It was hard for the Ellensburg High School football team to be too disappointed after Friday night’s loss.

It was hosting a Royal High School team that won three 1A state titles from 2015-17 and riding a 53-game win streak before its 1A state semifinal loss in 2018. The Knights have also beaten the Bulldogs three straight seasons.

So, taking a 21-16 loss? Ellensburg (0-1) wasn’t distressed considering Royal (1-0) has outscored it 97-21 over the last three games.

The Bulldogs, under new head coach Jeff Zenisek’s helm, we’re neck and neck with the potent Knights until the clock struck zero.

What was the difference this season for Ellensburg?

“Our energy,” said senior quarterback Ryan Ferguson. “Came out ready to go and we’ve been excited for a really long time.”

The energy was never negated even after Royal’s first drive, as it used a flea-flicker for a 67-yard score to take a quick 7-0 lead.

But the Bulldogs marched right back. Ferguson found lengthy wideout Nolan Meyer for a 7-yard gain to move the chains on third down. It was followed by a 43-yard strike to Brenden Swanson that later set up an Elijah Harper 22-yard field goal.

After a few punt exchanges and an Ellensburg interception by Swanson on a tip, the Bulldogs broke through on a fumble picked up by Harper and ran to Royal’s 7-yard line. Swanson then punched it in to give Ellensburg a 10-7 advantage with 6:42 remaining in the second quarter.

“It was a good feeling coming into halftime ahead,” Zenisek said. “They trick played us last year, on film, the very first play from scrimmage last year. … Our kids battled the whole game which was good, coming into half leading was good.”

But the lead was quickly lost. Quarterback Caleb Christensen hit a wide-open Cooper Christensen for a 40-yard score to commence the second half.

Cooper Christensen notched 187 yards and three touchdowns for Royal. His final basically put the game away on 3-and-11 with just over four minutes to go in the fourth quarter. Caleb Christensen found him in the corner of the endzone for 17 yards to put Royal up two scores, 21-10.

“Coverage, we got to work on our coverage,” Zenisek said. “Kids know it. Not getting fit up on the receivers too tight. We’ll work on that part of the game this week and see where we go.”

Ellensburg didn’t relinquish, marching down 63 yards that was capped off by a 1-yard Ferguson sneak up the middle. Before that, Ferguson unfurled a pass to Meyer for 31 yards.

Ellensburg couldn’t recover the onside kick and get a defensive stop.

“They know how to win,” Zenisek said of Royal. “There’s a reason they win state championships and stuff like that. You could see they didn’t get down, they just did their job. That’s what we got to do.”

Other than the broken coverage, Ellensburg’s defense was a bulwark upfront, tallying five sacks and forcing two turnovers with a fumble and the tip that was intercepted.

“We got to make teams work. If we make them work, you can see what happens,” Zenisek said. “There’s a turnover, a penalty or something like that.”

Ferguson finished 14-of-22 with 162 yards and one interception. He also led the team in rushing with 45 yards. Meyer led the receiving corps with 67 yards on six catches.

Henry Rinehart rushed for 33 yards on five attempts with a long of 20.

Ellensburg heads to Zillah High School for a 1 p.m. kickoff next Saturday.


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