It’s been 19 years since the Mercer Island football team beat its rival, the Bellevue Wolverines. That didn’t change this year, with the Wolverines running their way to a 53-14 victory on Nov. 1.
Despite the scoreline, Mercer Island head coach Ed Slezinger said there was a different feel this year.
“They really came out with the desire to change the feel of this game,” Slezinger said. “I think they really did it.”
Slezinger said he has seen the rivalry change from a game the Islanders dreaded each year, to a game they looked forward to. Losing to their rivals has become a common occurrence beginning at the youth football level, and Slezinger said his seniors wanted to change that message for the players who follow them.
“The talk from the players before the game, the actions of the players during the game, and even afterwards, even with the score being what it is, the feel was different,” Slezinger said. “That little spark is going to create a fire.”
The Islanders came out with fire in the first half, playing a physical style of football. After Bellevue opened the scoring late in the first quarter with a 2-yard touchdown run from quarterback Bryson Sleeper, Mercer Island senior linebacker and tight end Owen Baebler blocked the point-after attempt to keep the score 6-0. The Wolverines were on the march again, with a first and goal at the 6-yard line. Mercer Island defensive back Carter Burr forced a fumble and Baebler recovered the ball at its own 1-yard line.
Mercer Island running back Nathan Buchan was stopped in the end zone for a safety, giving Bellevue an 8-0 lead after the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Sleeper found the end zone two more times to extend the Bellevue lead to 22-0. Mercer Island quarterback Liam Rogan got the Islanders on the board with a 22-yard touchdown pass to Baebler to cut the Bellevue lead to 22-7 with 3:40 left in the first half. The two teams traded touchdowns late in the half, with Rogan throwing a 17-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Luke Shavey to make it a 29-14 game at halftime.
The Wolverines pulled away in the second half, scoring three touchdowns and one field goal to get the 53-14 win.
While the Islanders didn’t qualify for the playoffs, Slezinger said he was proud of the work his players put in this season, especially his group of seniors. Slezinger said the seniors were a special group that put in a lot of hard work.
“I call them the lunch-pail guys,” Slezinger said. “We didn’t have that one player that really jumped off the chart, someone that KingCo recognizes as an all-star. But we had a bunch of guys that put in the time, put in the effort and came out to work together and achieve something, and they really did it.”
Next year the Islanders will look to build off this season, with some key returners from this year’s team, including wide receivers Luke Shavey and Johnny Sullivan, and running back Nathan Buchan.
“We’re going to have a large group of workers,” Slezinger said. “I think they’re going to shine. I think this is the catalyst that takes them one step further.”