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Originally published Saturday, November 24, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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3A Football Playoffs | O'Dea "D" does it in semifinal win over Bellevue

"Go! Go! Go! " O'Dea senior linebacker James Palmer looked into his hands, and for the first time, saw the football. Then he heard teammate...

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TACOMA — "Go! Go! Go!"

O'Dea senior linebacker James Palmer looked into his hands, and for the first time, saw the football. Then he heard teammate Johri Fogerson again.

"Run!"

So Palmer ran, with only one man standing in the 50 yards between him in the end zone. Fogerson gave him one final block. That's all he needed. Palmer raised both arms as he broke into the end zone with a fumble return that gave O'Dea its first lead.

"That was the best feeling I've ever had in my life," Palmer said.

The defenders for the fourth-ranked Irish couldn't help but feel good Friday morning. They stopped Bellevue's notoriously vicious running game cold. They added a score. And they won, 27-17, in a Class 3A semifinal at the Tacoma Dome.

No. 7 Bellevue, winner of five of the past six state championships, left the Tacoma Dome with a loss for the first time this decade. O'Dea (13-0) will play the winner of today's 9 a.m. game between Skyline and Franklin Pierce Friday night at the Tacoma Dome for the state championship.

"We've never been this healthy late in the season," Palmer said. "We knew we were going all the way."

The Irish shrugged off an early Bellevue touchdown and stonewalled the Wolverines the rest of the morning. After the first Bellevue drive, the Irish allowed only 92 rushing yards.

They have a ratty children's toy to thank for that.

In practice, O'Dea coach Monte Kohler used a miniature stuffed "Taco Time" football, which had been in his family for years, to prepare for Bellevue's deceptive wing-T offense.

"That was tough, but it helped us out a lot," said Ed Pelzer, O'Dea's 6-foot-3, 335-pound lineman. "It taught us not to look in the backfield and we've got to follow the linemen. The linemen will take us to the ball."

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O'Dea's big line also opened the way for the Irish to gain 239 yards on 48 carries.

"That has to be the biggest high-school team I've ever seen," Bellevue coach Butch Goncharoff said.

The national anthem lasted longer than it took Bellevue to score. Only 49 seconds in, Peter Nguyen ran for a 23-yard touchdown after O'Dea fumbled the opening kickoff. That was one of four lost O'Dea fumbles, two on kickoff returns.

After being pinned deep in their territory on their first two drives, the Irish broke through in the second quarter on Donny Lisowski's 53-yard touchdown run that tied it at 7.

"At that time in the game, it was big, no doubt about it," Kohler said. "Because that's Bellevue. That five of six [state-championship run] is right there, and if we don't do something, there might be some doubt that sets in."

Bellevue (11-2) briefly took a 10-7 lead on a field goal with 24 seconds left in the half, and then the Wolverines recovered another fumbled kickoff. But an O'Dea defender knocked the ball loose from Nguyen and Palmer took it back and scored with three seconds left.

"In hindsight, I would have loved to stick a knee down to get out," Goncharoff said.

Ladell Carroll's 1-yard run on the opening drive of the second half gave the Wolverines a 17-14 lead. But O'Dea responded with a 14-play drive that lasted almost nine minutes, capped by Lisowski's 5-yard run to put O'Dea ahead 20-17.

O'Dea had to protect the lead, and there was a tense moment with 4:13 left when Bellevue ran a halfback pass on fourth down.

Fogerson and every other O'Dea defender bit on the run, and receiver Brayden Van Ackeren cleared the coverage, with only turf between him and the end zone.

But the pass was short.

"I could finally breathe," Fogerson said.

Tom Wyrwich: 206-515-5653 or twyrwich@seattletimes.com

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