RIDGEFIELD - Even though it was a cool and cloudy afternoon, La Center coach John Lambert found himself sweating.
Both of his leading rushers were down with injuries and his defense was struggling to stop the Blaine running game.
Then one pass allowed the coach to breathe again.
Wyatt Aguirre completed his only pass of the game, a 65-yard pass play to Matt Braaten that sparked La Center to a 35-14 win Saturday over the Borderites in a Class 1A state playoff game.
La Center will travel to Bellingham next weekend to face Mount Baker in the 1A quarterfinals.
"The pass was a huge play," Lambert said. "The way we play, defenses like to pack eight, nine guys in the box. So when we throw the ball, it should be there."
Braaten's TD reception gave the Wildcats a 21-14 lead in the third quarter. Prior to that possession, Blaine had run 36 of the previous 42 plays, dominating time of possession over that stretch 16:55 to 2:11.
"I was talking to the Blaine coaches, and they said that was the best game they've played all year," Lambert said. "And I believe it. They played a great game."
The Borderites controlled the ball behind running back Cole Muder, who finished with 205 yards rushing on a 41 carries.
But after La Center took that 21-14 lead, the Wildcats stopped Muder on a fourth-and-2 at the La Center 28 on the final play of the third quarter.
"We talk about guys stepping up," senior Connor Fulton said. "And the defense stepped up right there and made a play."
After rushing for 84 yards in the first half, Fulton didn't see the field much in the third quarter as he struggled with a sore shoulder.
"I landed on it hard on the first defensive play of the game," Fulton said. "Then I kept doing it over and over. It's pretty sore, but I'll be OK for next week."
With Fulton ailing - and La Center's other leading rusher, Max Hiller, out with a knee injury sustained during practice last week - the Wildcats turned to quarterback Wyatt Aguirre.
"We told Wyatt at halftime that he would need carry more of the load, and he responded," Lambert said.
Aguirre carried the ball five times for 50 yards in La Center's first possession of the fourth quarter, setting up a 3-yard touchdown run by Fulton for a 28-14 lead. Aguirre would seal the win with a 19-yard TD run with 1:47 left in the game.
"We have a lot of different players who can run the ball," Aguirre said. "So if one guy goes down, somebody else needs to step up. And we couldn't do anything without our line doing a great job."
Aguirre finished with 148 yards rushing on 17 carries. Fulton finished with 97 yards rushing, three touchdowns, including a 27-yard interception return in the second quarter.
Blaine coach Jay Dodd was pleased with his team following the game, but wished the Borderites could have gotten the win.
"We got down two scores and battled back," Dodd said in a phone interview. "Our kids responded great."
The Borderites ended their season with a 5-6 record.
"I wish we would have won," Dodd said. "We are always wanting more. The kids are disappointed, but in the long run I hope they look back at this season as a success. They did a great job this year."
LA CENTER 35, BLAINE 14
Blaine 0 7 7 0-14
La Center 7 7 7 14-35
LC-Connor Fulton 32 run (Conner Wonderly kick)
LC-Fulton 27 interception return (Wonderly kick)
B-Marcus Potts 1 run (Peter Benne kick)
B-Cole Muder 8 run (Benne kick)
LC-Matt Braaten 65 pass from Wyatt Aguirre (Wonderly kick)
LC-Fulton 3 run (Wonderly kick)
LC-Aguirre 19 run (Wonderly kick)
RUSHING - Blaine: Muder 41-205, Potts 12-53, Ryan Fenner 1-0. La Center: Aguirre 17-148, Fulton 16-97, Wonderly 8-26.
PASSING - Blaine: Potts 4-12-3-50. La Center: Aguirre 1-2-1-65.
RECEIVING - Blaine: Jordan Antonson 1-20, Cody Gobbato 1-15, Anthony Ball 1-9, Josiah Westbrook 1-6. La Center: Braaten 1-65.