The Lynden Lions are heading back to the Tacoma Dome where they’ll play for a fourth consecutive state championship, and they beat two opponents to do it.
Lynden, just like last year, traveled more than four hours to face Ellensburg in the Class 2A State Playoff semifinals Saturday, Nov. 29, at Lions Field in Moses Lake.
But the Bulldogs weren’t the only awaiting challenge.
“The fact that we had more than one opponent today, the fact we had the guys dressed in blue and we had the wind and the cold, I thought our kids handled it really well,” Lions coach Curt Kramme said. “I’m very proud of them, because it was tough conditions out there, so for us to come out and perform, awesome job by our kids.”
Lynden overcame a bitterly-cold, 26-degree game-time temperature with winds notching more than 20 miles per hour and built an early lead over Ellensburg before rolling to an impressive 33-6 win, earning a fourth straight state-title game appearance.
Quarterback Sterling Somers completed 15 of 19 passes for 205 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for a team-high 108 yards and a two TDs on 17 carries.
Jordan Wittenberg lead Lynden’s receivers with 106 yards and a touchdown on five receptions, and Scooter Hastings hauled in seven passes for 76 yards and a score.
The Lions (12-1) next play Northwest Conference rival Sedro-Woolley, who beat Tumwater 28-27, at 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 6, at the Tacoma Dome.
“We’ve had some bumps on the road getting here,” said senior two-way starter and captain Bryce Sterk, “and to come out like that and beat a good team with the score that we had, it’s a good momentum booster, huge confidence booster.”
Lynden beat Ellensburg 21-7 last fall, but this one wasn’t nearly as close. The Lions took early advantage of a howling wind blowing straight into the south end zone. Lynden, using the wind, scored on each of its first three possessions, taking advantage of short fields each time.
Lynden started at its own 48, the 50 and Ellensburg’s 48 during the scoring drives, as the Bulldogs (12-1) had no chance kicking or punting into the wind. Kramme used all three of his first-half timeouts in the first quarter in order to elongate the first 12 minutes.
Somers capped the Lions’ game-opening seven-play, 52-yard drive with a 1-yard QB sneak, and that was followed with a quick five-play, 50-yard drive finished with a 4-yard Somers to Hastings touchdown, giving Lynden a 13-0 advantage 5:16 into the game.
After another Ellensburg punt, a 28-yard Somers to Hastings pass set up a 9-yard Somers touchdown pass to Wittenberg, extending Lynden’s lead to 20-0 with 2:24 left in the firstquarter.
And before Ellensburg could find any rhythm, it already faced a daunting deficit.
“I knew the wind was going to be an issue,” Kramme said, “and when we had the wind at our backs, I wanted to take advantage of it as long as we could. But the bottom line is we made the plays we needed to, and I can’t say enough good things about our players.”
Ellensburg’s offense finally started moving the ball, but once the Bulldogs ventured near Lynden’s goal line, the Lions’ defense dealt Ellensburg a crushing blow.
Lynden’s defense for the third straight week put together a masterpiece. The Lions yielded only 197 total yards, including 115 rush yards on 46 attempts, and highly-touted Ellensburg back Gabe Caskey was limited to 72 yards on 20 carries.
The Bulldogs used up 9:19 driving from their own 24 to Lynden’s 5, but thanks to back-to-back sacks by Sterk, Ellensburg’s bid to get on the scoreboard was denied.
Kramme said the stop spoke volumes of his defense’s resiliency.
“It felt great, and it definitely fired the guys up,” Sterk said. “They drove all the way down there, and to get shut like that, that’s really disheartening for them I feel like.”
Lynden extended its lead to 27-0 on its third drive of the third quarter. Somers found Wittenberg open down the left sideline for a 34-yard gain off a slant-on-go, and the big play set up a Somers 7-yard TD run that the junior took around the left side.
Backup quarterback Clark Hazlett later finished off a six-play, 34-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Jonathan Whetnall, giving the Lions a 33-0 advantage with 5:44 left in the contest.
Caskey ran for a late 14-yard score, preventing the shutout.
“First off, it was very cold,” Somers said, “but we just had the mindset of the cold is not going to stop us now. We got this far, we can’t let the weather affect us now. I think all of our team, we had a good mindset.”
Running back Trent Postma finished with 42 rushing yards on 10 carries to go with his two catches for 18 yards. Sterk finished with three sacks, and both Postma and Jensen Mayberry factored heavily into stopping the run.
Lynden edged Sedro-Woolley earlier this season 33-30 on the road, and the Lions beat Cubs coach Dave Ward in 2011, when he was coaching Archbishop Murphy.