BELLINGHAM Defending short fields and trying to keep up with La Conner’s up-tempo offense, Bellingham’s defense could only stonewall the Braves for so long.
The Red Raiders’ offense constantly started with poor field position, while La Conner regularly enjoyed navigating less yardage. Eventually, starting spots caught up with Bellingham.
Even three Red Raiders fumble recoveries, including one defending their own goal line, and two times preventing any points when La Conner ventured into their red zone, proved insufficient.
After blanking La Conner in the first half, the Class 2B Braves scored three second-half touchdowns as Bellingham suffered a hard-fought 21-14 loss on senior night Saturday, Oct. 25, at Civic Stadium.
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“It seemed like we were in our end of the field all night long,” Bellingham coach Ted Flint said. “We couldn’t get out of our own end, and our defense played amazingly well considering we kept giving them the ball with such short field.”
The loss snapped Bellingham’s four-game win streak, and even though the Red Raiders’ wing-T attack lacked consistency Saturday, Bellingham (4-4) still managed to move the ball.
Senior running back Tanner Aliff surpassed the 200-yard threshold for the fifth straight game, this time running for 243 yards on 36 carries. He also scored both of Bellingham’s touchdowns.
Behind the Red Raiders’ well-engineered offensive line, Aliff ripped off runs of 18, 35, 36 and 40 yards, but for long stretches of time La Conner’s defense stuffed Bellingham’s ground attack.
“Too inconsistent,” junior offensive and defensive lineman Trent Helming said. “We need to be able to move the ball consistently and not make mistakes.”
Bellingham’s averaging starting position of drives in the first half was the 19-yard line. The Red Raiders best start was on their own 42, and sure enough they scored.
Bellingham covered all 58 yards in seven plays and used a key Aliff 40-yard run facing a third-and-17 to set up the touchdown. Four plays after the long run, Aliff took an inside carry left before plunging head first across the goal line to put the Red Raiders in front with 37 seconds left in the half.
Despite limited first-half offense, both teams combined for 21 points in a span of 3:07 in the third quarter.
La Conner’s Harrison Orkney capped a seven-play, 46-yard touchdown drive with a 4-yard TD run off a sweep around the left end to tie the game at 7 with 5:54 to go in the third.
Bellingham quickly responded with a seven-play, 80-yard drive of its own. Aliff highlighted the sequence with a 35-yard run, and the senior finished the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run to put the Red Raiders back in front 14-7.
But after two post-touchdown penalties forced Bellingham to kick off deep in its own territory, resulting in La Conner starting position at the Red Raiders’ 46, Braves running back Cameron Hansen took a handoff on the first play of the drive 44 yards to even the score with 2:47 left in the third.
“It’s really important on special teams when we get that good field position and turnovers on defense,” Helming said. “They had good field position for the most part, and we didn’t.”
The Braves took their first lead of the game, 21-14, when quarterback Trey Johnson scored from 1-yard out with 5:01 left in the fourth quarter, giving the Red Raiders one final chance.
Bellingham started at its own 20 and methodically reached La Conner’s 29 using runs of 14 and 19 yards from quarterback Kalien Hayes.
Aliff carried for 3 yards on first down, was stopped for no gain on second, Hayes lost a yard on third down, and with 1:18 left to go on a fourth-and-7, Aliff was stopped well short of the line to gain on an inside handoff.
Bellingham next travels to play Class 2A Highline at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 31, at Highline Memorial Stadium in Burien.