The Blaine Borderites football team started its season with a loss.
An onslaught of mistakes and opening game jitters were too much to overcome as Blaine fell 35-32 to 3A Hazen in the opening game of the 2011 Emerald City Kickoff Classic at Century Link Field in Seattle on Saturday, September 3.
Five turnovers, eight penalties, missed tackles in space and four pivotal failed point-after-touchdown conversions led the laundry list of errors. The missed tackles contributed to the surrender of 10 plays of 20 yards or more, including three touchdowns.
“There were some plays where we missed tackles on the perimeter,” Blaine head football coach Jay Dodd said. “On other plays, our outside linebackers would get sucked inside by an inside run fake and lose their responsibility. We will improve our tackling technique.”
It was a career performance for Mario Gobbato who blistered the Hazen defense for 224 yards rushing and four touchdowns on 24 carries behind an offensive line that bullied the Highlander defense all day and took the Borderites to the brink of a stunning upset of a school twice the size of Blaine.
It was Hazen that made a statement early. On the third play from scrimmage, wing-back Cody Taylor took a misdirection handoff 65 yards for a touchdown. Taylor accrued over 200 yards in total offense for the Highlanders, scoring three times, including a 94-yard catch and run touchdown of short screen pass early in the third period.
The latter score was a turning point in the game. Coming out of the half-time break and trailing 7-6, Blaine engineered an eight-play, 76-yard drive, all on the ground, capped by Gobbato’s second touchdown run from a yard out. A second missed conversion gave the Borderites a five-point lead at 12-7.
On the ensuing series, the Borderites seemed to be in complete control of the game when Andrew Price stormed into the Highlanders’ backfield to sack Hazen quarterback Tony Nipert at his own six-yard line. Nipert victimized the Blaine pass rush on the next play throwing a short screen to Taylor who eluded the secondary for his long touchdown catch. The extra point was blocked, giving Hazen a 13-12 lead.
“It seemed like every time we would get momentum, we would do something silly and give them a big play, and then they would have the momentum back,” Dodd said. “We’ve got to learn to take control of game and never let it go. That’s how you win a football game, and we have to learn how to do that.”
After a 25-yard kick-off return by Isaiah Jackson, the Borderite offense retaliated with a big play of its own as Gobbato shook free for his third touchdown from 49 yards out. Again a third conversion attempt failed and the Blaine lead was 18-13.
“At the end of the day, both teams scored five touchdowns,” Dodd said. “It was the special teams’ plays that played a big role in the overall outcome of the game.”
Hazen seized the lead back with Taylor’s third touchdown from a yard out with 1:04 left to play in the third quarter. The Highlanders then recovered an onside kick at the Blaine 34 yard line.
“We’ve got to get on that ball,” Dodd said of the onside kick. “Two players had a chance at it, and we didn’t get it done.”
Hazen tailback Tray Brown made Blaine pay for the mistake, rumbling for a 34-yard touchdown and a 27-18 lead. Hazen then extended the lead to 35-18 early in the fourth quarter when, after Nipert connected with his tight end Cody Morehead for a 59-yard pass play, Brown scored his second touchdown from 26 yards out.
“We think our defensive line needs to improve in a lot of areas,” Dodd said. “Our defensive ends and tackles were constantly getting kicked out by pulling linemen. We expect them to squeeze the hole down and make things more difficult for ball carriers. Instead, they were rushing upfield creating bigger lanes to run through.”
Blaine then mounted a furious late rally. Gobbato finished a 70-yard drive with a 14-yard touchdown run. Parker Wallace’s pass to Tyler Chau for the 2-point conversion made it 35-26.
After failing to execute the onside kick, the Borderite defense stiffened and held the Highlanders on downs, taking over the ball at their own 44-yard line.
Wallace directed Blaine downfield, hitting four different receivers, including Jackson for a leaping 28-yard touchdown catch. The point after touchdown was blocked leaving the score 35-32 with 3:34 left.
It was then that the Blaine defensive line failed to hold Hazen as the Highlanders ground out two first downs to run out the clock on the Borderites.
We feel okay about our performance,” Dodd said. “We feel good that we lined up in our basic formation and had some success against a good team. But we were sloppy in a number of areas.
“It was a hard loss because it was a game we should have won. Hazen is a good team with some good players, but in the end it was a team we felt we should have beat.”
The Borderites open their home schedule tomorrow night, Friday September 9, when they host 2A Northwest conference rival Squalicum, who are coming off a 49-7 shellacking by Ferndale.
Defensive lineman Palmer Sandal is upended after tackling a Hazen runner in Blaine’s 35-32 loss Saturday.