The evening promised to be bigger than life. Rain had been forecasted but the skies were clear.
Blaine Stadium was decorated on Friday, October 19 for senior night, with life-size pictures of the players who would be graduating. Moms, Dads, family members, relatives and friends were all there to see the Borderites’ seniors possibly play their last game on Blaine field.
Many of these athletes have been playing in the Blaine youth football program for eight years. For some this could be their last year of football. This game against long-time rival Mount Baker Mountaineers was also for the Northwest Conference 1A lead. Extra bleachers were brought in to accommodate the overflow crowd.
In football, there are three sectors of the game to win: offense, defense and special teams. On offense, rushing yards were even at 345 yards each. Defensively, Mount Baker only had a slight lead in total yards given up, 380 to Blaine’s 388. The Borderites were held to three of 10 third-down conversions, while the Mountaineers were close to the same at four of 11. Special teams play was the difference in the game.
In this game between evenly matched squads – Blaine was ranked #7, Mount Baker #10 in the A.P. state poll – it was Mount Baker’s kicking game and return yardage that gave them better field position and allowed them to score five touchdowns to the Borderites’ two.
“Their kick-offs, punting and special teams play was superior to ours,” head coach Jay Dodd said after the game. “It allowed them to start their drives at midfield where in turn we had to start inside our own 20-yard line several times.”
Dodd’s analysis was right on. Even though his star running back Mario Gobbato had one of his best games rushing, 302 yards for the game, it was the bad field position that created unsustainable long drives. His big-time performance did not produce results of getting into the end zone for points.
Blaine team play got up to game-speed first, and they looked in control with several good offense and defensive plays allowing them to take a 14-0 lead. “Their running back, Gobbato, is the real deal. He had more than 200 yards at the half,” said Mountaineer head coach Ron Lepper after the game.
Actually Gobbato had 225 yards on 21 attempts. “At halftime we revised our defense taking the cutback run away from him and limiting his production by two thirds (72 yards),” Lepper said. “We also inserted a couple of speed backs for the second half to allow us to run outside their pursuit. The real difference was that our kicker, Edgar Zavala, really booted the ball well. He had five field goals in the last three games.” His field goal distance of 47 yards set a new Mount Baker school record. Zavala’s punts were long with high hang time, which allowed the Mountaineer defense to get down field and stymie any Blaine return yardage. That was the strategy that beat Blaine.
Both teams used conservative play selections while seeing what defensive schemes their opponent would apply. Mount Baker junior quarterback Andrew Zender was the first to gamble on offense. He fired a 40-yard over the top downfield pass to his senior wide receiver Zan Roman. It was a perfect pass to the sheltered outside shoulder of the receiver.
Blaine’s athletic senior defensive corner, Brett Allen, was covering the play. He jumped so high he touched the sky knocking away the completion. After this highlight reel play, the Borderites got fired up. With Blaine starting out on its own 34-yard line, Gobbato ran around end for 30 yards to the Mountaineer’s 36. Dodd called for a cutback run by Gobbato, and he galloped up the middle the remaining three dozen yards for a Borderites’ touchdown. With the successful two-point conversion, Blaine led 8-0 at the 1:01 mark.
Blaine’s defense was fired up also stopping a Mount Baker drive. From their own nine, Gobbato used his cut-back technique, popped out of a pile of players and ran 40 yards out to the 49 before they caught him. Senior Caleb Johnson ran twice giving Gobbato a breather. On the next play the ball was faked to Johnson who proceeded to put a kick-out block on the Mount Baker defensive end, springing Gobbato on yet another touchdown run. Borderites were up 14-0 at the 8:47 mark of the second quarter.
Showing their offensive firepower the Mountaineers came back and scored in just three plays. From their own 40, senior running back Jake Schleimer ran 37 yards to the Blaine 33. Then, quarterback Zender passed 26 yards to Roman at the nine. Izaiha Schwinden carried the ball around end for the score. Zavala booted the first of his seven extra points for the evening. Blaine’s lead narrowed to 14-7. The score remained that way at the half only because of a great defensive tackle by senior Tas Scanlan and a pass deflection by senior Tyler Kelly, stopping the Mountaineers from scoring again.
Mount Baker team came out of the locker room with their hair on fire. The momentum swung to the Mountaineers and never returned. They threw the “S and S” boys at our Borderites. Starting at their own 33, they used the power running of Schleimer inside and the quick burst of Schwinden to the outside to score on the first possession of the second half.
Still on fire? Yes! They scored again just 1:52 later with Zender running 44 yards on a busted pass play. Mount Baker took the lead for the first time 21-14 and never looked back. The score came at the 8:02 mark.
The Mountaineers kicked off to Blaine. The Borderites, after running a few plays, were forced to punt and give the ball up to Mount Baker at midfield. This pattern happened over and over again for the remainder of the game. “Our kicker gave us great field position and we also figured out how to run on Blaine,” Lepper said. “We went into a three-back set by inserting junior running back Joey Walton into the line up. With Schleimer giving good run fakes into the line and Schwinden doing the same to the outside, we were able to run almost at will with Walton using cutbacks across the grain.”
The result: the Mountaineers scored again at the 4:31 mark. This was their third score in a little over five minutes. The third quarter ended with Mount Baker ahead, 28-14.
It was raining hard and play got sloppy. Blaine tried everything to get back in the game, even a trick play. Gobbato looked like he was going to run a 42-yard pass to Allen. It was intercepted. With the ball getting slippery from the rain, the team’s trade fumbled on consecutive plays. The conditions made it impossible for a Blaine comeback, disappointing to the mostly black-and-orange crowd.
In fact, when Zavala kicked his record-setting field goal at the 4:14 mark, the crowd started to leave early. Mount Baker had one meaningless score left in them to make it 38-14 at the final horn.
Blaine has one regular season game left against Nooksack Valley. The game was originally scheduled for Friday, October 26, but because Blaine is still on the hunt for a playoff spot, that game is rescheduled for Thursday, October 25 at Nooksack Valley.
A Blaine win will have them play again Saturday, October 27 in a playoff game for state, possibly at Blaine field.