BELLINGHAM - Third down certainly wasn't the charm for the Squalicum football team on Friday, Oct. 4, in its Class 2A/3A showdown with Ferndale at Civic Stadium.
And fourth down wasn't any kinder.
The Storm converted only one of 11 third-down opportunities on offense and went 0-for-4 on fourth down in a 41-7 loss to the Golden Eagles.
"It was something we needed to focus on last week after we gave up a lot of third-and-longs," Ferndale coach Jamie Plenkovich said. "We talked a lot about getting off the field when it's third down, and we did a lot of third-and-long work in practice this week."
Ferndale asserted its dominance on the crucial down early.
After punting on its initial possession, Ferndale (5-0, 3-0 NWC 2A/3A) watched Squalicum march 48 yards in nine plays - all first or second down.
But when the Storm (3-2, 1-2) faced third-and-4 at the Ferndale 20, Clark Hazlett was stopped for a 1-yard loss. Then on fourth down, Nick Manchester came up 3 yards short of a first, turning the ball over on downs.
It was a scene that would be repeated over and over again.
"We focused on playing team defense," Ferndale lineman Hunter Grunhurd said. "We didn't want any heroes, just everybody doing their job and playing good hard-nosed defense. We had a bunch of guys step up and make the plays and play tough against the run."
Third down wasn't just bad news for Squalicum on offense, either.
"Third down on defense killed us, too," Squalicum coach Reed Richardson said. "I can't count how many we gave up, third-and-longs. We didn't execute."
And Ferndale did, converting seven of its 12 third-down opportunities and adding a fourth-down conversion in for good measure. Four of the Golden Eagles' seven third-down conversions came from 5 or more yards, and three were on third-and-10 or longer.
The result was a 23-to-4 differential in first downs in Ferndale's favor.
The Golden Eagles once again got big offensive games from running backs Marcus Nightingale and Joey Akers. Nightingale, the NWC's second-leading rusher entering the week, surpassed 100 yards rushing for the fourth straight week with 123 and three touchdowns on 19 carries, while Akers had 101 and a TD on 15 carries and was on the receiving end of another TD.
In all, Ferndale rushed for 346 yards and five TDs, while the Golden Eagles held Squalicum to 68 - 48 of which came on that initial drive.
"We wanted to take away the run game," Plenkovich said. "The last couple of weeks, that's what they focused on. They kind of gashed us on that first drive, and then we kind of settled down and played better against the run and didn't give up too many big plays."
And the Golden Eagles started to get a number of big plays of their own.
After forcing the turnover on downs, Ferndale marched 81 yards on 14 plays - including a third-and-12 conversion. Akers capped off the drive with a 1-yard run on a third-and-goal play.
After Austin Honeycutt intercepted Hazlett to put Ferndale at midfield, it took Ferndale nine plays to set up a 6-yard TD run by Nightingale to make it 12-0 with 8:16 left before halftime.
Cooper Clark then hit Akers for a 59-yard touchdown pass on the Golden Eagles' next possession to make the halftime score 19-0.
After going 0-for-6 on third down in the first half, the Storm did ironically get its lone offensive highlight on a third-and-4 on the opening possession of the second half, when Hazlett found freshman Ben Peterson for a 46-yard scoring bomb, trimming the Golden Eagles' lead to 19-7.
But Ferndale answered with a pair of powerful TD runs from Nightingale before the end of the third quarter to put the game away, as once again, the Ferndale line exerted its will and opened big holes for its backs to run through.
"I think our speed really makes the difference," Grunhurd said. "Coach (Rick) Brudwick emphasizes that every day in practice working with the sled, is using our speed to get to our blocks."
Nick Koetje-Manchester led Squalicum with 44 yards on 10 carries, while Luke Weber had 37 on 11 attempts.
"I saw some kids play really hard," Richardson said of his team. "I'll use Ben Peterson as an example. That kid is a stud. He's a freshman going both ways. He made too many tackles for us, really, at safety and also scores that long touchdown. I thought our defensive line played considerably better than we have. I think we're getting better; we just need to execute better. "
Reach David Rasbach at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2286.
Ferndale 6 13 15 7- 41
Squalicum 0 0 7 0- 7
Fern - Joey Akers 1 run (kick failed)
Fern - Marcus Nightingale 6 run (run failed)
Fern - Akers 59 pass from Cooper Clark (Andrew Higginson kick)
Squal - Ben Peterson 46 pass from Clark Hazlett (Quinn Carpenter kick)
Fern - Nightingale 1 run (Clark run)
Fern - Nightingale 10 run (Higginson kik)
Fern - Kyle Schemstad 2 run (Higginson kick)
First downs 23 4
Rushing Att-Yards 60-346 32-68
Comp-Att-Int 5-8-0 4-13-1
Passing yards 93 64
Penalties-yards 9-71 1-3
Fumbles-lost 3-2 1-0
RUSHING - Ferndale: Marcus Nightingale 19-123, Joey Akers 15-101, Cooper Clark 5-27, Daniel Jones 6-29, Kier Munzanreder 2-7, Austin Honeycutt 5-26, Kyler Schemstad 1-2, Brady Bauthues 1-0, Jake Leavitt 3-12, Josh Williams 1-4, Dalton Neer 2-15. Squalicum: Nick Koetje-Manchester 10-44, Clark Hazlett 8-(-9), Luke Weber 11-32, Riley Zehnder 1-2, Damek Mitchell 2-(-1).
PASSING - Ferndale: Cooper Clark 5-8-0-93. Squalicum: Clark Hazlett 2-9-1-52, Christian Jorgensen 2-4-0-12.
RECEIVING - Ferndale: Daniel Jones 2-19, John Weg 1-12, Joey Akers 1-59, Robert Hardin 1-3. Squalicum: Ben Garcia 1-6, Ben Peterson 2-50, Luke Weber 1-8.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at email@example.com or call 715-2271.