Lynden, Baker reach title games despite heavy turnover

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDDecember 6, 2013 

Mount Baker coach Ron Lepper was honest as ever when asked how surprising it is Mount Baker is playing for its first state title in program history.

"Honestly, if you told me last August or last May during spring ball we would be in the state championship game, I probably wouldn't have agreed with you," Lepper said in a phone interview.

Returning only six starters can make a coach think like that.

Lynden was in a similar position. The Lions returned only three.

So how have Lepper and Lynden coach Curt Kramme guided their respective teams to a state championship game?

Truthfully, both clubs have done it differently.

"I think the biggest thing is these kids have got to practice against one of the best teams to come out of Whatcom County," Kramme said in a phone interview. "Your level of play tends to rise up to those who you are competing with."

Lynden lost its quarterback, starting running back, top three receivers and its entire starting offensive line. It also lost nine of its defensive starters, including its entire secondary.

But the Lions haven't missed a beat, despite being forced to overcome myriad injuries. In fact, if they win Saturday, Dec. 7, they'll have done something last year's team didn't: go undefeated.

Lucas Petersen started the first half of the season at quarterback and led Lynden to a 5-1 record before Sterling Somers stepped in and has posted a perfect record since. Trent Postma, who last year showed flashes of what he could become, has excelled in his lead running back role, and Jalani Phelps and Scooter Hastings took command of the pass-catching roles.

Most impressive, though, has been how well a completely remade offensive line has performed and how dominating Lynden's defense has been.

Kramme also credited the tradition built at Lynden, which generates a high expectation for players who want to match past success. Also, playing in the postseason gives teams four to five extra weeks of practice every year.

"What makes this team unique is a lot of people didn't think we'd do well since we lost a lot of players," Kramme said. "I've been doing this long enough to know behind every great team there is a group of kids waiting for their opportunity to show what they can do. Hopefully we have one more game in us."

Mount Baker is wishing the same thing. For Lepper and the Deming community, a win would be their first football state title.

What's carried the Mountaineers has been the team's unselfishness.

"They really don't care if someone has a big night," Lepper said. "I wasn't sure about the team chemistry, but they play for each other and they truly want to perform for each other."

The opportunity to be selfish has certainly presented itself. A large piece to the Mountaineers' offensive success has been its ability to ride the hot hand.

Whether it is Andrew Zender, Izaiha Schwinden, Liam Short, Travis Lindsey or Seth Bass, it seems a different player shows up each week.

Mount Baker lost a lot of key pieces a year ago, but Zender, a third-year quarterback, has helped stabilize the offense. Schwinden has put together another outstanding season, and Short has been a great backfield complement. Paving the way for them has been an undersized, but effective offensive line.

Like Lynden, Lepper believes many of his players who witnessed Baker's 2012 state-title run but didn't play benefited from being in a successful environment.

"I think the biggest thing is, you tell anyone in life, 'You get an opportunity, you take advantage of it,'" Lepper said. "They are making the most out of it. It hasn't been by accident. It takes work."

Reach Andrew Lang at andrew.lang@bellinghamherald.com or call 360-756-2862. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for Whatcom County sports updates.

Reach ANDREW LANG at andrew.lang@bellinghamherald.com or call ext. 862.

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