DEMING - Mount Baker coach Ron Lepper put a knee in the same muddy, spongy muck at Bob Tisdale Field his football team had just finished playing on for the team prayer. When he was finished, he popped his head up with a grin from ear to ear and bellowed, "How do you like me now?"
The Mountaineers responded with a raucous yell, and with that, Mount Baker started thinking about the Class 1A State Playoffs for the first time since 2005.
"This is unbelievable," Mount Baker senior Dalton Munsell said. "All that hard work we put in, it's all worth it. It's exciting. I really can't explain it right now."
Meridian didn't make it easy for the Mountaineers to clinch the league title in their first year in the Northwest Conference 1A ranks, though, holding them to three first-half points, but Jake Schleimer rushed for four second-half touchdowns and the defense turned up the pressure with six second-half sacks in a 30-8 victory on Thursday, Oct. 25.
With the win, Mount Baker (8-1, 5-0 NWC 1A) not only locks up the league title and the Northwest District's top 1A seed, it receives a bye from the district and tri-district playoffs and will be seeded directly into the state playoffs as the No. 2 seed out of the tri-district. They will next host the District 4 No. 3 seed in the round of 16.
"Obviously, this is huge," Lepper said. "It's really important to get that bye so that we can rest up and get a few banged up guys healthier. These guys worked hard to get to this point."
Meridian (5-4, 3-2), meanwhile, drops into a three-way tie for second place with Nooksack Valley's victory over Blaine on Thursday. The Trojans, Pioneers and Borderites all own a victory and a loss in games against each other this year, meaning they will have to use a Kansas Tiebreaker scheduled for 6 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 27, at Civic Stadium to determine which two teams will move on to the Northwest District Playoffs on Tuesday, Oct. 30.
"I've never been in a tiebreaker," Meridian coach Bob Ames said. "We've been in a three-way playoff, but not a tiebreaker like they're talking about. Nooksack Valley is the team that's coming in hot."
For the first half on Thursday, it looked like the Trojans might be able to avoid the tiebreaker and possibly even claim the automatic bid to state for themselves.
They did a good job of bottling up Schleimer, limiting him to 42 yards on nine first-half carries.
In fact, Schleimer only once broke through the line in the half, but Letrez Jones made a touchdown-saving tackle on the play at the Meridian 6, and the Trojans managed to hold the Mountaineers to a 22-yard Edgar Zavala field goal.
Mount Baker got only one more possession in the half, and it also ended with a field goal attempt, that was short from 48 yards out.
"I didn't think we played all that bad in the first half," Lepper said. "We only had two possessions."
Their third possession to open the second half only produced one first down, but on the first play of their fourth, Schleimer raced around the right end, off a block from Munsell and 56 yards for the first touchdown of the game.
"Chase (Toctocan) had the guy on the end of the line, and I was just supposed to help him," Munsell said of the play. "Then I saw a guy free a little downfield, and I didn't want him to make a play, so I tried to get in front of him. Jake ended up running into me and bouncing off, and next thing I know he's running through an open field."
It's a scene that would repeat itself with a 25-yard Schleimer TD just over four minutes later. He later added 7- and 10-yard scoring runs in the fourth quarter, as he finished with 159 yards - 117 of which came in the second half.
"I think the guys did a good job of sticking with what we were trying to get them to do, and it started to pay off in the second half," Lepper said.
Just as it paid off for Schleimer and the offense, it also paid off for the defense, which started to turn the heat up on Meridian quarterback Max McGuinn. Munsell and Joey Walton combined on two of the sacks, while Hunter Gates, Tyrel Cronk, Jake Larsen and Sterling Honeycutt also made life difficult on McGuinn, who finished with 152 yards passing and added a late touchdown run for Meridian's only points.
"Once they got that first touchdown, they just started rolling offensively and defensively," Ames said.
Reach David Rasbach at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2286.
Meridian 0 0 0 8- 8
Mount Baker 3 0 14 13- 30
MB - Edgar Zavala 22 FG
MB - Jake Schleimer 56 run (Zavala kick)
MB - Schleimer 25 run (Zavala kick)
MB - Schleimer 7 run (Zavala kick)
MB - Schleimer 10 run (kick failed)
Mer - Max McGuinn 16 run (Trevin Todd pass from McGuinn)
First downs 14 13
Rushing Att-Yards 22-23 35-241
Comp-Att-Int 29-44-2 4-10-1
Passing yards 198 65
Penalties-yards 6-30 2-20
Fumbles-lost 1-0 1-1
RUSHING - Meridian: Junior Castro 6-43, Max McGuinn 12-(-17), Letrez Jones 2-2, Jeremy Brockmann 1-(-2), Tanner Tutterrow 1-(-3). Mount Baker: Jake Schleimer 16-169, Andrew Zender 8-16, Izaiha Schwinden 4-50, Dylan Howard 2-12, Joey Walton 1-(-1), Liam Short 1-(-2), Set Bass 3-(-3).
PASSING - Meridian: Max McGuinn 25-38-2-157, Tanner Tutterrow 4-6-0-41. Mount Baker: Andrew Zender 4-10-1-65.
RECEIVING - Meridian: Junior Castro 2-14, Trevin Todd 8-41, Relijah McMillen 7-39, Kyle Linderman 4-35, Robby Gray 4-26, Jeremy Brockmann 1-9, Sam Chambers 3-34. Mount Baker: Zan Roman 2-49, Izaiha Schwinden 1-(-1), Dylan Howard 1-17.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at email@example.com or call 715-2271.