At last, Lynden High’s senior class will have the chance to cheer in the Tacoma Dome at a state championship football game.
And if the students’ cheering is anything like it was during Lynden’s 31-0 win over Fife in the Class 2A semifinals Saturday at Sparks Stadium, the support will be loud and proud indeed.
A large number of students, parents and fans made the round trip of about 300 miles and were rewarded with numerous memorable moments as the unbeaten Lions (12-0) gained the finals for the first time since 2014.
Lynden will play Saturday at 1 p.m. against defending champion and No. 1 rated Hockinson (12-0), which has a 26-game winning streak that includes a 24-21 win over fourth-seeded Liberty on Saturday.
It had been a frustrating title game drought for the Lions, who won six state championships across a span of eight seasons from 2006 through 2013 and finished second in 2014.
“I am so very proud of our players,” said coach Blake VanDalen, recalling with a wide grin and a warm glow how the team responded “as well as possible” to first-half adversity. “We have played the toughest schedule in our school’s history.”
For the first quarter and a half, seventh-seeded Fife seemed as though it might prove to be possibly the toughest opponent. Until third-seeded Lynden’s third possession, the power-running Trojans had run 34 plays from scrimmage — only two of them passes — in contrast to the Lions’ 11 plays.
But Lynden juniors Bodie Human and Brock Heppner, among others, made tackle after tackle and helped limit the seventh-seeded Trojans to 127 net yards on those 34 plays. The Lions did not let Fife get beyond the Lynden 27-yard line.
Then it was time for the spectacular, all from the quicker Lions against a team with an 11-game win streak, including last week’s 14-0 upset of previously unbeaten Black Hills.
Senior quarterback/receiver James Marsh picked his holes perfectly on a 50-yard touchdown burst up the middle with 1:46 left before intermission.
Heppner immediately made two of the three tackles as the Lions halted Fife quickly enough to earn a final first-half possession. Heppner, alternating between quarterback and receiver with Marsh for the seventh consecutive game, responded with a long pass to big-play specialist Kobe Elsner, who turned the throw into a 74-yard score.
“We knew it would take awhile to get used to a different wing-T than Tumwater played,” VanDalen said, referring to Lynden’s pulse-pounding 28-27 quarterfinal win. “We felt like we had an advantage in the endurance category.”
VanDalen’s “endurance category” ironically turned into a 76-yard, 14-play scoring drive to open the second half as the Lions “out-Fifed” Fife. The Trojans were limited to 80 total yards in the second half.
The alert Elsner provided a shocking third-down capper to the drive with an outstanding 15-yard catch in the right corner of the end zone on a Marsh pass that barely whizzed past the intended target, Carson Bode.
“I turned and saw Marsh was scrambling, so I just went (all-out) and secured the ball,” Elsner said.
Marsh and running back Trevin Melendez chewed up all the yardage on the drive until Marsh found Bode with a 13-yard pass to the 19. Marsh finished with 124 yards on 12 carries and Melendez gained 51 on nine cracks. Elsner caught three passes for 132 yards, helping the Lions finish with 198 receiving and 428 in all.
Brendan Kleindel’s 31-yard return on his third interception of the playoffs set up the clincher. Melendez had the longest run, an 8-yarder, on a 36-yard scoring drive and Heppner accounted for the rest with six carries, including a 1-yard score, for a 28-0 lead early in the fourth quarter.
After Grant VanderYacht’s interception, junior kicker Marko Samoukovic soon booted a 28-yard field goal, his eighth, along with four conversions to make him 47 for 48 on the season.
The students went nuts on Elsner’s 74-yard touchdown with 39 seconds left in the first half, but then they really got loud when they realized No. 39 — sophomore Leah Rossell — would kick off. Her respectable 35-yard kick, her first varsity play, enabled the Lions to stop Fife’s return at the 37-yard line.
Several longtime Lynden fans could not remember seeing a girl in a varsity game.
VanderYacht, gratified that his interception set up Samoukovic’s field goal, epitomized Lynden’s approach to first-half adversity after he fumbled while trying to stretch a gain on a catch.
“I felt down at first but coach (Ed) Bomber (a longtime assistant) always tells me to keep an even head,” said VanderYacht, also a fine long snapper. He played well after the fumble.
Fife came into the game averaging 34 points.
Newport 27, Lynden Christian 14
In its first state 1A semifinal since 2002, Lynden Christian rallied for second-half touchdowns on a 74-yard pass-run play from Trajan Schouten to fellow junior Jackson Corkill and an 8-yard pass from Schouten to Jalen Apol, but the sixth-seeded Lyncs (10-3) could not gain the lead. Tenth-seeded Newport (11-1) scored twice in the first quarter, once on a tipped pass, for a 14-0 halftime advantage at Lions Field in Moses Lake and added two touchdowns in the fourth quarter on runs by Tug Smith.
Schouten completed 22 of 42 passes for 333 yards, including 10 completions for 199 yards to Corkill, but the Lyncs were limited to 21 net yards rushing. Apol’s score cut LC’s deficit to 21-14 with a little over two minutes left, but Smith quickly scored to wrap it up for Newport, which will play Colville (10-2) for the state title Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Tacoma Dome. Colville ended Royal’s 53-game winning streak with a 31-28 win while taking advantage of four turnovers by the Knights (12-1), who came in having outscored their opponents 673-33.
Coach Dan Kaeminkg’s Lyncs gained a share of their first league title since 2001 and improved from 3-6 to 10-3 with key contributions from their seven seniors — Sam Faber, Dylan Kaemingk, Blake DeRuyter, Jalen Apol, Jake Libolt, Simon Anker and inspirational first-year player Lucas Assink. “I’m pretty darned proud of what we did,” the coach said. “We took a huge step. I give our league a lot of credit for helping to make us better.”