Schwinden gives it his all in title game

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDDecember 7, 2013 

08 Mount Baker FOOT

Mount Baker's Izaiha Schwinden runs the ball during Baker's loss to Freeman 31-13 in the Class 1A state high school championship football game at the Tacoma Dome, Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013.

PHILIP A. DWYER — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

Tacoma - Reality set in rather quickly for Mount Baker senior running back Izaiha Schwinden.

His final steps off the green turf at the Tacoma Dome as a Mountaineer were done in the hands of his fellow teammates, tears begrudgingly falling from his eyes.

"I'm just proud of all these guys," said Schwinden, still wearing his helmet despite the game having long been over. "They showed up for every practice, and I couldn't ask for a better group of guys."

The 31-13, season-ending loss to Freeman in the Class 1A State Football Championship game on Saturday, Dec. 7, saw moments of pure excellence from the shifty, elusive back.

Around the 7-minute, 48-second mark in the second half, Mount Baker quarterback Andrew Zender faked the ball to junior tailback Liam Short and handed it to Schwinden, who proceeded to break to the right sideline and turn the corner past several Freeman players. His speed to straighten out simply was too much for any of the Scotties' defenders to catch up with.

"Liam Short had a good fake, and the lineman just had good blocks, good enough for me to break out," said Schwinden, who finished the game with 89 yards rushing and one touchdown on 18 carries. For the year, the dual-threat back finished with 1350 yards and 23 touchdowns while reeling in 292 yards receiving on 17 receptions.

Schwinden's presence on this team was no better personified than by the various numbers of players that corralled the 5-foot-9 senior to share one more moment with him while still donning the Mount Baker uniform. Short, who split carries with Schwinden throughout the year, acknowledged the impact Schwinden had on him not only as a friend, but a teammate.

"I love him to death," Short said. "For starters, I looked up to him a little bit with the way he runs. I love him as a person and he's a great guy."

Zender spoke of Schwinden's work ethic, demeanor and dedication to be great. He set the precedent for others to follow, Zender said.

"He shows guys how to be successful through working hard," Zender said. "You're just not going to show up and be good. He shows the younger guys how to work."

He wasn't just an electric tailback that broke game-changing plays, either. Schwinden patrolled the middle of the field as one of the Mountaineers' linebackers, using his speed to chase down elusive backs like himself.

In a moment early in the fourth with Freeman edging away, the senior shot from his position in the middle clear over to the left sideline and threw the Scotties' Marcus Goldbach to the ground just 1-yard shy of scoring a touchdown. Despite Freeman making it in on the next play, for just a moment Schwinden saved Mount Baker from seeing its hopes of hoisting a trophy completely dissipate.

"I just try to leave it all on the field," Schwinden said.

Nobody would question that.

HALFTIME ADJUSTMENTS

Freeman entered halftime with a 19-13 lead despite being out-gained by Mount Baker 178 yards to 148. The Mountaineers didn't have much trouble moving the ball in the first half, especially on the ground, accumulating 164 yards on the ground and 11 first downs. But come the second half, the Scotties clearly came out of half with the better plan of attack.

Freeman began to feature bruising back Marcus Goldbach, who single-handedly started to wear down Mount Baker's front line. And on the same note, the runs that Liam Short and Izaiha Schwinden were getting early in the game simply weren't there anymore.

"There were holes, but 10-foot walls on either side," Short said. "I had to hit those holes, and we had to make little adjustments. We tried some different things ... but they obviously did that, too, and they were able to work on that better."

Freeman answered in the second half with 203 rushing yards versus just 44 from Mount Baker.

NOTHING THROUGH THE AIR

Mount Baker hasn't thrown the ball much this year, but even the Mountaineers would expect to accumulate more than 57 yards through the air.

Senior signal caller Andrew Zender finished the game 4-for-9 passing for 57 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions, and his longest pass of the day traveled 26 yards to Travis Lindsey. Zender was blunt in his assessment of both his team and the Scotties.

"We got second, and that's better than anybody else other than Freeman," Zender said. "They just stepped it up. They made great plays on us. They're just hands down the better team"

THIRD AND TROUBLE

Mount Baker's struggles offensively to score in the second half could be chalked up to many things, but the teams' inability to convert on third downs is certainly a glaring one.

The Mountaineers finished the game 1 of 8 when faced with third downs, while Freeman converted on 6 of 11.

Freeman's efficiency in third-down situations was largely because the Scotties often times found themselves gaining significant yards in the first two downs, and being tasked with third and shorts rather than putting pressure on their quarterback, Preston Hoppman, to convert on third and longs.

Hoppman, a junior, finished the game 6 of 9 passing for 71 yards - 47 of which came in the first half. Freeman switched to a heavy running game in the second half, rushing the ball 29 times versus just 16 attempts in the first half.

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

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