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Originally published Thursday, December 5, 2013 at 8:43 PM

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Back in the 3A title game, Eastside Catholic appears to have staying power

The Crusaders’ trio of talented sophomores give them serious reason for optimism beyond this weekend’s state championship against Bellevue.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Bellevue has been the dominant football team in the state of Washington for the past decade, but there’s a newcomer to the party, and it could be here to stay.

Eastside Catholic, in the state title game for the second consecutive season, will get another shot at knocking off the No. 1 Wolverines on Friday at the Tacoma Dome.

Eastside Catholic has gone 31-6 the last three seasons under coach Jeremy Thielbahr and reached the 3A championship game for the first time a year ago, although Bellevue won the title game 35-3 last season and is a heavy favorite in Friday’s game.

Whether the Crusaders succeed this year won’t diminish the distance the program has come in three years under Thielbahr. And more importantly, it won’t diminish Eastside Catholic’s potential.

“I think the future is bright,” Thielbahr said. “We’ve got young kids that love to play football and enjoy the game and enjoy the experience and enjoy the family atmosphere that we have at Eastside Catholic. When you’ve got that, when you’ve got kids believing, enjoying the people around them and the family atmosphere that we got, you’re going to win.”

What should excite Crusader fans to an even greater extent is the youth the team boasts. Quarterback Harley Kirsch, linebacker/running back Brandon Wellington and receiver Devon Arbis-Jackson are all sophomores. All three are big reasons why Eastside Catholic is in the championship game.

Kirsch has thrown for 3,296 yards and 34 touchdowns this season and hasn’t shied away from the bright lights of the playoffs — he has a combined 685 yards and five touchdowns the last two games. The same could be said about Wellington, who has stepped up since starting running back Henry Jarvis went down with an injury.

“We have a lot of potential,” Wellington said. “That’s going to carry on to the following years, hopefully.”

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