BLAINE - Eleven times Blaine forced Meridian to third down, and 11 times it held.
But with 15 seconds remaining and only 4 yards separating the Trojans from a potential game-tying touchdown, the Borderites once again asked their defense to stand tall.
And once again, it did just that.
With a steady rain intensifying, senior lineman James Fakkema burst through the Meridian front to sack quarterback Max McGuinn, separating him from the ball in the process. Fakkema then managed to wrestle the ball into his grasp in the resulting scrum to allow Blaine to hold on for a dramatic 34-27 victory in a battle of teams previously unbeaten in Northwest Conference 1A play.
"That last play is all a blur right now," Fakkema said. "I really don't remember exactly what happened."
With no timeouts remaining, Meridian (4-3, 2-1 NWC 1A), which had marched 60 yards in 55 seconds to give itself a chance, sent four receivers into the pattern and the crucial third-down play.
"We rushed six guys, so we knew they were going to have to pick up somebody with their running back," Blaine coach Jay Dodd said. "We knew it was our six against their six, and we felt pretty good that somebody could get some pressure."
Fakkema said he expected that somebody to be outside linebacker Mario Gobbato, because of his blazing speed.
But when nobody picked Fakkema up, he zeroed in on the quarterback and the ball immediately popped free from McGuinn's grasp.
"You know, wet ball, big hit, and somebody as big as James - things like that happen," Dodd said.
Fakkema said he didn't realize the ball was on the ground until he found himself in the middle of a pile fighting for it.
"I'm not sure who got to the ball first, me or their quarterback, but I know I came out of the pile with it," Fakkema said. "Just an unbelievable feeling. That is a really good team over there. They never gave up, and to be able to beat them ... wow."
The third-down stop, obviously, was a regular sight in the game, though Blaine did allow Meridian to convert three of seven fourth-down attempts.
"I think our defensive secondary did a really good job of covering their guys on third down and making them make some tough throws," Fakkema said. "Our line did a good job, too, but we didn't get a whole lot of pressure on them. But when we needed to, we got that pressure."
Blaine (6-1, 3-0) did a pretty good job of keeping the pressure on Meridian with its offense, too, as running back Gobbato rushed for 290 yards and four touchdowns on 45 carries. Cole Muder added an 18-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, as Blaine built a 22-7 lead.
Gobbato's 1-yard TD run 2:50 into the second half made it 28-7, but Meridian refused to go away, as a 78-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Relijah McMillen and a 16-yard TD throw from McGuinn to Sam Chambers on fourth down got Meridian back in striking distance at 28-20.
Gobbato put Blaine back up by two touchdowns with 8:13 to play on a 3-yard run, but Meridian methodically marched down the field, before McGuinn, who passed for 264 yards and three TDs, found Drake VanderYacht on a 5-yard scoring toss to make draw the Trojans within a touchdown.
The Meridian defense then stepped up and forced Blaine to punt after three Gobbato carries, and the Trojans took over at their own 36 with 1:10 to play.
From there, McGuinn and his receivers used the sideline beautifully, reaching the Blaine 15 with 29 seconds remaining. McGuinn then hit Trevin Todd over the middle to the Borderites' 4, and spiked the ball to stop the clock with 22 seconds left.
Almost as a precursor to the pressure he would feel on third down, Blaine hurried McGuinn on second, forcing him to over throw an open receiver in the right flat, to set up Fakkema's heroics.
"This is a huge win for us," Fakkema said. "We know we didn't play perfect, so we need to come to practice ready to work hard to get better this week. We've got a big game against Mount Baker (on Friday, Oct. 19). It's a big rivalry game, and we need to be ready."
Reach David Rasbach at email@example.com or 715-2286.
Meridian 7 0 7 13- 27
Blaine 22 0 6 6- 34
Bla - Mario Gobbato 2 run (run failed)
Bla - Cole Muder 18 run (Gobbato run)
Mer - Relijah McMillen 54 pass from Max McGuinn (Casey Bromet kick)
Bla - Gobbato 30 run (Gobbato run)
Bla - Gobbato 1 run (run failed)
Mer - McMillen 78 kickoff return (Bromet kick)
Mer - Sam Chambers 16 pass from McGuinn (run failed)
Bla - Gobbato 3 run (pass failed)
Mer - Drake VanderYacht 5 pass from McGuinn (Bromet kick)
First downs 19 20
Rushing Att-Yards 25-96 52-281
Comp-Att-Int 18-43-0 6-10-0
Passing yards 244 83
Penalties-yards 8-76 4-16
Fumbles-lost 4-3 3-1
RUSHING - Meridian: Junior Castro 8-33, Letrez Jones 6-33, Max McGuinn 9-27, Evan Childs 2-3. Blaine: Mario Gobbato 45-290, Cole Muder 2-18, Nate Kramme 5-(-27).
PASSING - Meridian: Max McGuinn 18-43-0-244. Blaine: Nate Kramme 6-10-0-83.
RECEIVING - Meridian: Sam Chambers 5-71, Relijah McMillen 5-77, Drake VanderYacht 5-76, Trevin Todd 2-20, Junior Castro 1-0. Blaine: Cole Muder 1-6, Brett Allen 4-53, Tas Scanlan 1-24.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2271.