From the time the Associated Press Washington State Prep Football Poll started this fall, Mount Baker slowly ascended as it reeled off win after win. But that one early season 27-20 loss to Lynden blemished the Mountaineers' record enough to convince voters from putting Baker in front of unbeatens Cascade Christian, LaCenter and Freeman.
So what did No. 4-ranked Baker do in the state playoffs?
Following a 42-7 drubbing of No. 6 Woodland in the first round, the Mountaineers ended LaCenter's season in the quarterfinals and handed Cascade Christian a semifinals defeat.
Now Mount Baker has a chance to capture its first state football title and prove, without a doubt, it's the top Class 1A team in the state when the Mountaineers face No. 3-ranked Freeman at 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7, at the Tacoma Dome.
"We have the right to be there," Mount Baker coach Ron Lepper said. "If you look at it, we beat No. 6 and No. 2 and No. 1. This week we play No. 3, and they are the last undefeated team. Hopefully things go our way."
Few expected three months ago that this year's Mountaineers would be on the brink of winning a state title, playing into the first week of December. They only returned three starters on each side of the ball. While Lepper and the Mountaineers haven't followed a specific formula for success, they've used an array of offensive weapons to average 43 points per game.
And it seems like a different player has come up big each week.
Senior speed back Izaiha Schwinden, who's amassed 1,261 yards and 22 touchdowns, shouldered the load early in the year before power back Liam Short, who has 1,150 yards and 16 scores, took over late in the season.
Sprinkled in has been three-year starter Andrew Zender's heady quarterback play. The senior has limited turnovers and has passed for 1,034 yards and 15 TDs with only three interceptions, and receivers Seth Bass and Travis Lindsey have emerged as prime targets.
With all the play-makers on Lepper's team, the coach said, more than anything, his team's unselfishness has impressed him the most.
He also thinks that attitude will need to be amplified against a Freeman defense, which arguably presents Mount Baker with the stiffest test its offense has faced all season.
"I think we need to execute and be unselfish on the offensive side," Lepper said. "If one thing doesn't work, we have to adapt and find out what is working."
The Scotties give up an average of 9.5 points per game and tout four 1A Northeast Conference first-team selections, including conference MVP linebacker Kian Genteman.
Freeman is a big, physical group capable of frustrating Mount Baker's smaller offensive line, but still Scotties coach Jim Wood has tremendous respect for the Mountaineers' Wing-T.
"I think we match up OK," Wood said in a phone interview. "They post some problems for you. They are athletic up front, and they run that Wing-T really well. They have guys that pull and get out in front."
While Freeman's defense has stopped just about everyone its faced, Mount Baker's defense has been nearly equally impressive. It gave up an average of 13.2 points during the regular season, but a combined 61 points during the last two games increased that average to 15.5.
Mount Baker will be tasked will halting the running back duo of Max Laib and Marcus Goldbach, who combined have run for more than 2,700 yards. Laib brings elusiveness and Goldbach brings power for Freeman.
"They are a lot bigger than us," Lepper acknowledged. "I think their offensive line averages 250 (pounds) or so. Offensively, they will line up in an I and Gun-I. They are going to come at you, and they have done that to a lot of teams this year."
Wood said Freeman likes to run the ball about 60 percent of the time. He also said his club will need to get the running game going to make their play-action game effective. On defense, the Scotties are looking to corral Zender and limit his dual-threat capability.
Mount Baker's ability to both match Freeman's physicality and find what works offensively against the Scotties' defense should be a key determining factor of whether or not the Mountaineers head back to Deming in despair or with a gold ball in tow.
Reach Andrew Lang at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-756-2862. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for Whatcom County sports updates.
Reach ANDREW LANG at email@example.com or call ext. 862.