FERNDALE - Ferndale football coach Jamie Plenkovich yelled "5-0, baby!" from the bowels of mob of his players in the north end zone at Memorial Stadium, and everyone in blue and gold responded by enthusiastically raising five fingers high above their heads.
It's been a long journey, but the Golden Eagles are finally back.
A year ago as the calendar was about to turn to October, Ferndale stood only 2-3. In fact, it took nine games until the Golden Eagles had a victory for every digit on one hand.
Despite entering the 2012 season with more questions than returning starters, Ferndale seems to have put that season behind it and returned the winning way the program is accustomed to. For the second straight week, the Golden Eagles knocked off a previously unbeaten opponent, this time using a number of big plays early to set the tone in a 41-14 Northwest Conference 2A/3A victory over Squalicum on Friday, Sept. 28.
"We've come a long, long ways from last year," senior Cameron Massey said. "Everybody is playing the aggressive brand of football that is expected here. You could see it on the field - everybody is trying to make the big hit or the big play."
The big plays certainly were a factor Friday, as Alex Conley scored on runs of 50 and 39 yards and Richmond Baardson scored from 59 yards out all in the game's first 16 minutes to put Ferndale (5-0, 3-0 NWC 2A/3A) up 21-0.
"Their big plays were everything tonight," Squalicum coach Reed Richardson said. "I thought we played pretty good, actually. We were right in there with them for a while. But they broke a couple of big plays, and that changed the entire game."
Baardson and Conley each had 100 yards rushing by halftime and finished with 152 and 128 yards, respectively.
But their big yardage totals were a direct result of what was happening up front.
"Our line was awesome," Baardson said. "The holes they were opening were huge. They would go through the holes and get them open for us."
And with backs like Conley and Baardson, that turned out to be dangerous.
In addition to the three long scoring runs, Ferndale had five other plays go 15 or more yards.
"I've always said all you have to do is get our guys a crease, and they can make things happen," Plenkovich said. "The guys up front just did an amazing job. Squalicum was aggressive up front, and they played physical. But I thought our guys did a good job of answering that and making the blocks that we needed to make."
Despite the quick three-touchdown lead, Squalicum (4-1, 2-1 NWC 2A/3A) battled back, when Kyle Stallo recovered a fumbled Ferndale pitch at the Golden Eagles' 45 with 6:30 left in the second quarter. Six plays later, quarterback Clark Hazlett kept around left end, made a nice cut and scored from 13 yards out to make it 21-6 at the half.
Ferndale opened the second half by driving 47 yards on 11 plays and capped it off with a 2-yard touchdown run from last week's hero, Hank Hilts, but the Golden Eagles' next drive ended with a short punt that went out of bounds at their own 32.
The Storm again took advantage of the short field, as six plays later Mac Novak rumbled in from 10 yards out to make it 28-14 with 1:57 to play.
"I thought momentum was on our side, and we were playing pretty good at that point," Richardson said. "But again, they made a couple of big plays, and that was it."
The first was a 36-yard run by Baardson around left end to set Ferndale up at the Squalicum 19. On the final play of the third quarter, Hilts took it the rest of the way, and Ferndale once again established a comfortable three-touchdown lead.
Yet another big play by Conley put the game away, as he intercepted Hazlett and retuned the ball 65 yards to the Squalicum 4, before Daniel Ewald scored the clincher, allowing Ferndale to reflect on how far it has come in the past year.
"It's pretty amazing," Baardson said. "We're a better team this year. Guys are so much closer. We have confidence in each other and believe in each other. We all just focus on what we need to do and let everybody else do what they're supposed to do. It's kind of fun to play that way."
Especially when you're 5-0.
Reach David Rasbach at email@example.com or 360-715-2286.
Squalicum 0 6 8 0- 14
Ferndale 7 14 14 6- 41
Fern - Alex Conley 50 run (Wyatt Dunn kick)
Fern - Richmond Baardson 59 run (Dunn kick)
Fern - Conley 39 run (Dunn kick)
Squal - Clark Hazlett 13 run (kick failed)
Fern - Hank Hilts 2 run (Dunn kick)
Squal - Mac Novak 10 run (Ben Garcia pass from Luke Weber)
Fern - Hilts 19 run (Dunn kick)
Fern - Daniel Ewald 4 run (kick failed)
First downs 9 17
Rushing Att-Yards 35-146 41-367
Comp-Att-Int 9-19-2 2-5-1
Passing yards 86 18
Penalties-yards 7-38 7-58
Fumbles-lost 0-0 2-1
RUSHING - Squalicum: Nick Weber 14-81, Brandon LeDoux 5-23, Nick Manchester 2-4, Mac Novak 4-24, Clark Hazlett 9-11, Daniel Weber 1-3. Ferndale: Alex Conley 16-128, Hank Hilts 11-64, Richmond Baardson 9-152, Cooper Clark 2-8, Anthony Fleck 1-5, Daniel Ewald 2-10.
PASSING - Squalicum: Clark Hazlett 9-19-2-86. Ferndale: Cooper Clark 2-5-1-18.
RECEIVING - Squalicum: Nick Weber 2-16, Brandon LeDoux 1-4, Daniel Weber 2-18, Ben Garcia 2-41, Blake Youtsey 2-7. Ferndale: Richmond Baardson 1-9, Cameron Massey 1-9.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2271.