledo scored his second touchdown. After the two-point conversion, the score was at 32-29.
With 50 seconds, the Royals were forced to punt the ball back to TJ.
KM had struggled with punting the ball all evening. Their first went 15 yards and the second was blocked. Back to receive was speedster Tyshawn Clay for TJ. The punted ball hit Clay in the face, then he picked it up and ran it into the end zone to finish the play. In high school, football players are not allowed to advance a fumble, and a muffed punt counts as a fumble — wiping the points, and more importantly the lead off the board.
The first play the Raiders had was a pass. After having his jersey stretched out by a defender, TJ QB sophomore Paris Saunders found senior Cameron Carreras, who made a heroic effort to run from the middle of the field to out of bounds, dragging four Royals along for the ride.
After two deep shots at the end zone ending in incompletions with 1.4 seconds left, TJ Head Coach Brian West sent out his kicking team to tie the game. TJ missed the 34-yard field goal, sealing the game for the Royals.
At the end of the game when it mattered, the KM defense made its biggest stand of the season.
“Seeing them happy is what I care about. The defense showed up and showed out. They did a great job. The kids were making plays,” Callander said.
Running back Gosbey was excited to get the season going in the right direction: “It feels amazing. This program hasn’t won in a few years. We were just trying to change that. We thought (the season) would be better this year, but a dub is a dub.”
Kent-Meridian won their first game in four seasons dating back to 2019. It was their first district win since week four of the 2018 season when they beat Decatur. After the Gatorade bath, coach Callander was full of emotion.
“It has been along time. The kids have worked real hard, and it is all for the kids,” he said. “Great coaching staff, it was a battle. We have some kids who have been playing for four years, we got some young guys playing. I couldn’t be prouder of these guys. It is one of the happiest moments of my life.”
As coach Callander was talking, he was constantly getting embraced by his coaches with big bear hugs and words of encouragement that he would echo to the last group of players going into the locker room. It is easy to tell how much this win means to the team. It is much bigger than just a game.