FRIDAY HARBOR - A couple miles to the north of Blaine, stopping a team on three downs is all you need to do. But on this side of the U.S.-Canadian border, you need to hold for all four downs.
The Blaine football team had trouble getting off the field for much of its Northwest Conference 1A game at Friday Harbor on Friday, Oct. 5, as the Wolverines successfully converted three of their first five attempts on fourth down.
But when it mattered most, the Borderites defense twice stepped up and made the plays it needed - yes, including once on a fourth down - to emerge with a 26-19 victory.
"Man, that was a physical game," Blaine coach Jay Dodd said. "They have two big, physical backs that can consistently pick up 3, 4 yards a play on you, and they just controlled the ball. ... I don't know what the final tally was, but they probably ended up with 25 more (offensive) plays than us."
Pretty close - the final play count was 64-40 in favor of the Wolverines.
Part of that was Friday Harbor's effectiveness converting fourth downs into first downs.
With Blaine clinging to an 18-13 lead midway through the fourth quarter, the Wolverines (4-2, 0-2 NWC 1A) faced a fourth-and-5 at the Blaine 25. Quarterback C.J. Woods hit Donald Galt despite tight defensive coverage, and Galt was ruled out about a foot short of the goal line.
Blaine (5-1, 2-0) stuffed a Micah Powel run on first down, and the Wolverines attempted to pitch the ball out to Nathan Steenkolk on second. But the ball and Caleb Johnson arrived at about the same time, causing a fumble.
"They ran to the weak side, and I was playing weak side on that play, and I saw the ball go down," Blaine defensive back Cole Muder said. "I ran right between two guys, picked the ball up and ran as hard as I could."
Nobody touched Muder, who raced 96 yards for what proved to be the game-winning touchdown.
Friday Harbor quickly responded, though, as a personal foul penalty set the Wolverines up at the Blaine 38, and two plays later Dylan Radden ran up the gut for a 30-yard touchdown to make it a seven-point game.
The Borderites were unable to convert a first down after the onside kick attempt went out of bounds, and a James Fakkema punt gave the ball back to Friday Harbor at its own 26 with 3:56 to play.
Blaine managed to hold the Wolverines to 4 yards on the first three downs, but that once again brought up a fourth down.
Besides the long pass to Galt earlier in the quarter, Friday Harbor had converted a pair of fourth-down attempts on a touchdown drive in the second quarter, including a 10-yard touchdown pass from Woods to Galt on fourth-and-9.
"I think we got caught sleeping a couple of times there in the first half on fourth down," Dodd said. "We knew things we should be looking for, but we just didn't catch them. I thought we did a little bit better job in the second half."
And none better than on that last drive, when Brett Allen intercepted Woods on a pass attempt to Galt.
Blaine took over at its own 46, and was able to run out the final 2:29 with the dependable legs of Mario Gobbato.
Gobbato was held under 200 yards for the first time this season, but still finished with 189 and three touchdowns on 27 attempts. He had a 1-yard TD run in the first quarter, a 37-yarder in the second to put Blaine up 12-7 at the half and a 3-yarder early in the fourth to erase a 13-12 deficit.
That 3-yarder was set up by a beautiful 51-yard completion from Nate Kramme to Isaiah Jackson late in the third quarter, getting Blaine to the Friday Harbor 33.
"This is a big, big win for us," Muder said. "To go 2-0 in league, that's exactly where we need to be."
Reach David Rasbach at email@example.com or 360-715-2286.
Blaine 6 6 0 14- 26
Friday Harbor 0 7 6 6- 19
Bla - Mario Gobbato 1 run (run failed)
FH - Donald Galt 10 pass from C.J. Woods (Micah Powell kick)
Bla - Gobbato 37 run (pass failed)
FH - Powell 11 run (pass failed)
Bla - Gobbato 3 run (run failed)
Bla - Cole Muder 96 fumble return (Brett Allen pass from Nate Kramme)
FH - Dylan Radden 30 run (kick failed)
First downs 14 13
Rushing Att-Yards 32-194 55-183
Comp-Att-Int 4-8-0 4-9-1
Passing yards 89 50
Penalties-yards 4-40 5-55
Fumbles-lost 4-2 4-2
RUSHING - Blaine: Mario Gobbato 27-189, Nate Kramme 3-5, Cole Muder 2-0. Friday Harbor: Micah Powell 20-79, Nathan Steenkolk 21-78, Donald Galt 3-(-25), Dylan Radden 8-48, C.J. Woods 3-3.
PASSING - Blaine: Nate Krame 4-8-0-89. Friday Harbor: C.J. Woods 3-7-1-44, Donald Galt 1-2-0-6.
RECEIVING - Blaine: Isaiah Jackson 2-52, Cole Muder 1-24, Brett Allen 1-13. Friday Harbor: Donald Galt 2-34, Dylan Radden 1-6, Jacob Justiniano 1-10.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2271.