Still reeling in the locker room from a trick play that put Meridian in front two scores right before the half, Mount Baker coach Ron Lepper vowed to his team they would get back in position to dictate the game's outcome.
Sure enough the Mountaineers flipped the momentum early in the second half, showing tremendous resiliency with their ability to capitalize during critical opportunities.
Trailing with less than five minutes to go, Baker's defense rose up with a fourth-down stop in its own territory, and senior back Zach Yurchuk‘s game-changing run set up a Liam Short go-ahead score as the No. 6-ranked Mountaineers overcame a 12-point deficit to earn a wild, back-and-forth 33-25 Northwest Conference win over No. 7 Meridian on Friday, Oct. 4, in Deming.
"Hats off to Meridian," Lepper said. "They came out and battled and got on top of us. Our kids made some mistakes, but I didn't think our kids got down, and when we got some opportunities to make plays, we did. It was a lot of fun."
Short provided much of the Mountaineers' trademark ground-and-pound style, rushing for 217 yards and touchdowns on 26 carries, and Yurchuk recorded 81 yards and a touchdown on five carries.
But no run was more important than Yurchuk's 48 yarder on a first-and-10 from the Baker 45 with barely more than two minutes to go. The senior broke free along the left sideline before being chased down at Meridian's 7. Two plays later Short put the Mountaineers in front 26-25 with a plunge from the 1-yard line.
"I knew I had to make a play for my team," Yurchuk said. "I told the lineman, 'Do your job, and we are going to make a play right here,' and we are able to do that and get into the end zone after that."
Meridian (3-2, 1-1 NWC 1A) was left with 27 seconds to try and win the game, but Baker defensive back Ruvim Tikhonov sealed it with 40-yard pick-six off Trojans quarterback Tanner Tutterrow, who threw for 288 yards, three touchdowns and four picks.
Tutterrow was instrumental in helping Meridian build an early lead. The senior quarterback threw two first-half touchdowns to Kyle Young sandwiched around a Yurchuk 18-yard scoring run.
Following a strip sack and turnover by Mount Baker quarterback Mason Bass in the closing moments of the second quarter, Meridian went to its bag of tricks to take a 19-7 halftime advantage.
Tutterrow threw a bubble screen-pass to Marcus McGuinn, who tossed a 22-yard touchdown to an uncovered Nick Dritsas on a second-and-10 with 1 second remaining in the quarter.
The score provided an obvious blow to Baker (4-1, 2-0 NWC 1A), but the Mountaineers rebounded impressively.
"At halftime the atmosphere was a little down," Short said, "but we came out and got pumped, got psyched and that's just Baker football, pounding it. That's what we are all about."
Baker showed its in-your-face style throughout its seven-play, 68-yard scoring drive to open the second half. Short ran four times for 37 yard and capped the drive with a 10-yard touchdown that trimmed Meridian's lead to 19-14.
The Mountaineers took a 20-19 lead on their following drive after a Trojans turnover on downs. Jed Schleimer took a 7-yard run around the right side to give Baker its first lead of the game with 4:11 left in the third.
Meridian had an answer, though.
Set up by a Nick Miller 68-yard pass reception, the Trojans marched 88 yards in four plays, as Tutterrow found Young for his third score of the evening, this time a 14-yarder on a slant pattern with 10:53 to go in the fourth.
Short was stopped 2 yards shy on a fourth-and-4 on Baker's next possession, but the Mountaineers' defense gave their offense one final shot after Jax Toctocan and J.T. Keeney combined to sack Tutterrow on a fourth-down play from Mount Baker's 21.
"It was huge to get us a stop," Lepper said of his defense. "Our defense gave us a chance, and our offense capitalized."
Trailing 25-20 with 3:09 left, Mount Baker methodically moved the ball to its own 45 before Yurchuk ripped off his big run to set up Short's score.
Johnny Mata recorded two interceptions to go with Yurchuk's and Tikhonov's.
Young led all receivers with 93 yards and three TDs on six catches.
Mer — Kyle Young 27 pass from Tanner Tutterrow (Joel Escbach kick)
MB — Zach Yurchuk 18 run (Zane Smith kick)
Mer — Young 20 pass from Tutterrow (kick fail)
Mer — Nick Dritsas 22 pass from Marcus McGuinn (pass fail)
MB — Liam Short 10 run (Smith kick)
MB — Jed Schleimer 7 run (run fail)
Mer — Young 14 pass from Tutterrow (pass fail)
MB — Short 1 run (run fail)
MB — Ruvim Tikhonov 40 interception return (Smith kick)
Mount BakerFirst downs1818Rushing Att-yards24-7247-330Comp-Att-Int20-37-44-7-0Passing yards33642Penalties-yards4-267-55Fumbles-lost0-02-2
RUSHING — Meridian: Dakota Jones 10-49, Nick Dritsas 10-36, Tanner Tutterrow 4-(-13). Mount Baker: Liam Short 26-217, Jed Schleimer 10-34, Zach Yurchuk 5-81, Mason Bass 6-(-2) .
PASSING — Meridian: Tanner Tutterrow 19-36-314-4, Marcus McGuinn 1-1-22-0. Mount Baker: Mason Bass 4-7-42-0.
RECEIVING — Meridian: Kyle Young 6-93, Marcus McGuinn 5-74, Nick Miller 3-87, Nick Dritsas 3-47, Dakota Jones 2-20, Daniel Young 1-15. Mount Baker: Ruvim Tikhonov 4-42.