This time last year the Red Raiders were the ones trying to play catch-up against the dreadful running clock.
But thanks to a committed senior class and a reinvigorating coaching staff, in one year’s time and, yes, facing an easier schedule, Bellingham is now the program handing defeats to others.
The Red Raiders’ homecoming game Saturday, Oct. 18, against Class 2B Orcas Island was just the latest exhibit of a team determined to turn the corner.
And again, Bellingham leaned on its potent run game to earn a fourth-straight win, this time a 49-22 victory at Civic Stadium.
“I thought we came out and went hard from the start, and we did what we were supposed to do,” first-year Bellingham coach Ted Flint said. “Winning four games in a row for Bellingham, we can’t find the last time in the records that’s happened. So four games in a row is incredible.”
Bellingham (4-3) would have to revisit 2008 to see the last time it won four straight, and before the Red Raiders’ streak started Week 4, it took from a district playoff game in 2010 to a 2012 league win over Anacortes for Bellingham to simply win four games.
“I think we have guys that genuinely want to improve, and are coming out wanting to play,” senior lineman and linebacker Blair Bennett said. “Obviously, we are in a lower level of competition, but I think it’s great for our team, and hopefully in a couple years we can rejoin the Northwest Conference and continue the success there.”
Orcas Island received a first-hand look at what the Red Raiders are building toward. Behind Bellingham’s wing-T offense, it scored early and often, putting together big plays while racking up 498 rushing yards.
Senior back Tanner Aliff, who leads the county in rushing, recorded his fourth-straight 200-yard plus performance, accounting for 207 yards and touchdowns of 69 and 64 yards on 10 carries.
Sean Ryder put the Red Raiders ahead 7-0 before their offense touched the ball, returning a punt 60 yards for a TD following Orcas Island’s first possession. The senior also ran for a 48-yard score.
Quarterback Kalien Hayes ran for 103 yards and a touchdown on five carries, Mitchell Osorio had 88 yards and a TD on six carries and backup quarterback Kyle Hofstetter also scored.
“We were just trying to run it down their throats,” Hayes said, “and our O-line did a really good job this game. We got some good blocking, lanes opened up and we scored some touchdowns.”
Bellingham averaged an impressive 12.8 yards per carry, and Flint heaped praise onto his senior-heavy offensive line.
“It’s always the offensive line,” Flint responded when asked what’s been central to Bellingham’s offensive success. “It’s Luke Moreau, it’s Spencer Marshall-Rodenberg, Dante Koplowitz-Fleming, Trent Helming and Blair Bennett and Eli Ninneman. The offensive line is always what’s gets it done.”
Bellingham left no doubt early it was going to have a festive homecoming celebratory win.
Following Ryder’s punt return, Aliff used Bellingham’s first offensive play to put the Red Raiders in front 14-0 with a 64-yard touchdown run up the middle.
Bellingham scored twice more in the first quarter with a 27-yard Ryder TD followed by a 44-yard Hayes score with 1:27 left in the opening frame.
Osorio gave the Red Raiders a 35-0 advantage on a 17-yard touchdown carry around the left side with 3:13 to go until halftime.
And Bellingham’s secondary of Eric Thompson, Chris Thompson, Hofstetter and Ryder had little trouble stopping Orcas Island’s pass-heavy offense.
The Vikings compiled 91 total yards in the first half, and quarterback Miles Harlow completed just 6 of 23 passes before gaining more yardage in the second half against Bellingham’s backups.
“We’ve had trouble with the spread this year,” Flint said. “We have had trouble in space. That quarterback is really good, so I’m really pleased with how our secondary played.”
Back-to-back early third-quarter scores by Aliff and Hofstetter increased Bellingham’s lead to 49-7, prompting the running clock.
The Red Raiders host La Conner next at 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 25, at Civic Stadium.