LAUREL - No. 6-ranked Mount Baker wasn't fazed, even when the entire game's momentum took a drastic lean in Meridian's favor with 2:31 remaining.
Travis Lindsay's late-game heroics, which inevitably sealed Mount Baker's automatic state berth, were one example, albeit the most crucial, of these Mountaineers' big-play capabilities. And it occurred during arguably the most pressure-packed moment a team could imagine.
Lindsay simply said he needed to make a play for his team. Baker coach Ron Lepper said his senior wide receiver bailed him out.
The Mountaineers' offense hadn't moved the ball well since it scored late in the second quarter. But two plays after Meridian tied the game late in the fourth with a touchdown and two-point conversion, Lindsay caught a 10-yard pass that tipped off the hands of a Meridian defender before rumbling 61 yards to set up an Andrew Zender game-winning rushing touchdown.
Meridian quarterback Tanner Tutterrow navigated the Trojans deep into Baker territory but ran out of time inside Mount Baker's red zone as the Mountaineers earned a wild 24-17 Northwest Conference 1A win on Halloween night Thursday, Oct. 31, in Laurel.
The Trojans (5-4, 3-2 NWC 1A) earned the NWC's No. 3 seed with the loss and will host a district mini playoff Tuesday, Nov. 5. They'll also receive a first-round bye.
"I just knew I had to focus," Lindsay said. "I knew I had to make that play for my team. They blocked as hard as they could. It was a good throw, and I just made the play."
Zender scored on a quarterback-keeper with 50 seconds to go after Lindsay's catch. The score followed a Meridian 17-point comeback spanning from 18 seconds in the second quarter to 2:31 in the fourth.
Meridian's Northwest Conference leading rusher Letrez Jones, who finished with 192 yards on 31 carries, capped off a 73-yard 2-minute drill right before the half with a 4-yard TD that cut Baker's lead to 17-7. A third quarter blocked punt by Meridian's Blake Carson that was recovered by Mount Baker in its own end zone cut the Mountaineers' lead to 17-9.
But even with Jones' late 43-yard game-tying TD run, the Trojans couldn't stop Baker's big plays.
Running back Joey Walton set up Mount Baker's first score with a 63-yard run on a third-and-10. Liam Short, who finished with 125 yards on 19 carries, later ended the drive with an 18-yard TD run.
After Alex Tyska booted a 31-yard field goal to put the Mountaineers in front 9-0, Zender hit Izaiha Schwinden for a 46-yard TD pass over the middle with 1:24 to go in the first half, pushing the lead to 17-0. Lindsay's huge catch was the finishing touch on Baker's barrage of game-changing plays.
"We had some chances to get down a little bit, but we just kept battling," Lepper said. "That's the thing about our team, we're not selfish. It doesn't matter who gets in the end zone, as long as we get the W."
Besides Meridian's late first-half TD drive, Mount Baker's defense played excellent. It bottled up Jones for 54 yards and allowed 177 yards total through the first two quarters. Short, Zender and Cody Larson spearheaded the Mountaineers' defensive effort.
A number of poor shotgun-snaps stymied Meridian offensive drives, too. Jones, working out of a wildcat formation, couldn't handle a pair of snaps, and at least two went sailing over Tutterrow's head.
"Our center had to play tackle," Meridian coach Bob Ames said. "We've just been trying to get other kids up. The gun snaps were all over the place."
Meridian ended with 18 first downs to Mount Baker's 11.
Lepper said his play calling became less aggressive as the game went on because his defense was playing so well, but regardless, the Mountaineers proved they can win the close games, too, after beating their past three opponents by a combined score of 151-40.
"It showed we can bounce back from adversity," said Zender of the win. "Meridian is a great team."
Zender finished 4 of 7 for 122 yards and a TD, while Tutterrow was 17 of 26 for 171 yards.
Mount Baker (8-1, 5-0 NWC 1A) receives a bye and will open the Class 1A State Playoffs against District 4's No. 4 seed either Friday, Nov. 15, or Saturday, Nov. 16.
Reach Andrew Lang at email@example.com or call 360-756-2862.
Mount Baker 6 11 0 7- 24
Meridian 0 7 2 8- 17
MB - Liam Short 18 run (Kick blocked)
MB - Alex Tyska 31 field goal
MB - Izaiha Schwinden 46 pass from Andrew Zender (Zender run)
MER - Letrez Jones 4 run (Yoel Ortiz kick)
MER - Safety
MER - Jones 43 run (Kyle Linderman pass from Tutterrow)
MB - Zender 9 run (Tyska kick)
First downs 11 18
Rushing Att-Yards 34-240 39-191
Comp-Att-Int 4-7-0 17-26-0
Passing yards 122 171
Penalties-yards 2-20 2-30
Fumbles-lost 0-0 4-0
RUSHING - Mount Baker: Liam Short 19-125, Izaiha Schwinden 7-40, Joey Walton 3-65, Andrew Zender 5-10. Meridian: Letrez Jones 31-192, Bryce Garcia 4-16, Tanner Tutterrow 4-(-17).
PASSING - Mount Baker: Andrew Zender 4-7-0-122. Meridian: Tanner Tutterrow 17-26-0-171.
RECEIVING - Mount Baker: Travis Lindsay 1-61, Joey Walton 2-15, Izaiha Schwinden 1-46. Meridian: Sam Chambers 7-94, Jacob Plagerman 4-24, Adam Mydland 2-10, Letrez Jones 2-21, Bryce Garcia 1-9, Cody Bachman 1-13.
Reach ANDREW LANG at firstname.lastname@example.org or call ext. 862.