Call Lynden's defense patchwork. Call it a relatively unknown group of up-and-coming stars who have a penchant for making big plays. But all the Lions' first-team defense has done this season is prevent scores and put its offense in position to succeed.
Defensive coordinator Blake VanDalen could hardly recall how many starting defensive line groupings his Lions have used, because his front four has been so banged up. Four different safeties have started games, and even more-known players such as linebacker Trent Postma have missed time.
No matter how cobbled together VanDalen's defense has been at times, Lynden's defense is giving up a mere 12 points per game while establishing itself as one of the premier units in the Northwest Conference. Impressive stuff for a team playing with nine first-time regulars.
The Lions were left with starting inside linebacker Jaremy Martin and Postma, who started at defensive end last year, following Lynden's 2012 state-title run. Besides Jalani Phelps, who started a couple games last fall, that was it. Everyone else? They were, as VanDalen put it, "on a blank slate," trying to make a name for themselves on a Lynden club known for its hard-hitting football.
"We came together as a family I think," Martin said. "We depend on each other, and, you know, if one teammate makes a mistake, the other teammate is going to pick you up. And that's what our whole defense revolves around."
Martin and Postma may garner the most recognition, but coach Curt Kramme made it clear: Success has been predicated on adopting Lynden's core values of assignment football and everyone doing their job.
"I think it's more of a collective thing," Kramme said. "One guy by himself is not very effective, but if you're working together as a group, you can be very effective."
The Lions' defense will test its effectiveness when it travels to play Ferndale at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 25, for one of the biggest games on the Northwest Conference slate.
Lynden has surrendered 84 points during its seven wins this year, allowing only one touchdown in four of those games. Against Sedro-Woolley, which owns the second best NWC 2A/3A record, the Cubs' only score came on a kickoff return. King's only points were thanks to a late, meaningless touchdown.
No one exactly knew what to expect out of the Lions' 2013 defense. VanDalen said coaches were confident the group would thrive based on defensive values Lynden instills. He admitted, though, what his players have done has been extremely impressive.
"You go in with the expectation of one thing, like this is what we've done, this is who we are, this is what we do, and so it's kind of what you expect," said VanDalen of Lynden's success, "but no, nobody expects to have that much turnaround, and just really our kids have played out of their minds."
But keeping sharp mental focus coupled with strong-minded play has propelled the defense to where it is now.
First-year starting safety Rudy Mendoza, who's proved to be an integral piece of the Lions' rebuilt defense with 31.5 tackles, likes to use the phrase "setback, comeback."
It's a mantra echoed throughout the defensive huddle following momentum-shifting plays against the Lions.
"It means that if we make a mistake, just focus on the next play," Mendoza explained. "Put that play behind you and play Lynden football. Basically if they break a big one and don't score, we make a setback, comeback, and all we're predicated on is not letting them score."
The first clue suggesting Lynden could flourish on defense came during its summer football camp at Eastern Washington, Mendoza said. The Lions took Class 3A No. 2-ranked and undefeated O'Dea to overtime. Camp's inspired play carried over to preseason and subsequently to the season-opener - a featured game against Class 1A power King's during the Emerald City Kickoff Classic at Husky Stadium.
"There were a lot of guys that hadn't been out there in the heat of the fire," Kramme said, "and to come out and perform at Husky Stadium was really cool."
Signs of growth have sprouted in each game, Kramme and VanDalen said. Another season-defining moment occurred against Sedro-Woolley. The Lions forced three fumbles during the Cubs' first three possessions and made an early fourth-and-goal stop that changed the game's momentum.
Martin and Postma, who Kramme said "are right up there with any pair of linebackers we've had" lead Lynden in tackles - 58.5 and 47, respectively. But the duo couldn't make so many tackles without everyone else doing their job, the Lynden coach added.
Jordan Wittenberg and Jacob Boland have been mainstays at corner. The pair hasn't been beat deep once, VanDalen said. Trey Shagren stepped in at safety opposite of Mendoza after Lucas Petersen went down with a wrist injury last week.
Jonah Wilson, Tristan Campbell and Phelps have spent the most time on the defensive line and, besides stopping the run themselves, have helped free up Martin and Postma to make tackles. Sophomores Caden Lair and Jensen Mayberry also have played a role in Lynden's defensive success, as well as Kody Ames.
Lynden's assignment-centric defense will be particularly important this Friday against Ferndale's deceptive Wing-T offense.
"We can't give up the big plays," said Martin of keys to playing well against the Golden Eagles' offense,"and if we do, setback, comeback. We got do the next play, stop them and keep them from getting across the goal line."
VanDalen said: "The No. 1 thing is don't buy the hype. If you're looking for the ball, you won't find it. Against a disciplined team like Ferndale, you need to do your job, your teammate does his job, we all work together and that's the great thing about our team defense."
LYNDEN AT FERNDALE
When: 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 25.
Where: Ferndale High School
Tickets: Tickets will be on sale from 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, Oct. 22-25, at both school's ASB offices. Costs for an adult ticket is $6, $3 for students with ASB card and $3 for seniors age 62 and older.
LYNDEN'S KEYS TO THE GAME
1. Don't get caught looking: The Lions' defense has been tremendous this season and places an emphasis on assignment football. Staying home and reading keys will be paramount against Ferndale's Wing-T offense built on deception.
2. Pound the ball: Coach Curt Kramme has largely been pleased with sophomore quarterback Sterling Somers' progression thus far. This will be the young signal-caller's first road test, and Ferndale fans won't make life easy for him. Devotion to the run game should alleviate pressure, and Trent Postma and Jaremy Martin are more than capable backs.
3. Strike early: Ferndale's Joey Akers is liable to break off a long run at any time, but the Golden Eagles don't play catch-up. Cooper Clark has thrown 32 passes all year and none last game. Force Ferndale to throw the ball, and Lynden's secondary can take advantage.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Sterling Somers (Lynden quarterback) vs. Ferndale secondary: Somers was thrust into action against Burlington-Edison last week, receiving only one practice to prepare with Lynden's first unit. The sophomore QB has displayed an ability throw the ball, but the Golden Eagles are only giving up 107.1 passing yards per game and have allowed five TDs.
Reach Andrew Lang at email@example.com or call 360-756-2862.