TACOMA - Mount Baker senior Alex Tyska went to the Ray Guy kicking camp last summer to prepare for opportunities just like this.
He's been dreaming of it for a whole lot longer.
"I can dream about it, but sometimes it's not always a reality," Tyska said.
It became a reality for Tyska on Saturday, Nov. 30, in the semifinals of the Class 1A State Football Playoffs at the Tacoma Dome.
The game and Mount Baker's hopes of advancing to a football state championship game for the first time in school history all came down to one swing of his aching right leg out of a hold from Seth Bass.
Tyska didn't let the opportunity slip away, as he booted a game-winning 28-yard field goal in overtime to defeat previously unbeaten and top-ranked Cascade Christian 31-28 and kick Mount Baker into next week's state championship game.
Tyska's kick through the east uprights sent the Mountaineer sideline, including coach Ron Lepper, and the entire south side of the Tacoma Dome, into delirium.
"This is special," Lepper said. "This has never happened before in the history of Mount Baker. As a player, I got through to the semis and lost. Been here as a coach a couple times. To get this, this is what everybody talks about. It's tremendous for our community - we traveled well - and it's good for our kids, who worked so hard. I'm excited. I'm an emotional guy."
Mount Baker hopes he'll get to show that emotion one more time before wrestling season starts, as the Mountaineers (11-1) move on to play Freeman (13-0), which beat Cashmere 28-20 in the other semifinal, for the 1A state title at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 7.
If it comes down to a kick again, Mount Baker knows it's got a young man capable of doing the job.
Tyska said the Ray Guy camp focused mostly on punting, but it helped him with the basics, improving his technique and consistency on kicks.
But an Iliotibial band strain in his right knee has kept Tyska from punting the past five weeks.
"It still hurts sometimes, but it's been recovering, and I'm feeling a lot better," Tyska said of the effect the injury has on his placekicking.
He showed absolutely no effects of the injury in overtime, as he calmly trotted out with Mount Baker facing fourth-and-7 at the Cascade Christian 11 in the first overtime period.
"It's awesome," Tyska said of the opportunity. "Adrenaline is going. Just got to keep calm and just do it like I do in practice."
He did exactly that.
But he was far from the only Mount Baker hero on this day.
Tyska's kick was a game-winner because the Mountaineers defense stepped up to stop a talented Cougar offense that had just scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to tie the game and send it to overtime.
Cascade Christian won the toss and elected to take the ball first in the first extra period.
After Hunter Austin rushed for 4 yards on first down from the 25 and Jaelin Goldsmith's second-down pass fell incomplete, Travis Lindsey stepped up to make a huge tackle to hold Robert Terhune to 1 yard on a bubble screen to the right side.
"We changed up our defense a little bit to give us an extra backer because they were running on us," linebacker Andrew Zender said. "So once that happened, we were able to stop them at the line of scrimmage more."
On fourth-and-5 at the 20, the Cougars elected to go for it. And went for it they did, as Goldsmith attempted to hook up with Jackie Wood in the end zone. Joey Walton got perfect position in front of Wood and knocked the ball down.
"We talked in overtime about making plays - we talked about that all week long," Lepper said. "They're a good football team; they're extremely well coached and have a strong tradition. You've got to make plays. You watch them on film and it's like 'Ah, why didn't you make that play?' You've got to make it. We saw that tonight.
"That's what it came down to tonight. Travis Lindsey coming up on that bubble screen on third down to hold it to no gain. They get the incomplete pass and Joey breaks up the last one. We just made plays finally. We put two or three plays together. ... You couldn't ask for a better start to overtime."
With Mount Baker just needing points to win, Zender took care of making sure that's exactly what the Mountaineers got.
On Mount Baker's first offensive play of the extra period, the quarterback chose to race around left end for 11 yards to make the game-winning attempt for Tyska - a kicker that already owns a 42-yarder this season and showed he had the leg for a 50 yards - a chip shot.
"It was a boot, and we had a 22-yard out by Seth (Bass), a drag by Hunter (Gates) and a post by Travis," Zender said of his run. "Coach wanted me to take care of the ball, because it was important so we could get a field goal, at least. I saw an opening, so I said, 'Why risk a pass? Just get yardage right here and now.'"
Four plays later, he and his teammates were celebrating.
For the better part of the first 31/2 quarters of the game, it looked like Mount Baker would be celebrating a whole lot earlier.
Cody Larson jumped on a Cascade Christian fumble on the second play from scimmage.
"I didn't think they called it a fumble at first," Larson said. "I just picked it up and started running with it, and then I realized they called it."
