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Originally published December 1, 2011 at 9:02 PM | Page modified December 1, 2011 at 9:21 PM

Bellevue battles for another state football title

Bellevue's Matt Gilbert is a defensive anchor for his team, which plays against O'Dea Friday night at the Tacoma Dome.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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BELLEVUE — Butch Goncharoff walked onto the Bellevue football field while the Wolverines stretched.

The coach of the three-time defending state champions moved toward midfield and said, "Last practice at Bellevue. Last one."

It was a subtle reminder from Goncharoff to his seniors. After four years of hard work, this group has a chance to leave the school without losing a playoff game. They have a chance to add a ninth title in 11 years. They have a chance to celebrate together in the Tacoma Dome one last time.

For linebacker Matt Gilbert, it is a surreal experience. As he stood on the sideline during his last practice on Bellevue's home field — his left arm hooked in his shoulder pads while the right hand held his helmet — he tried to explain the end of a journey that culminates in Friday's 7:30 p.m. Class 3A title game against third-ranked O'Dea.

"It's really weird," said Gilbert, a team captain who took fourth in the javelin as a junior during track and field season with a throw of 178 feet, 2 inches. "I don't know what I'm going to do. Last year, after we won state, we had weights the next Monday. Now I'm not going to have weights in the offseason, so I don't know what I'm going to do with my time."

Gilbert has been a contributor since he was a sophomore. He played his way onto the field on special teams his first year on varsity before becoming a defensive starter as a junior. This year he is one of the Wolverines' defensive anchors, playing what is, essentially, a hybrid between linebacker and safety.

"He's been a tough kid, good player," Goncharoff said. "We've had some great players play that position. He's a heck of a player for sure. He's been a guy that's played a lot for us, and he's a great leader as well."

While Gilbert isn't a vocal leader, he sets an example on a team loaded with defensive standouts. He is shy in the spotlight off the field — he talked in hushed tones while his teammates teased him during a recent interview — but his on-field contributions have helped the top-ranked Wolverines hold opposing offenses to an average of 11.6 points.

Like many of his teammates, Gilbert grew up playing football for the Bellevue Jr. Wolverines. His father, Craig, played basketball at Bellevue. So did his sister, Alyssa. He also has a younger brother, Ryan, who was on the freshman team.

He understands what the program has accomplished over the years, and wants to wrap up his career with a title.

"This is the last time on the field," Gilbert said. "It's a weird feeling. We're never going to be in pads here again. It's kind of sad, but it's kind of exciting to move on. With all the success we've had, it's just a good feeling. We've just got to finish it out. Four state championships would be a really big deal."

Title games at the Tacoma Dome
Day Class Teams Time
Friday 1B Almira/Coulee-Hartline vs. Neah Bay 4 p.m.
Friday 3A Bellevue vs. O'Dea 7:30 p.m.
Saturday 2A Lynden vs. Archbishop Murphy 10 a.m.
Saturday 1A Connell vs. Cascade Christian 1 p.m.
Saturday 2B Waitsburg-Prescott vs. Morton/White Pass 4 p.m.
Saturday 4A Skyline vs. Skyview 7:30 p.m.

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