Mount Baker’s homecoming king was nowhere to be found during the halftime festivities.
However, senior Johnny Mata, also the king of clutch on this night, came out of the halftime locker room inspired by a key first-half catch. Then, in the fourth quarter, he could finally be found — in the end zone with his first varsity touchdown.
On his only official rush of the game, the 143-pound running back scored on a nicely executed 13-yard reverse off a fake by quarterback Mason Bass with two minutes to play, clinching Baker’s 21-11 Northwest Conference Class 1A win over Nooksack Valley on Friday, Oct. 17.
Nooksack Valley (2-5 overall, 0-4 NWC 1A) gave divisional leader Mount Baker (6-1, 4-0) just as tough a tussle as Mountaineers coach Ron Lepper said he fully expected.
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Using an intelligently crafted short passing game, Nooksack quarterback Tanner Myhre completed 29 of 39 passes for 247 yards, no interceptions and a 7-yard third-quarter touchdown toss to running back Adam Mydland. That score pulled the Pioneers within 14-11.
Not long after, though, it was time for 35 cross block belly — the clever scoring play Mata will long remember.
“We thought we would try it again after there was an inadvertent whistle the first time (earlier in the second half on a play on which Mata seemed to have gained more than 30 yards) because the refs thought Liam Short had the ball,” Bass said.
Short, Baker’s indomitable senior running back, slogged through a muddy quagmire to wind up with 119 yards on 21 carries, including five rushes for 20 yards on the 45-yard drive that Mata capped with his memorable score.
Bass opened the drive with a nifty 14-yard run off a fake pass — only his second and final carry.
Bass, who handled the ball well on every snap despite the mud, passed only once, but it was a beauty. On Baker’s first possession of the second half, Mata caught the ball in the right flat and raced 21 yards to the Nooksack 13-yard line.
One play later, Short carried two tacklers over the goal line for a 10-yard touchdown, ending an 81-yard, 10-play drive with one of Zane Smith’s three conversion kicks and giving the Mounties a 14-3 advantage.
The Pioneers, though, came right back with an 85-yard, 14-play scoring drive, capped by Mydland’s scoring catch and Mhyre’s two-point conversion run. Myhre went 6 for 6 on the drive for 56 yards.
“We knew they would be tough,” Lepper said. “Tanner Myhre is as good as any 1A quarterback in the state.”
Nooksack opened the game with a 14-play, 74-yard drive, but the Mounties stopped the Pioneers on Baker’s 6-yard line. Baker lost a fumble on the ensuing series and Lathan Halaapiapi recovered, setting up Connor Beard’s 32-yard field goal for a 3-0 Nooksack lead.
That lead didn’t last long, however. Early in the second half, Baker sophomore Jed Schleimer burst 39 yards to the Nooksack 43 and Short ran for 10 yards. One play later, Zach Yurchuk scored on a 31-yard burst near the right sideline, giving Baker a 7-3 lead.
Josh Gimmaka, in his first game back from an injury, caught 10 passes for 117 yards, including a 20-yarder with an amazing one-handed, leaping grab. But while trying to regain his balance during his run, he fumbled when tackled and Vadim Kotsyuba recovered for Baker.
“I’m happy with what we do (namely, run the ball),” Bass said. “The only stat that really matters is the W.”
NV -- Connor Beard 32 FG
MB -- Zach Yurchuk 31 run (Zane Smith kick)
MB -- Liam Short 10 run (Smith kick)
NV -- Adam Mydland 7 pass from Tanner Myhre (Myhre run)
MB -- Johnny Mata 13 run (Smith kick)
|Nooksack Valley||Mount Baker|
RUSHING -- Nooksack Valley: Adam Mydland 11-65, Tanner Myhre 14-12, Connor Beard 1-9. Mount Baker: Liam Short 21-119, Jed Schleimer 8-64, Zach Yurchuk 4-37, Johnny Mata 1-13, Mason Bass 2-17.
PASSING -- Nooksack Valley: Tanner Myhre 29-39-247-0. Mount Baker: Mason Bass 1-1-21-0.
RECEIVING -- Nooksack Valley: Josh Gimmaka 10-117, Willy Kingma 7-54, Connor Beard 5-40, Adam Mydland 3-20, Brady Wood 4-16. Mount Baker: Johnny Mata 1-21.