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WIAA 3A football championship preview: Will first time be a charm for new-blood Yelm?

Tornados have big hurdle to clear Saturday - Eastside Catholic, which has played in six Class 3A title games since 2012, winning four of them

Editor's note: This Class 3A preview package was written up by SBLive WA staff for the WIAA state program. Game predictions made by reporters Todd Milles, Hailey Palmer and Tri-Cities-based Evans Rankings' founder Matt Evans.

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Top-seeded Yelm has a chance to no longer be the up-and-comer, but instead become a Class 3A champion if the Tornados can get by Eastside Catholic in the state title game this weekend.

It’s a stage Yelm hasn’t touched - and one Eastside Catholic has thrived on.

And it seems only fitting the Tornados will have to go through one of the most dominant programs in the classification to cement their status.

Yelm coach Jason Ronquillo gave the credit to his players following the Tornados’ semifinal win over defending 3A champion Bellevue to advance to the title game.

"It doesn’t come down to the coaching staff, it comes down to the guys playing the game on the field," Ronquillo said.

The Tornados have left no doubt they deserved the top seed in the tournament and all that’s left to do is win one more game to cap off an undefeated run.

Good news for them is they have a kid named Brayden Platt on their side.

"Beast of a player. Everybody gets on his coat tails and rides it. Matter of fact, I do, too," Ronquillo said of his star running back.

Second-seeded and Metro League champion Eastside Catholic s also looking to close out an undefeated season with a fifth state title.

"I thought we had a decent team returning, and that was one of our goals as a team - and it’s nice to reach that goal," Eastside Catholic coach Dominic Daste said of getting to the championship game.

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Daste knows his team is in for a long day just in terms of how Yelm likes to play the game.

"It’s going to be physical. That’s just their brand of football and how they like to play the game," Daste said. "We’re going to be really sore just because of how they play the game."

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CLASS 3A CHAMPIONSHIP PRIMER

Brady McKelheer, Eastside Catholic, class of 2023

NO. 2 EASTSIDE CATHOLIC CRUSADERS (12-0) vs. NO. 1 YELM TORNADOS (13-0)

Noon Saturday at Sparks Stadium, Puyallup

Coaches: Dominic Daste is in his fourth season at Eastside Catholic (37-7 record). Jason Ronquillo is in his ninth season at Yelm (70-37 record).

WIAA championship history: Eastside Catholic won the 3A title in 2014-15 and 2018-19. This is Yelm’s first trip to any WIAA title game.

Road to 2022 Gridiron Classic: Second-seeded Eastside Catholic defeated No. 15 seed Spanaway Lake in the first round (29-0), No. 7 seed Ferndale in the quarterfinals (35-18) and No. 3 seed O’Dea in the semifinals (35-28). Top-seeded Yelm defeated No. 16 Southridge in the first round (51-7), No. 9 seed Kennewick in the quarterfinals (36-27) and No. 5 seed Bellevue in the semifinals (28-27).

Statistical leaders: For Eastside Catholic – QB Brady McKelheer (133-244, 2,187 yards, 21 TDs), RB Masen Uribe (130 carries, 848 yards, 10 TDs), RB Richie Fotualii-Aliifua (105 carries, 674 yards, 19 TDs), WR Jayden Reyes (38 catches, 533 yards, four TDs), WR Branden Ganashamoorthy (27 catches, 567 yards, six TDs), TE Gabe Hoffmann (30 catches, 465 yards, four TDs) and LB David Lene. For Yelm – QB Damian Aalona (145-205, 2,242 yards, 26 TDs), RB Brayden Platt (116 carries, 1,173 yards, 24 TDs), ATH Kyler Ronquillo (69 carries, 616 yards, nine rushing TDs; 48 catches, 746 yards, nine TDs; 602 return yards, one TD), RB William Carreto (63 carries, 752 yards, nine TDs), LB Ray Wright (97 tackles, 17 TFL, five sacks, four INTs), LB Isaiah Patterson (89 tackles, 16 TFL, 10 sacks), DL Onyx Carter (43 tackles, 13 TFL, nine sacks).

Palmer's pick: Yelm, 21-20.

Milles' pick: Eastside Catholic, 17-16.

Evans' pick: Yelm, 28-24.