Few of the state’s high school football teams in any division could lose two of the best backfield performers in their league to injury and still rally in the fourth quarter with two touchdowns to beat a consistent state title contender.
But, just as senior quarterback James Marsh and junior running back/defensive tackle Steven DiLorenzo have been among the league’s most talked about players in the first half of this season, Lynden’s program pulled off a feat that will be talked about for years.
Brock Heppner, a versatile junior receiver who gained starting signal-calling experience in several early season games last year, stepped in for Marsh, and several standouts, including Kobe Elsner, helped make up for the first-half loss of DiLorenzo on the way to the Lions’ dramatic 24-21 win over Archbishop Murphy in a Northwest Conference Sky Division opener.
The Lions (4-0, 1-0), who play at Lakewood (3-1, 0-1) Friday night, will have to keep pulling off memorable performances, since concussion protocol may not allow Marsh to play and a pulled hamstring may keep DiLorenzo sidelined indefinitely.
Lynden coach Blake VanDalen isn’t allowing anything to get him down, although he certainly appreciates what his team pulled off without their statistical leaders in passing and running.
“Archbishop Murphy has to be the best 1-2 team I’ve ever seen,” the second-year head coach said.
Heppner, who had just replaced Marsh, scored on a 3-yard keeper to begin the Lions’ comeback and capped an amazing home thriller with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Elsner with a little more than a minute to play.
“We must have the toughest schedule we’ve ever had,” VanDalen said of the new setup, in which Lynden plays only the four other historically best 2A conference’s teams in league competition.
For example, Lakewood was 3-0 until losing to Sedro-Woolley 36-14 on Friday in the other Sky Division opener.
Lynden’s win over Archbishop was a huge boost for the Lions in their bid to earn one of the top three sports in the new alignment and earn an automatic trip to the district playoffs. The fourth- and fifth-place finishers will have to play the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the Lakes Division for the right to stay alive in the hunt for a state berth.
Lynden can only hope that both Marsh and DiLorenzo, who carried twice for 16 yards before he hurt his hamstring, can return healthy enough to play up to the high standards they had established.
VanDalen, though, refuses to be daunted.
“For example, our top eight defensive backs are all seniors, so we have two complete (four-man) lineups with seniors in our secondary,” he said.
Even though veteran running back Eric Martin-Mann is back from an injury and contributed to the win over Archbishop, DiLorenzo will be tough to replace.
DiLorenzo has been another example of Lynden’s depth. He raced 85 yards to score against Mount Baker in the opener on the Lynden junior’s first carry at running back, but that wasn’t the most remarkable aspect of his early success.
Nor has been his disruptive effectiveness on the other side of the ball as an unusually quick 5-foot-7, 170-pound defensive tackle.
How about cracking the weight room’s historic “Top Ten” list in the bench press — at twice his weight? That’s right, DiLorenzo is not only fast, but also a lot stronger than most players his size. His best in the bench is 340 pounds.
“Steven is in our Top 10 in both the bench and the incline,” VanDalen said. “He lifts like an offensive lineman.
“We actually came into the season thinking the defensive line is where Steven would help us the most.”
DiLorenzo says he wanted that unusual opportunity.
“I just love being on the defensive line,” DiLorenzo said. “It’s a real challenge.”
He came into the season with almost no varsity experience but plenty of weight lifting — “I’ve been lifting since eighth grade,“ he said — along with the speed to have qualified for Class 2A state in two sprint events as a sophomore, including a relay. His best time in the 40-yard dash is 4.5 seconds, significantly better than most prep running backs and defensive linemen.
That reflects his quickness as well as his sprint speed. Still, he acknowledges he did not expect to have nearly 400 yards rushing in his first three games.
VanDalen said he has been impressed by DiLorenzo’s can-do attitude — “He’s been a wonderful surprise. I think the only two words I’ve heard from Steven are ‘Yes, Coach.’ ”
Before the injuries against Archbishop, DiLorenzo expressed how fortunate he was to start playing on varsity with a strong, willing line and with Marsh, a three-sport standout.
“James really helps me a lot,” DiLorenzo said.
WEEK 5 SCHEDULE
▪ Naselle at Lummi, 5 p.m.
▪ Squalicum at Meadowdale (at Edmonds Stadium), 5 p.m.
▪ Mount Baker at Meridian, 7 p.m.
▪ Nooksack at Lynden Christian, 7 p.m.
▪ Bellingham at Blaine, 7 p.m.
▪ Mountlake Terrace at Sehome (at Civic Stadium), 7 p.m.
▪ Ferndale at Oak Harbor, 7 p.m.
▪ Lynden at Lakewood, 7 p.m.