TACOMA - It took getting to the Tacoma Dome for the first time in school history to find out, but it appears that the Mount Baker football team's second-half magic just doesn't work indoors.
The Mountaineers, who have become accustomed to digging themselves early holes in the first two rounds of the state playoffs, were unable to climb out Saturday, Nov. 24, in the Class 1A state semifinals against a talented, motivated Montesano squad.
The Bulldogs, who have battled the images of the grandstands at their home field being destroyed by a fire that is still being investigated for its suspicious beginnings, came out playing a tempo that Mount Baker simply couldn't match to jump out to a quick lead. And this time, the Mountaineers didn't have a second-half rally in them, as they fell 28-6.
"They played fast and they made plays," said Mount Baker running back Jake Schleimer, who was one of the lone bright spots for the Mountaineers with 164 yards and a touchdown. "It was kind of like the Lynden game - they played at a tempo that we just weren't ready for. Give them credit, because that is a good team."
Mount Baker (10-2) can still take pride in the knowledge that it won its first two state playoff games since 1999 to go farther than the program had ever gone before, won a Northwest Conference 1A title and matched a program record with 10 wins in a season.
"It was pretty special to make it down here," Mountaineers center/linebacker Tyrel Cronk said. "I'm really proud of the seniors and all these guys for putting in the work it took to get here. We fought really hard, and it's a little tough right now because we really wanted to keep playing."
Unfortunately for Mount Baker, that reward goes to Montesano.
And with all that the Bulldogs have gone through this year, it would be hard to root against them when they move on to the 1A state championship game for the fourth time in school history.
"When the stadium burned, it cut us deep, no doubt," said Ben Ohashi, who finished with eight catches for 79 yards and a TD and grabbed a key interception in the end zone at the end of the first half just as Mount Baker appeared to be building some momentum. "This is our first time going to the state championship game since we won it in 1994, and it's big anytime you play for the title. But this year, it means a little more. We're playing for our entire community."
The Mountaineers no doubt felt the same about the Deming community, which once again travelled well to support their team.
And as they have become accustomed to seeing in the state playoffs in a first-round win over Woodland and a quarterfinal victory over La Center, they saw their Mountaineers get off to a sluggish start offensively.
Actually, that would be a bit of an understatement on Saturday.
The Mountaineers' first four possessions on the Tacoma Dome turf netted only 38 yards and one first down, and that didn't come until 2 minutes, 47 seconds had expired in the second quarter.
"They were moving around and doing a few things to throw us off," Mount Baker coach Ron Lepper said. "We didn't come out making some of the blocks we needed to make, and it took us a little while to get things figured out, but I thought we eventually did get things working."
Montesano, meanwhile had no problems from the outset.
Matthew Jensen hit all four of his pass attempts on the Bulldogs' first possession to the Mount Baker 4, and Tucker Ibabao took it the rest of the way on a fourth-and-1 play to make it 7-0.
Monte's second possession was even more impressive, as Jensen's 35-yard hook-up with Shad Rogers on fourth-and-5 from the Mountaineers' 42 set up a 4-yard scoring toss to Ohashi and a 14-0 lead after the first quarter.
The Mountaineers got a stop on the Bulldogs' third possession, but Jensen kept and converted on a fourth-and-1 play from the Mount Baker 27 to set up a 1-yard dive by Ibabao with 2:21 left in the half.
"They did a great job of executing," Lepper said. "We pretty much knew what they were going to try to do, but they just did a good job of doing it. They got open and made catches when they needed to."
The Mountaineers offense finally awoke late in the half, as Andrew Zender's 10-yard run got Mount Baker its second first down of the half, and five straight Schleimer carries netted 48 yards and got it to the Montesano 2 with 12 seconds left.
The Mountaineers called their final timeout and elected to pass to ensure a second shot to score, but Ohashi robbed them of that shot, when he intercepted Zender in the end zone to keep the halftime score 21-0.
"I think that was huge for us, because it gave us the momentum back," Ohashi said. "I think we had let up a little bit as a team, and that kind of got us back into what we were supposed to do."
What Mount Baker felt it was supposed to do - and what it had done a good job of doing in the first two rounds, outscoring Woodland and La Center by a combined 28-0 count - was win the second half to come back and win the game.
"We were pumped up in the locker room at halftime," Schleimer said. "We felt we were going to come out and dominate the second half, just like we had been doing. We felt we were going to get things going."
But Montesano had other ideas.
After the Bulldogs' first possession ended on a missed field goal, they forced a quick three-and-out and marched down the field, converting yet another fourth-and-1 from the Mountaineers' 13, before Jensen found Rogers from 4 yards out to make it 28-0 with 4:13 left in the third quarter.
Mount Baker finally got on the board with Schleimer's 2-yard run with 1:03 left in the quarter, but that's all they would get, despite a long drive in the fourth quarter that reached the Bulldogs' 3.
"This one didn't end up the way we wanted, but I'm proud of our seniors and everything this team accomplished this year," Cronk said. "Getting this far meant so much to our community. Look at how many people traveled all the way from Deming to be here for us today."
Reach David Rasbach at email@example.com or 360-715-2286.
Mount Baker 0 0 6 0 - 6
Montesano 14 7 7 0 -28
Mont - Tucker Ibabao 4 run (Anthony Louthan kick), 5:17
Mont - Ben Ohashi 3 pass from Matthew Jensen (Louthan kick), 1:40
Mont - Ibabao 1 run (Anthony Louthan kick), 2:21
Mont - Shad Rogers 2 pass from Jensen (Louthan kick), 4:13
MB - Jake Schleimer 2 run (kick failed), 1:03
First downs 14 17
Rushes-yards 41-224 41-142
Pass att-cmp-int 3-6-1 17-25-0
Passing yards 21 201
Third down conv. 2-8 7-14
Fourth down conv. 0-1 4-5
Penalites-yards 6-45 4-17
Fumbles-lost 1-0 0-0
Possession time 24:07 23:53
Mount Baker Att. Yards Avg. TD
Jake Schleimer 26 164 6.3 1
Andrew Zender 6 42 7.0 0
Izaiha Schwinden 9 18 2.0 0
Montesano Att. Yards Avg. TD
Tucker Ibabao 21 73 3.5 2
Matthew Jensen 12 36 0 2.8
Elliot Mendenhall 7 35 5.0 0
Shad Rogers 1 1 1.0 0
Mount Baker Cmp. Att. Yards TD Int.
Andrew Zender 3 6 21 0 1
Montesano Cmp. Att. Yards TD Int.
Matthew Jensen 17 25 201 2 0
Mount Baker Rec. Yards Long TD
Kaleb Brownfield 1 10 10 0
Dylan Howard 1 6 6 0
Dalton Munsell 1 5 0 5
Montesano Rec. Yards Long TD
Shad Rogers 5 96 35 1
Ben Ohashi 8 79 25 1
Elliot Mendenhall 3 21 12 0
Richard Smith 1 5 5 0
Reach DAVID RASBACH at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2271.