Legendary former USC and Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach John McKay had a famously notorious answer when, after another Buccaneers loss, he was asked how he felt about his team’s execution.
“I’m all for it,” McKay answered dryly.
The mood wasn’t that macabre, but execution was the first thing on Blaine head football coach Jay Dodd’s mind when he gathered his team in a fitting drizzle after an inexplicable 14-7 loss to Squalicum in the Borderites Northwest conference opener at Civic Field Friday, September 10.
“We didn’t execute as well as we could,” he told his team. “Every coach, lineman, running back, tackler; we all have something to improve on.”
The heavily favored Borderites, sporting new, all-white road uniforms, could only flounder offensively as they were continually snake-bitten by their own mental and physical errors.
The laundry list of gaffes can cause a coach to cringe: Five turnovers, including two drive-killing interceptions in the endzone during promising drives, four dropped passes, more than a dozen missed tackles as the defense became worn down from too much time on the field, and, the most grievous, nine penalties, including one that nullified a touchdown that would have tied the game in the fourth quarter. After this avalanche of errors, Blaine still had two more opportunities to tie the game.
On the continuation of the drive after the facemask penalty, Blaine was given new life in the stalling drive when Squalicum was called for a pass interference, giving the Borderites the ball at the Storm 33-yard line. However, after a short reception to Tyler Chau, quarterback Sean Allen was picked off for the third time as he tried to force a pass into double coverage to Andrew Miller.
On the ensuing drive, Squalicum moved 68 yards, all on the ground before Blaine forced a fumble that they recovered on their own 13-yard line with 6:47 left in the game. Allen drove the Borderites back again with short runs and passes, highlighted by a 19-yard reception by Bird. Two plays later, however, tailback Mario Gabboto fumbled on first down with 3:49 remaining, the Borderites third turnover of the quarter.
The Storm’s Andrew Reid rushed for 41 yards in Squalicum’s final drive to run the clock out. Insult was added to injury, when the Borderites were called for their ninth penalty, a pass interference against Bird on third down to rescue the clinching drive.
Officiating played a significant role for both teams, as a total of 13 penalties were called. A deep catch by Miller in the fourth quarter was overturned after a disagreement by officials as to the validity of the catch.
For Miller, who played in Bird’s shadow last week, it was a coming out party. While Bird received smothering double coverage from the Storm secondary, he caught five balls for 88 yards and a touchdown.
Squalicum opened the scoring after a first quarter stalemate with a three-yard run by fullback Nikko Walker. The drive was sparked by a Blaine personal foul early in the march and a 30-yard run by Walker, which saw three Borderite missed tackles. Blaine retaliated 1:12 later when Allen found Miller in stride on a mid-range crossing route, streaking through the secondary for a 66-yard touchdown to tie the game at half-time.
It was Allen who set the table for Squalicum’s winning score though, when he fumbled after an eight-yard scramble.
The Storm recovered on the Blaine 19-yard line and three plays later, Reid scored the go ahead TD with 9:45 remaining. Blaine appeared to tie the game again when Miller got free on another crossing route, blazing for a 54 yard score which was overturned by an illegal block in the back penalty.
For Allen, who played so impeccably against Notre Dame the week before, it was a forgettable, frustrating day. He was 13 of 30 for 167 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions and one fumble.
The underdog Storm rushed for 218 yards on the ground led by Reid, who had 130 yards on 22 carries. Squalicum showed early they could match up physically with the big Blaine lines though their skill players were more unproven. “They didn’t surprise us with anything,” Dodd explained, “we knew they would be a big, physical team. It’s just hard to get into rhythm when you’re standing on the sideline.”
Blaine will have no time to linger or lament on the loss as the annual grudge match with Lynden looms this Friday at 7 p.m. at Rollie DeKoster Field. Lynden moved to 2-0 with a 41-13 trouncing of Bellingham.
Photos by Jeremy Schwartz