Mount Baker didn't think twice, as six plays later, Zender carried it in from a yard out behind a nice block from left tackle Jake Oiness.
After the Cougars answered with a 64-yard strike from Goldsmith to Terhune to even the score, Mount Baker marched down the field to retake the lead on a 4-yard run by Izaiha Schwinden - the first of his three TDs on the day.
Lindsey pounced on a second Cascade Christian fumble, leading to a 4-yard Schwinden touchdown on the first play of the second quarter.
"We got a couple of fumble recoveries in the first half and capitalized," Lepper said. "That's huge. In a game like this you got to take advantage of that. It was just great. We put it in the end zone. We knew they were they were the No. 1 team in the state and it was probably going to be a pretty good battle."
It wasn't until the fourth quarter that Mount Baker found out just how good a battle it would be.
After Schwinden scored from 2 yards out to make it 28-14 with 11:20 left of play, Goldsmith directed the Cougars on an 11-play drive he capped off with a 5-yard run to make it 28-21 with 8:01 to play.
Lepper said he intended to go for it on a fourth-and-1 play at Mount Baker's 40 on the ensuing position, but a 5-yard penalty ended those thoughts and forced the Mountaineers to punt, giving Cascade Christian the ball at the 11 with 5:45 remaining on the clock. The Cougars efficiently marched down the field, using 12 plays to cover the 89 yards, before Austin took it in from 7 yards out with 1:39 to play.
"After they scored that last touchdown, Joey Walton walks over to me with a smile and says, 'Let's go score Coach,'" Lepper said.
Mount Baker nearly did exactly that, as they reached the Cougars' 37 before facing a fourth-and-4 with nine seconds remaining. They sent Tyska out to attempt a 53-yard field goal to win it in regulation.
"I wasn't too afraid, because if we went into overtime, I knew that we could do it," Tyska said. "We just wanted to try to take our chances, because my longest is 57 (in practice), so I knew 54 was in my range. I just kicked it as hard as I could, and it didn't go in. But these guys got me a second chance."
And on his second chance, there was no way Tyska was missing.
"It's great to come out and do that today and get my team into the finals," Tyska said.
Reach David Rasbach at email@example.com or 360-715-2286.
Mount Baker 14 7 0 7 3 - 31
Cascade Christian 7 7 0 14 0 - 28
First quarter scoring
MB - Andrew Zender 1 run (Alex Tyska kick)
CC - Robert Terhune 64 pass from Jaelin Goldsmith (Andrei Dyson kick)
MB - Izaiha Schwinden 3 run (Tyska kick)
Second quarter scoring
MB - Schwinden 4 run (Tyska kick)
CC - Jaelin Goldsmith 2 run (Aaron Brandner kick)
Fourth quarter scoring
MB - Schwinden 2 run (Tyska kick)
CC - Goldsmith 5 run (Dyson kick)
CC - Hunter Austin 7 run (Dyson kick)
MB - Tyska 28 FG
First downs 18 22
Rushes-yards 51-220 36-211
Passes Cmp-Att-Int 7-15-0 14-27-0
Passing yards 94 179
Third-down conversion 4-12 5-10
Fourth-down conversion 2-2 1-2
Fumbles-lost 0-0 2-2
Penalties-yards 6-52 3-30
Time of possession 38:28 33:31
Mount Baker Att. Yards Avg. TD
Andrew Zender 23 106 4.6 1
Izaiha Schwinden 15 71 4.7 3
Liam Short 11 39 3.5 0
Joey Walton 2 4 2.0 0
Cascade Christian Att. Yards Avg. TD
Hunter Austin 15 100 6.7 1
Robert Terhune 7 49 7.0 0
Jaelin Goldsmith 7 32 4.6 2
Riley Ramos 3 19 6.3 0
Mount Baker Cmp. Att. Yards TD Int.
Andrew Zender 7 15 94 0 0
Cascade Christian Cmp. Att. Yards TD Int.
Jaelin Goldsmith 14 27 179 1 0
Mount Baker Rec. Yards Avg. TD
Travis Lindsey 3 40 13.3 0
Seth Bass 2 27 13.5 0
Hunter Gates 1 14 14.0 0
Izaiha Schwinden 1 13 13.0 0
Cascade Christian Rec. Yards Avg. TD
Robert Terhune 3 78 26.0 1
Mason Tobeck 3 26 8.7 0
Josh Seaton 3 25 8.3 0
Jackie Wood 3 22 7.3 0
Marshall Coleman 2 23 11.5 0
WATCH MOUNT BAKER OVERTIME HIGHLIGHTS
Reach DAVID RASBACH at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2271.