BELLINGHAM - There weren't a whole lot of good feelings surrounding either the Blaine or Meridian football teams entering a three-team tiebreaker with Nooksack Valley for the two remaining Northwest Conference 1A playoff spots on Saturday, Oct. 27, at Civic Stadium.
The Borderites were coming off two straight conference losses, and Meridian had lost two of its last three, including a thumping at Mount Baker with the conference title on the line.
But the solution to both team's problems was pretty simple, if you listen to Meridian kicker Casey Bromet.
"All you've got to do is smile, whether you're feeling good or not," Bromet said. "When you smile, you get all these good chemicals flowing throughout your body."
Well, there was a whole lot of smiling for the Borderites and Trojans after the tiebreaker, as they each clinched trips the postseason with Kansas Tiebreaker victories over the Pioneers.
"This is amazing," Blaine linebacker Caleb Johnson said. "We all worked so hard for this season. When we dropped down to 1A, everybody kept telling us we would win the whole thing walking away, and then we struggled at the end of the season. To finally win something like this and get into the postseason, this is pretty special."
Blaine (6-3) will receive the NWC 1A's No. 2 seed by virtue of its 6-0 victory over Meridian in the third and final tiebreaker, but both teams had already locked up spots in the 1A Northwest District Playoffs by then.
Meridian as the No. 3 seed will face Coupeville in a 6 p.m. half game on Tuesday, Oct. 30, at Blaine. The winner of that half game will move on to face the Borderites in a second half game at 7:30 p.m. Whichever team emerges from that game will receive the Northwest District's No. 3 seed to the tri-district playoffs and will travel to play the West Central District's No. 2 seed.
Blaine earned its trip to the playoffs with an 8-6 victory over Nooksack Valley in the first tiebreaker, when Johnson knocked down Tanner Myhre's pass attempt on a 2-point conversion.
Just like it did only 48 hours earlier when it held Mario Gobbato to his lowest rushing production in two years (76 yards), the Pioneers defense appeared to be focused on stopping the Borderites' star running back.
But unlike its 34-28 loss on Thursday, Oct. 24, at Nooksack, the Borderites were able to use that to their advantage.
After the Pioneers stuffed Gobbato on first down from the 25, and Nate Kramme misfired on a pass attempt, Kramme faked to Gobbato and ran a perfect bootleg to the left for 11 yards and a first down on a crucial third-and-10.
Cole Muder's 12-yard run on third-and-9 got Blaine to the 1, before Gobbato took it the rest of the way.
Kramme then ran another bootleg, this time to the right, for the 2-point conversion.
The Pioneers responded when Myhre converted a third-and-6 play with a 17-yard completion to Joey Scheffer at the 4. But a high snap on second-and-goal pushed Nooksack back to the 9, before Bret Rediger bulled his way behind a wall of purple blockers on a fourth-down bubble screen to give the Pioneers a chance to tie.
But those chances ended when Johnson swatted Myhre's pass at the line of scrimmage on the conversion attempt, causing a Borderites mosh pit at the 35 to celebrate a trip to the postseason.
"It's all a blur, really," Johnson said of his tiebreaker-clinching play. "I saw their quarterback start to move, and I know he is a quick athletic kid. My job was to stay behind him and stop him if he ran. Then I saw him let the ball go, and all I could do was jump up and swat it. ... It was the best feeling, having all my teammates meet me out there to celebrate. We're a close team, and we work hard for each other."
That scene was repeated by Meridian about a half hour later, when Bromet booted the Trojans into the playoffs with a 26-yard field goal that gave Meridian a 3-0 victory over the Pioneers in the second tiebreaker.
The Pioneers, who lost the coin toss and had to go on offense first, reached the 9, but three straight incompletions caused them to go away empty and gave Meridian a chance to advance with any points.
The Trojans never even went to air, as five Max McGuinn and Junior Castro runs got them to the 9 to set up Bromet, who calmly stepped in and stroked a kick that split the uprights.
"I've had some pretty good success this season," Bromet said. "I knew I wanted to keep my heart rate low, so I just focused on my breathing. And I just smiled. ... This is a pretty great feeling to be headed to the playoffs my senior year."
The two tiebreaker losses ended an impressive run by the Pioneers, who won three straight games just to force the tiebreaker after they started 0-2 in NWC 1A play.
Nooksack Valley still will play a non-playoff crossover, likely at Port Townsend, to wrap up its season.
"I was really proud of our defensive effort the last three weeks," Nooksack Valley coach Robb Myhre said. "We got run over and out physicalled the first two weeks, but they found the switch, and the same guys really started to out muscle other teams the last few weeks. ... I'm really proud of what these guys accomplished to get to this point, and I think it is a good way for our seniors to go out."
In the final tiebreaker, four straight Gobbato runs got Blaine to the 9, before Kramme made the bootleg work once again for a touchdown. But his 2-point conversion pass attempt failed to find its mark, leaving the door open for Meridian to snatch the No. 2 seed.
But Muder ended those thoughts and the night when he made a diving interception of McGuinn on Meridian's second play from scrimmage.
"We had to make a switch on the play," Muder said. "We were in man, and we switched the guys we were on, and I was able to make a play. ... It just shows that defense is just as important as offense. It shows what we can do on both sides of the ball. If we play strong on both sides of the ball, we can be tough to handle."
Reach David Rasbach at email@example.com or 360-715-2286.
Blaine 8 - 8
Nooksack 6 - 6
Bla - Mario Gobbato 1 run (Kramme run)
NV - Brett Rediger 9 pass from Tanner Myhre (pass failed)
RUSHING - Blaine: Mario Gobbato 3-2, Nate Kramme 1-11, Cole Muder 1-12. Nooksack Valley: Tanner Myhre 1-12.
PASSING - Blaine: Nate Kramme 0-2-0-0. Nooksack Valley: Tanner Myhre 3-5-0-28.
RECEIVING - Blaine: none. Nooksack Valley: Joey Scheffer 2-19, Bret Rediger 1-9.
Nooksack 0 - 0
Meridian 3 - 3
Mer - Casey Bromet 26 FG
RUSHING - Nooksack Valley: Levi Schram 1-(-5), Tanner Myhre 1-1. Meridian: Max McGuinn 2-11, Junior Castro 3-5.
PASSING - Nooksack Valley: Tanner Myhre 2-4-0-13. Meridian: none.
RECEIVING - Nooksack Valley: Joey Scheffer 1-6, Curtis Handy 1-7. Meridian: none.
Blaine 6 - 6
Meridian 0 - 0
Bla - Nate Kramme 9 run (pass failed)
RUSHING - Blaine: Mario Gobbato 4-16, Nate Kramme 1-9. Meridian: Max McGuinn 1-2.
PASSING - Blaine: none. Meridian: Max McGuinn 0-1-1-0.
RECEIVING - Blaine: none. Meridian: none.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2271.