BELLINGHAM - With potentially only 3 1/2 minutes left, Cooper Clark and Alex Conley combined to make what appeared to be a season-ending mistake for the Ferndale Football team Saturday, Nov. 3, at Civic Stadium.
With the Golden Eagles trying to drive for a potential go ahead score, Clark took the snap, stepped back and tossed to his tailback. Rather than looking the ball all the way into his hands, Conley appeared to take a glance upfield, and ended up fumbling the ball, and Hazen defensive tackle Quadir Griffin smothered it at the Highlanders' 42.
"I knew that could have been a costly mistake, and I was a little down," Conley said. "It was late in the game, and they could have run out the clock. But I tried not to hang my head and get down about it."
Good thing Conley didn't or he might have missed a pretty good comeback by Ferndale.
Cooper and Conley each made a pair of huge plays in the closing minutes, giving Conley a chance to score a 1-yard game-winning touchdown with 40 seconds remaining and give Ferndale a 22-16 victory in the Class 3A crossover playoffs.
The victory sends the No. 7 Golden Eagles (9-1) on to the 3A State Playoffs after a one-year absence as the No. 3 seed out of the Northwest District.
Ferndale's next test, will be as tough as they come, as the Golden Eagles will travel to face unanimous No. 1 Bellevue in the first round next week, but they couldn't be happier to be back in the state draw no matter who they're facing.
"This means so much to us," senior Cameron Massey said. "We didn't really know what to expect this year, and to get to state, I think that shows how hard this team worked to come together."
Ferndale certainly needed to bond together after Conley's fumble left the Golden Eagles without the ball in the waning moments of what was then a 16-14 deficit.
A pair of Hazen runs got the Highlanders to a third-and-3 at their own 49, and they ran a toss to Mason Jacobs on a reverse. Clark read it and made a fine open-field tackle for no gain to force Hazen to punt.
"We both run the Wing-T offense, so we know their plays and what to key on," Clark said. "When the wide receiver stepped back, I knew I had to step up. I made my read and made sure I made the tackle."
Clark wasn't done, though, as he broke off a 22-yard keeper on an option play around the left end to get the Golden Eagles into Hazen territory at the 39 with 2:39 left to play.
After a 3-yard scramble to the 36, he let Conley take over.
And the hard-running back, who finished with 128 yards on 21 carries, didn't disappoint.
Back-to-back runs of 19 and 14 yards landed the Golden Eagles at the Highlander's 3 with 1:11 left on the clock.
"I knew the game, and really our season, was on the line, and I just ran with everything I had," Conley said.
Two more 1-yard carries got Ferndale to the 1 with 46.1 seconds left and made the Highlanders use all three of their timeouts, before Conley got the call one final time and mus-cled his way into the end zone.
"Man it felt so good," Conley said. "I knew there was a little bit of time left, but I felt we had it."
And Ferndale did.
Hazen could only reach the Ferndale 37 with three completed passes, before time expired and Ferndale was off to the state playoffs for the ninth time in the past decade.
Hazen struck first on its opening possession, as Jordan Abdullah broke off a 37-yard run down to the Ferndale 13, and Joe Glaefke finished it off with a 2-yard plunge.
Ferndale looked ready to answer, as it took its first drive down to the Hazen 10, but Kyle Nelson intercepted Clark in the end zone on third-and-goal.
The Highlanders twice had opportunities to put the Golden Eagles down by two touchdowns, but mistakes caused them to come up empty. An illegal shift penalty negated a 69-yard touchdown reception by Isaiah Davis on Hazen's second possession, and Marquise Lee fumbled into the end zone from the 1-foot line on their third, to keep Ferndale in the game.
The Golden Eagles capitalized on their final possession of the half, ripping off a nine-play, 85-yard drive, that Richmond Baardson capped off on a 5-yard sweep, as he fought his way through a pair of Highlander tacklers for the final yard to tie it at 7 at halftime.
Another Hazen miscue on the first drive of the second half kept it knotted 7-7, when Jacobs fumbled at the Golden Eagles' 8.
But Ferndale returned the favor, when the snap on a fourth-and 4 from the 31 sailed over Wyatt Dunn's head, and he was tackled in the end zone for a safety.
Jacobs then atoned for his mistake, taking a reverse 35 yards for a touchdown to give Hazen a 16-7 lead with 11:24 to play.
Just when it seemed Ferndale was going to fade away, though, Clark hooked up with Baardson for a 68-yard pass to the Hazen 7, and Clark took it around the right end the rest of the way to draw the Golden Eagles back within two.
Reach David Rasbach at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2286.
Hazen 7 0 2 7- 16
Ferndale 0 7 0 15- 22
Haz - Joe Glaefke 1 run (Samuel Bunnell kick)
Fern - Richmond Baardson 5 run (Wyatt Dunn)
Haz - Safety
Haz - Mason Jacobs 35 run (Bunnell kick)
Fern - Cooper Clark 5 run (Dunn kick)
Fern - Alex Conley 1 run (Cooper Clark run)
First downs 16 16
Rushing Att-Yards 54-369 39-235
Comp-Att-Int 4-6-1 3-6-1
Passing yards 48 82
Penalties-yards 7-39 2-10
Fumbles-lost 4-2 3-1
RUSHING - Hazen: Jordan Abdullah 11-117, Joe Glaefke 17-72, Tony Nipert 11-55, Marquise Lee 11-83, Mason Jacobs 3-34, Kyle Nelson 1-8. Ferndale: Hank Hilts 6-31, Richmond Baardson 7-69, Alex Conley 21-128, Cooper Clark 4-38, Wyatt Dunn 1-(-31).
PASSING - Hazen: Tony Nipert 4-6-1-48. Ferndale: Cooper Clark 3-6-1-82.
RECEIVING - Hazen: Dario Smith 1-8, Jared Schroder 2-14, Zach Cable 1-26. Ferndale: Cameron Massey 1-9, Richmond Baardson 2-73.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at email@example.com or call 715-2271.