BURLINGTON - Coach Reed Richardson told his young Squalicum football team to "go out and have some fun tonight."
That fun came tantalizing close to becoming one of the most memorable comebacks in the Storm's history.
Burlington-Edison wound up possibly saving its season, however, when quarterback Rudy Mataya, one of the most talented senior athletes in the Northwest Conference, and junior receiver Timmie Rush, one of the fastest, combined to preserve playoff hopes in the Tigers' 32-25 victory before a homecoming crowd on Friday, Oct. 25.
Burlington (4-4 overall, 3-3 NWC Class 2A/3A) had the ideal answer to a perfectly executed 46-yard punt by Squalicum's Clark Hazlett, pinning the Tigers on their 7-yard line with 3 minutes and 12 seconds remaining.
That answer was 18 seconds of misery for the Storm, beginning with Mataya's pass in the left flat to the rapid Rush, who raced down the sideline for a 93-yard touchdown for which the Storm (3-5, 1-5) had no answer. Rush also scored on a 95-yard kickoff return in the second quarter, giving the Tigers a 21-7 advantage.
"I'm proud of how hard our guys fought back," said Richardson. "We're a super young team and we got better. Our guys played as hard as we could have asked.
"Actually, this was a very good game by both teams," he said. "Give credit to both."
Both teams surpassed 400 total yards - Squalicum with 406 and Burlington with 401 - yet the enthusiasm and the hitting by both often made it seem as though the yardage totals were much less.
Squalicum's Luke Weber rushed 28 times for 188 yards and touchdowns of 2, 13 and 15 yards in the second, third and fourth quarters, respectively. Hazlett set up those scores by completing 14 of 24 passes for 159 with no interceptions, including eight for 120 yards to Blake Youtsey.
The Storm's other scoring came on field goals of 28 and 27 yards by junior Quinn Carpenter, both in the second quarter including one at the halftime gun.
Both teams were missing a standout back - Burlington's Jae Evans and Squalicum's Nick Koetje-Manchester - but the Tigers had too much other speed.
In fact, more than half of Burlington's yardage came on three plays from scrimmage - Mataya's 67-yard touchdown run on the game's opening series, followed on the second series by sophomore Curtis Carlson's 43-yard sprint, setting up Brennan Hamidou's 3-yard touchdown, and Rush's 93-yard game-winning catch-run score.
The Storm came back the hard way and seemingly refused to be discouraged by Burlington's big plays.
With the Tigers up 14-0, the Storm drove 75 yards on 12 plays to score on Weber's 2-yard run, only to see Rush respond with his 95-yard kickoff return for a 21-7 lead.
But Squalicum junior Jordan Campbell made a key tackle for a 1-yard Burlington loss on the Tigers' ensuing series and they missed on a 42-yard field goal.
The Storm responded with an 80-yard drive on nine plays, capped by Carpenter's 28-yard field goal. Squalicum's Jacob Burgoon then recovered an onside kick, ultimately setting up Weber's recovery of a Burlington fumble on the Tigers' 13. Weber immediately scored on one of his many tackle-breaking runs, pulling the Storm within 21-16.
Freshman Damek Mitchell, who helped set up Carpenter's first field goal with a 41-yard run, then recovered a fumble and Hazlett quickly completed three short passes to Youtsey, giving Carpenter the chance to kick his 27-yarder with no time left in the half.
Carpenter, one of the team's most versatile players, returned the second-half kickoff 57 yards and Hazlett followed with a 21-yard pass to Youtsey. Hazlett and Weber executed a fine fake and Weber scooted into the end zone for a 25-21 lead.
The Tigers responded late in the third quarter with a 37-yard field goal by Tanner Gates, making it a 25-24 game, but it seemed that might be Burlington's only second-half score until the fateful Mataya-Rush long-distance hookup.
Richardson had little trouble explaining what helped motivate Squalicum after the Storm fell behind 21-7. On fourth-and-two from their own 28 on the Tigers' fourth possession, they refused to punt and instead made a first down on a 3-yard run by Eli Aguilar.
"I know that made our defensive coordinator (Darren Leber) mad," Richardson said, when asked if that sparked his defense into hitting harder the rest of the way.
Carlson wound up with 129 yards rushing and Mataya and Aguilar finished with 91 and 85.
Squalicum 7 12 6 0 - 25
Burlington-Ed. 21 0 3 8 - 32
Burl - Rudy Mataya 67 run (Tanner Gates kick)
Burl - Brennan Hamidou 3 run (Gates kick)
Squal - Luke Weber 2 run (Quinn Carpenter kick)
Burlington - Timmie Rush 95 kickoff return (Gates kick)
Squal - Carpenter FG 28
Squal - Weber 13 run (pass failed)
Squal - Carpenter FG 27
Squal - Weber 15 run (kick failed)
Burl - Gates FG 37
Burl - Rush 93 pass from Mataya (Curtis Carlson run)
First downs 20 15
Rushes-yds 45-247 41-308
Comp-Att-Int 14-24-0 2-8-0
Passing yards 159 98
Fumbles-lost 4-1 4-3
Penalties-yards 5-38 5-42
RUSHING - Squalicum: Luke Weber 28-188, Clark Hazlett 12-7, Damek Mitchell 3-50, Riley Zehnder 2-2. Burlington: Curtis Carlson 16-129, Eli Aguilar 15-85, Rudy Mataya 9-91, Brennan Hamidou 1-3.
PASSING - Squalicum: Clark Hazlett 14-24-159-0. Burlington: Rudy Mataya 2-7-98-0, Curtis Carlson 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING - Squalicum: Blake Youtsey 8-120, Quinn Carpenter 3-19, Ben Peterson 2-10, Damek Mitchell 1-10. Burlington: Timmie Rush 1-93, Eli Aguilar 1-5.