FERNDALE - The Ferndale defense didn't stop speedy Jae Evans and the Burlington-Edison offense once in the first half on Friday, Sept. 27.
In the second half, the Golden Eagles didn't always stop the visiting Tigers, but they seemed to get the big stop when they needed it most.
Ferndale used three huge defensive stands in its own territory, including one only inches from its own goal line on the game's final play to come back from a 14-point deficit and hold on for an exhilarating 35-28 Class 2A/3A Northwest Conference win.
"I told our kids it was a gutty win," Ferndale coach Jamie Plenkovich said. "We got stops when we absolutely had to. It was frustrating because we had them in third-and-long a bunch and gave up first downs out of that. Fortunately we gutted it out when we needed to and got some key stops."
The Golden Eagles (4-0, 2-0 NWC 2A/3A) certainly needed to dig deep on the last play of the game.
Ferndale had just taken the lead with 1:19 to play, when Marcus Nightingale bulled his way in from 3 yards out for his third touchdown of the night, giving the Golden Eagles their first lead of the game.
The Tigers (2-2, 1-1) took over at their own 33 with 1:11 remaining. Quarterback Hunter Anderson hit five of his first eight passes on the drive, including a 14-yarder to Blake Dimock on a fourth-and-6 play from the Ferndale 19, giving the Tigers first-and-goal at the Ferndale 3 with seven seconds remaining, following a delay-of-game penalty on the Golden Eagles.
Anderson's first-down pass to the left side of the end zone was incomplete, but one second remained.
After a timeout, Burlington elected to run the ball into the center of the line with Eli Aguilar.
"It was really intense," Ferndale defensive tackle Austin Honeycutt said. "We got fired up to step up and push them back and stop them from getting in."
Aguilar managed to slither to the goal line, and even got his head and shoulder pads into the end zone. But the ball remained out, and after a moment for the referees to confirm the stop, Ferndale players burst into exuberant celebration.
"We knew we had him stopped," said Honeycutt, who said he was in on the final tackle with Joey Akers, Hunter Grunhurd and a number of other teammates in blue and gold. "We got a real good push on him. Our front line did a good job pushing them back. ... It was definitely a team effort."
It took another team effort for Ferndale to get into position for the last play of the game to even matter.
During the first half, Evans torched Ferndale for scoring runs of 30 and 82 yards on his fourth and fifth carries of the game.
"That No. 7 (Evans), he's a good player," Ferndale cornerback Richard Hardin said. "He was there, and he was their offense."
And what Evans didn't do during the first half, his teammates managed to. Aguilar scored from a yard out in the second quarter on a run set up by Anderson's 29-yard pass to Logan Martinson, and Rudy Mataya returned a kickoff 82 yards for a touchdown.
Those plays negated Nightingale's 11-yard scoring run and a 1-yard TD by Daniel Jones, as Ferndale entered the halftime locker room down 28-14.
"Obviously, we gave up some huge plays and field position on special teams and that hurt," Plenkovich said. "You know, we'd get a nice drive, and then we gave it right back to them on a big kickoff return, giving them a short field. We knew we had to settle down and keep doing what we were doing on offense, and we had to get some stops on defense."
To do so, the Golden Eagles needed to find a way to stop Evans.
"Obviously, Evans in the first half, we gave him far too easy of running lanes," Plenkovich said. "It was something we were worried about coming in, and we had to do a better job setting the edge on defense and forcing him to turn it back in. For the most part in the second half we did a better job."
Honeycutt said Ferndale moved its defensive ends wider to help set a better edge and force Evans back inside, while Hardin said the secondary made a shift to prevent the Tigers from getting the corner when they ran to the trips side of the field.
Evans ended up gaining only 34 of his 164 rushing yards on 11 second-half carries, and neither he nor the Tigers found the end zone.
Burlington-Edison was still able to move the ball, though.
After Ferndale cut the lead to 7 on the opening possession of the second half with a 16-yard touchdown run by Nightingale, who finished with 190 yards and 26 carries, Burlington-Edison marched to the Ferndale 8.
But a mishandled snap allowed Hardin to pounce on the ball for the Golden Eagles.
"I just saw the quarterback fumble the ball a little bit, then one of my players, Klinton Maassen almost picked it up," Hardin said. "I just dove on top of it, and momentum just changed like that."
Ferndale then capitalized on good field position, following a short punt by Burlington-Edison on the Tigers' next possession, taking over at the 24. Three plays later, Akers, who rushed for 124 yards and 21 carries, tied the game with 1:41 left in the third quarter on a 2-yard TD run.
The Tigers tried to answer with a methodical drive that reached the Golden Eagles' 32, but on fourth-and-1, Honeycutt and his buddies in the interior of Ferndale's line came up with another big stop on a keeper by Anderson to turn the ball over on downs with 8:34 remaining in the game.
From there, the Golden Eagles marched 68 yards on some gutsy, hard-nosed runs by Nightingale, Akers and quarterback Cooper Clark on a time-consuming drive that took 16 plays and ate up 7:15, before Nightingale powered in from 3 yards out, setting up the dramatic finish.
"We had to motivate ourselves, because we were all down a little bit at halftime," Hardin said. "We put in a couple of new game plans, and it ended up turning out good. We did what we needed to do to get the win."
Reach David Rasbach at email@example.com or 360-715-2286.
Burlington-Edison 14 14 0 0- 28
Ferndale 0 14 14 7- 35
BE - Jae Evans 30 run (Tanner Gates kick)
BE - Evans 82 run (Gates run)
Fern - Marcus Nightingale 11 run (Andrew Higginson kick)
BE - Eli Aguilar 1 run (Gates kick)
Fern - Daniel Jones 1 run (Higginson kick)
BE - Rudy Mataya 82 kickoff return (Gates kick)
Fern - Nightingale 16 run (Higginson kick)
Fern - Joey Akers 2 run (Higginson kick)
Fern - Nightingale 3 run (Higginson kick)
First downs 15 25
Rushing Att-Yards 36-193 61-387
Comp-Att-Int 7-14-0 2-5-2
Passing yards 127 28
Penalties-yards 3-35 6-42
Fumbles-lost 1-1 0-0
RUSHING - Burlington-Edison: Jae Evans 20-164, Hunter Jacobson 2-15, Eli Aguilar 6-19, Hunter Anderson 7-(-9), Tarren Lautenbach 1-4. Ferndale: Marcus Nightingale 26-190, Joey Akers 21-124, Daniel Jones 8-40, Cooper Clark 6-33.
PASSING - Burlington-Edison: Hunter Anderson 7-14-0-127. Ferndale: Cooper Clark 2-5-2-28.
RECEIVING - Burlington-Edison: Rudy Mataya 2-29, Logan Martinson 2-47, Blake Dimock 3-51. Ferndale: Joey Akers 1-13, John Weg 1-15.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2271.