The Mount Baker football team prides itself in two things: being the more physical team and breaking an opponent’s will with its punishing running game.
But don’t let coach Ron Lepper fool you. He gets a little twinkle in his eye when he talks about the finesse side of the Mountaineers.
On Saturday, Mount Baker showed it could beat an opponent with physicality and finesse in its 39-14 victory over Hoquiam in a Class 1A first-round state playoff game at Civic Stadium.
The second-ranked Mountaineers (11-0) advanced to the state quarterfinals for the fifth straight year. They’ll visit La Center next weekend.
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While Jed Schleimer and Carson Engholm combined to rush for 329 yards and three touchdowns, the key to victory was two touchdown passes from Kaleb Bass to Thomas Barbo.
“Jed and Engholm are real good back there, but TJ (Bass) can catch the ball, and Kaleb, he’s only a sophomore, but he’s doing great,” Barbo said. “He’s placing the ball great for me. He’s doing great.”
On its first possession, Mount Baker took advantage of the Grizzlies’ focus on stopping the run to run a play-action pass. After the fake, Bass found Barbo behind the secondary with no defender within 7 yards of him for a relatively easy 53-yard strike.
“We figured they’d be biting on the run, so we went play-action pass,” Barbo said. “We haven’t run it like at all this year. It seemed to work really well.”
Baker’s second scoring pass came late in the first half after Hoquiam’s Jack Adams III caught a 62-yard pass from Gregory Dick to trim the Mountaineers’ advantage to 15-7.
On the ensuing drive, Bass lofted a pass from 18 yards toward the left side of the end zone that appeared destined to be intercepted.
“I think I should catch every ball, so I just ran as fast as I could,” Barbo said. “If it’s overthrown or anything, I think it’s my fault. I just trust my quarterback can get me the ball, and he does.”
Barbo outjumped the Hoquaim defensive back and ripped the ball away for a 23-7 halftime lead.
“That was probably the key to the game right there,” Lepper said. “Kaleb gave him a chance, and Thomas went and made the play.”
The rest of the game was exactly what you’d expect from Mount Baker – physical football.
The defense stepped up to contain talented Grizzlies running back Artimus Johnson, who had 341 rushing yards a week earlier. Johnson still finished with 132 rushing yards and caught a 34-yard touchdown pass, but he didn’t have the big impact it looked as if he would early on.
“I think we were able to corral him a little bit,” Lepper said. “We started taking better angles. In the game last week, the kid ran wild. We were able to take that away from them.”
Hoquiam instead turned to the air, throwing 31 times, and that generated only 111 yards – not to mention the six sacks Mount Baker logged.
“I thought what we did was we got pressure on the quarterback,” Lepper said. “In watching film on them, some other teams got pressure on him, but they didn’t get to him. We got to him tonight, and I think that was a big, big deal for us. We played physical up front.”
Would you really expect anything less from Mount Baker?
MB – Thomas Barbo 53 pass from Kaleb Bass (Bass run)
MB – Carson Engholm 3 run (Jonathan Ehlers kick)
Hoq – Jack Adams III 62 pass from Gregory Dick (Nazareno Mazarlegos kick)
MB – Barbo 18 pass from Bass (Jed Schleimer run)
MB – Ehlers 22 FG
MB – Jed Schleimer 4 run (kick blocked)
MB – Engholm 7 run (Ehlers kick)
Hoq – Artimus Johnson 34 pass from Dick (Mazarlegos kick)
RUSHING – Hoquiam: Artimus Johnson 16-133, Gregory Dick 10-(-9), Matt Brown 1-6. Mount Baker: Carson Engholm 19-97, Jed Schleimer 23-232, Carson Brandland 1-0, Kaleb Bass 5-(-14).
PASSING – Hoquiam: Gregory Dick 11-30-0-145, Jerod Steen 0-1-1-0. Mount Baker: Kaleb Bass 5-7-0-140.
RECEIVING – Hoquiam: Jerod Steen 2-11, No. 12 1-12, Anthony Nash 2-5, Ryan Espedal 2-12, Jack Adams III 1-62, Sean McAllister 1-4, Artimus Johnson 2-39. Mount Baker: Thomas Barbo 3-110, TJ Bass 1-11, Carson Engholm 1-19.