From my elevated perch in the press box I could see the pink setting sun and the tranquility of the harbor. All heck was breaking loose on Friday, October 5, at Friday Harbor field as the Borderites and Wolverines lined up for an interconference battle. Both teams’ first touchdowns were the result of bone-jarring tackles that caused their opponent to fumble and cash in for the score.
“Friday Harbor may be the best no-win two-loss team in our conference,” said head coach Jay Dodd after the game. “They lost a close one to Meridian last week and were out to get into the win column tonight. The Wolverines just came after us all night with those two big running backs [Nathan Steenkolk and Ryan Allen].”
It was the first time Blaine has been out-rushed this year, 283 yards to 192. Friday Harbor’s play calls were nothing fancy – just smashmouth football – running their bulldozers between tackles.
“Our defense stepped up tonight when it mattered most and took advantage of their three turnovers,” Dodd said. “Those two fumble recoveries gave us touchdowns, and the interception sealed the win for us. It leaves us at two wins and zero losses, tied for first in our Northwest 1A conference.”
The 13-hour roundtrip road game was long, but the players were giving high fives to all and really enjoying the ferry ride home.
Blaine’s first opportunity came about 10 minutes in when senior James Fakkema’s big hit and fumble recovery gave the Borderites the ball deep in Wolverine territory. After several rushes, tailback Mario Gobbato plunged in from one yard out for the first of his three touchdowns for the night. The extra point conversion failed, making the score 6-0 at the 8:19 mark. On Blaine’s next offensive series, Gobbato had his only mishandled ball of the evening. The fumble left a short field for the Wolverines. From the 30-yard line, Friday Harbor pounded the ball using their big backs for 22 yards to the 8-yard line.
As the defense held, Wolverine quarterback C.J. Woods rifled a pass to Don Gault for their score and successful extra point.
The Wolverines took the lead 7-6 at the 11:48 mark of the second quarter. The Borderites came right back with a score of their own, showcasing sophomore quarterback Nate Kramme’s arm. Kramme first passed 23 yards to junior Cole Muder and later 13 yards to senior wide receivers Brett Allen and Tyler Kelly. With Friday Harbor’s defense looking for the pass, Dodd called for Gobbato to take it the remaining 37 yards on a quick-hitting counter trap play off tackle. Gobbato’s second touchdown gave the Borderites a 12-7 halftime lead.
“I was glad to see running room when I broke through the line,” Gobbato said. “It was tough running as they had their [tank in a football uniform] Nathan Steenkolk spying on me. Wherever I went he was right there plugging the hole.” Gobbato had a season low total 193 yards, 106 of which were gained in the first half. (Note: Anything over 100 yards is considered outstanding.)
On Blaine’s first possession of the second half the Borderites had their next miscue. The normally sure-handed Muder fumbled in Borderites’ territory. Again the Wolverines were presented with a short-field gift and they took advantage of it.
Friday Harbor used their big backs to pound it down close to the goal. Then switching to a smaller, quicker back, senior Micah Powell, they ran around end to score. This 10-play scoring drive put the Wolverines up by one, 13-12.
With Kramme’s arm still warmed up, the Borderites put forth an air attack of their own. Borderite speedster Isaiah Jackson’s offensive ability for the second half then went to work. Kramme found Jackson sprinting down the right sideline for a sweet 51-yard catch and run. From the 33-yard line Gobbato had runs of 18 and 12 yards, taking the ball to the 3-yard line to end the third quarter.
The wild and woolly fourth quarter was a cavalcade of big plays. It started with Gobbato scoring his third touchdown on the first play putting Blaine back on top 18-13. On the ensuing kickoff, Wolverine Don Gault returned the ball 55 yards to the Blaine 30-yard line. The Wolverines plowed their way down to the Borderites’ 1-yard line.
The Blaine line tightened the gaps and, in the red zone, the linebackers crowded the line of scrimmage. The Borderites dug their cleats deep into the ground and tightened their chin straps, expecting a massive collision at the goal line with the steamroller Steenkolk. The Wolverines, figuring that Steenkolk would be good for a couple yards, tried a toss sweep play to him. On the weak side of the Friday Harbor offensive line were Blaine’s defensive linebacker Caleb Johnson and defensive back Muder. Anticipating the snap count perfectly, they sprinted into the backfield. Johnson was the first to reach Steenkolk at the 3-yard line. He speared Steenkolk just as the toss arrived.
“It’s ironic that I have been out two games with a concussion,” Johnson said. “The crown of my helmet hit the ball as I wrapped him up with my arms, but I felt fine.” He knew his big-time hit caused the fumble that was returned to save the game for Blaine.
The alert Muder also closed in for the tackle. With his eyes wide open he spotted the ball squirming away.
“I released from the tackle attempt, picked up the ball and started running as fast as I could,” Muder said. He probably ran 97 yards as fast as he ever has, redeeming his earlier miscue. Muder’s touchdown and the Kramme-to-Allen two-point conversion increased Blaine’s lead to 26-13 with seven minutes left to play.
The Wolverines sent in fresh back junior Dylan Radden, who ran out and down the sideline for 37 yards and a score. Friday Harbor was right back in it, down just one score 26-19 at the 5:40 mark.
Blaine was not able to move the ball and returned possession to the Wolverines with three minutes left. Blaine’s defense was stingy at this moment of truth. With time running out, Friday Harbor took to the air. Borderite Brett Allen made a leaping interception to wrap up the game for Blaine. To run out the clock, Dodd had the dependable Gobbato run behind his big offensive linemen Palmer Sandel and company.
“The Johnson hit and Muder pick-up was huge for us,” Dodd said. “It was a two-score swing. Instead of us being down by 20-18 it became us up 26-13. I believe as a team we learned a lot from the game. We had to stave off a big physical team that came out swinging after their close loss last week. We had to learn to come from behind on the road and on a night we did not play particularly well we learned to just grind it out. This game made us mentally tougher. If we take care of business and win our next games, it will help during the playoffs.”
Blaine is back home against Meridian at 7 p.m. Friday, October 12.