TACOMA - All season long No. 4-ranked Mount Baker has relied on a physical, hard-hitting attitude that's helped make up for their lack of size in the trenches.
The Mountaineers grinded their way through the season with an undersized line, but made up for it with sound technique and a by-any-means-necessary mentality.
But no matter how much Baker craved its first ever football state title, desire wasn't enough against a king-sized Freeman football club.
"It was tough, because they had big lineman," senior two-way starter Danny Kirkpatrick said. "Like Cody (Larson) said, we have to do anything you can to block. You have to do anything you can to get in there. They were huge. That was the biggest line we had seen all year."
Freeman's line, which included 314-pound Jordan Rose, averaged 248.8 pounds and simply overwhelmed the Mountaineers in the second half.
The Scotties used power back Marcus Goldbach to slowly chip away at Mount Baker's defense, and Freeman enjoyed a 17 and two 10-play drives that chewed up clock. And the Mountaineers' offense, which totaled 136 points during the first three rounds of state, was unable to finish drives with touchdowns.
Baker kept the game close through two quarters but tired out down the stretch, suffering a 31-13 Class 1A State Championship game defeat to Freeman on Saturday, Dec. 7, at the Tacoma Dome.
The Mountaineers beat No. 6 Woodland, unbeatens No. 2 LaCenter and No. 1 Cascade Christian en route to their finest finish in school history, but they couldn't take down No. 3-ranked, undefeated Freeman.
"I'm really proud," said dejected Mount Baker coach Ron Lepper. "Like I said earlier in the week, I don't think anybody expected it out of this group, but they kept giving us a chance, giving us a chance, but unfortunately the magic kind of ended today. They have a lot to be proud of."
Senior running back Izaiha Schwinden ran for a team-high 108 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries, and Liam short recorded 89 yards and a rushing score on 16 carries. Quarterback Andrew Zender, who surpassed 100 yards rushing in the state semifinals, finished with only five yards on four carries.
Zender completed 4 of 9 passes for 50 yards, and Travis Lindsey led the Mountaineers with 34 yards on two catches.
Freeman's physical play hampered Mount Baker, but Lepper said ultimately his Mountaineers gave up too many big plays.
It started from the onset when Goldbach returned the opening kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown. Lepper called the play a bit of a "slap in the face." It certainly sent Mount Baker an unwelcoming first message.
"I think that kickoff set the tone," Baker senior tight end and defensive lineman Hunter Gates said. "We both knew we had to come out and be ready to go. I think they got lucky on a few big plays, but we battled."
Mount Baker hung right with Freeman until halftime.
The Mountaineers responded to the Scotties' kickoff return with their most impressive drive of the game. Zender navigated his offense 80 yards in 13 plays, and Short ended the drive with a 1-yard TD plunge to cut Freeman's lead to 7-6.
But the Scotties followed with a mammoth drive spanning 8:47. Freeman quarterback Preston Hoppman, who finished the game 6 of 9 for 73 yards, directed his Scotties 62 yards in 17 plays. Running back Max Laib, who compiled 41 yards on 18 rushes, put Freeman back up a touchdown with a 3-yard score. Schwinden blocked the extra point, though, keeping the Scotties' lead at 13-6.
Schwinden backed his blocked PAT on the ensuing possession with a 48-yard TD run around the right end to tie the game at 13 with 7:48 left in the second quarter.
But after Mount Baker pinned Freeman deep in its own end with the thought of heading in to halftime tied, the Scotties came up with another crucial big play. Running back Ben Darcy took a reverse from Freeman's own 19-yard line around the right end for 72 yards down to the Mount Baker 9 with less than a minute to go.
"I think, defensively, we let up too many big plays," Schwinden said. "They had the big kickoff return for touchdown, and they had the 70-yard run. They were just big plays, and I think that was a momentum shifter."
Laib crossed the goal line four plays later from 1 yard out to give the Scotties a 19-13 lead at half.
The final two quarters were a completely different game when Freeman decided to give Goldbach the keys to its offense.
Following a Mount Baker punt, Freeman started on its own 9, and Goldbach covered the entire 91 yards by himself in 10 plays. He gashed Mount Baker's defense for runs of 17, 7, 7, 9 and 16 yards to end the drive.
"I don't know if it was so much (Goldbach), as it was their line, too," Lepper said. "We just couldn't get a clean shot on him. They are pretty good, and they showed why. They earned it today."
Mount Baker's offense was shut out in the second half. It turned the ball over on downs at Freeman's 12, fumbled and turned the ball over on downs for a second time later in the fourth quarter.
Goldbach, who only gained 5 yards on three first-half carries, finished with 154 yards and two touchdowns on 21 rushes.
"We had a good first drive, and we did a nice job of getting down the field," Lepper said. "They made some plays, and we didn't. It comes down to that. It's two good football teams, and they were able to get the job done today and we weren't. It doesn't feel good right now, but the kids played hard. We just didn't execute like we had the last couple of weeks."
Freeman out-gained Mount Baker 321 yards to 208 on the ground and converted 6 of 11 third downs to Mount Baker's 1 of 8 conversions.
The loss was a tough way to end the careers of so many seniors who not only contributed to Baker's 2013 success, but started both ways.
"I can't explain it," said Kirkpatrick of what it's been like playing with his fellow seniors. "I've been with those guys since eighth grade. It's been an unbelievable experience, but I'm just sad it's over."
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.