MOSES LAKE - Once the clock struck zero, Lynden's football team quickly made its way to the 50-yard line without the hint of emotion.
The Lions proceeded to graciously shake the hands of the Ellensburg players they had just beaten 21-7 in the Class 2A State Football semifinals Saturday, Nov. 30, at Lions Field in Moses Lake, booking their third consecutive trip to the state finals, and their seventh over the past eight years.
The team took a moment afterward near midfield to raise its green and gold helmets to the sky, enjoying the fact that the Lions would get the opportunity to defend their 2A state title from a year ago.
"It's just unbelievable to me, you know, well, it is believable because these kids have so much pride," Lynden coach Curt Kramme said.
Lynden will look to win its third consecutive Class 2A State Football Championship when it takes on Tumwater - the only team to win a 2A title other than the Lions over the past five seasons - on Saturday, Dec. 7, at the Tacoma Dome.
The road to the title game was by no means easy. From the very beginning Ellensburg displayed a defense equally as capable as Lynden's, having only allowed 19 points combined through the first two rounds. The Lions' offense, with sophomore quarterback Sterling Somers at the helm, conjured just 20 yards of total offense and one first down through its first three possessions.
"We came out just a little rough," said Somers, who slightly overthrew a wide-open Jaremy Martin in the offense's third possession, missing an opportunity for a big gain.
The Bulldogs mustered even less on their first few possessions, thanks in large part to defensive end Bryce Sterk. In Ellensburg's first possession, Sterk snuffed out a designed cut-back run by tailback Gabe Caskey, wrapping him up and throwing him down for a 4-yard loss. Two plays later, Sterk broke through the offensive line to sack quarterback Donny Ellersick for a 2-yard loss.
"What we practiced is if the QB does a certain handoff, the running back will run the other way and (Ellersick) will keep the ball and roll out, so I kind of stayed home," Sterk said. "He ran to me and I did what the coaches taught me: Throw him down."
The Bulldogs would break through on their fourth possession when Caskey received a swing pass from Ellersick. Caskey managed to negotiate a scrum of defenders to get loose for a 64-yard touchdown.
"We knew they were a big-play, explosive-type team," Kramme said, "and we made one mistake with that."
The Lions continued to pound the ball with senior running back Trent Postma, but running room between the tackles was at a premium.
After allowing that broken screen to go for a long touchdown, Lynden's defense returned to its typical, physical self. Cornerback Lucas Petersen sent a pretty clear message of that when Ellensburg's Benjamin Stockdale leapt for a pass that sailed high, and Petersen met him mid-air, dealing a clean shot that sent the 6-foot-1 receiver flipping end over end.
The Lynden defense only allowed 50 yards over the Bulldogs' final three possessions of the first half.
All of the defense's work was for naught, though, as the Lions' offense was still struggling to gain yardage both through the air and on the ground. But a muffed snap by Ellensburg's punter quickly changed to momentum of the game.
Two plays later, Somers hit senior reciever Jalani Phelps down the right sideline for a 33-yard gain, putting the Lions on the 4-yard line with a fresh set of downs. On a third-and-2, Somers took the snap out of the shotgun, calmly looked to his right and then came back to his left where he hit a wide-open Jaremy Martin for the 2-yard score. The score would stay at 7-7 entering the half.
Lynden left the locker room at halftime a much different team than when it entered. In particular, Somers brought something to the attention of his coach that he had seen throughout the first quarter.
"He came to me at halftime, and we have this read play and I said, 'Hey, you're probably going to be handing it off all day because this is how they're going to play it,'" Kramme told his QB. "He said, 'Coach, they're doing this, and I think I can get it.'"
Somers was alluding to a read-option play where he can either hand the ball off to Postma or keep it to himself. All game he had fed Postma except for one time, and he broke loose for a 42-yard gain that was capped by a 1-yard TD run by Postma to give Lynden the 14-7 lead in the third.
Two possessions later, Ellensburg fumbled the ball on Lynden's 42-yard line. At that point, the Lions' defense had all but contained the Bulldogs' screen-oriented offense, something Phelps, who also plays cornerback, said the coaches addressed at halftime.
"We decided to cover the flats," Phelps said. "Everyone has to do their job. Our defense is so dependent on people doing their jobs, and when everyone does their jobs and we're clicking, it all comes together."
Phelps played a key part on Lynden's next possession, wrestling a ball out of a 29-yard touchdown reception. He finished the game with a team-high 81 yards on four receptions.
In a fitting final possession, Lynden ran the final five minutes of time out, much of which was done by Somers breaking free with various QB-keeper runs. The 6-foot-4, 195-pound sophomore, while not known for his running, led the Lions with 93 yards on 13 carries - 56 of which came in the final possession.
"He is a big guy, (and) we have complete confidence in him," said Phelps of Somers. "Every time he runs the ball, I know it's going to be something good."
He finished the game 11-of-24 passing for 156 yards and two touchdowns.
Lynden 0 7 14 0- 21
Ellensburg 0 7 0 0- 7
Second quarter scoring
Ellensburg - Gabe Caskey 64 pass from Donny Ellersick (Juan Rodriguez Kick)
Lynden - Jaremy Martin 2 pass from Sterling Somers (Alex Otano-Guenther Kick)
Third quarter scoring
Lynden - Trent Postma 1 run (Otano-Guenther Kick)
Lynden - Jalani Phelps 29 pass from Somers (Otano-Guenther Kick)
First downs 14 9
Rushes-yards 33-160 21-52
Passes cmp-att-int 11-24-0 18-22-0
Passing yards 156 195
Total offense 314 247
Third-down conversions 4 3
Fourth-down conversions 1 0
Fumbles-lost 0-0 3-2
Penalties-yards 5-50 2-15
Lynden Att. Yds. Avg. TD
Sterling Somers 13 93 7.15 0
Trent Postma 18 62 3.44 1
Jaremy Martin 2 5 2.5 0
Ellensburg Att. Yds. Avg. TD
Gabe Caskey 12 35 2.91 0
Donny Ellersick 8 16 2 0
Brayton Leach 1 1 1 0
Lynden Comp. Att. Yds. Avg. TD Int
Sterling Somers 11 24 156 14.18 2 0
Ellensburg Comp. Att. Yds. Avg. TD Int
Donny Ellersick 18 22 195 1 0
Lynden Rec. Yds. Avg. TD
Jalani Phelps 4 81 20.25 1
Scooter Hastings 2 38 19 0
Jordan Wittenberg 3 30 10 0
Camerson Wainwright 1 5 5 0
Jaremy Martin 1 2 2 1
Ellensburg Rec. Yds. Avg. TD
Brayton Leach 3 68 22.67 0
Gabe Caskey 1 64 64 1
Benny Lee 5 26 5.20 0
Trent Walker 5 25 5 0
Seth Walker 2 5 2.5 0
Benjamin Stockdale 1 4 4 0
Mitchell Larsen 1 3 3 0