Mount Baker’s football team can wait another week to clinch the Northwest Conference 1A title because Friday, Oct. 18, is Meridian’s day.
With four seconds left and the Mountaineers up 9-7, senior kicker Joel Escbach stood in front of the uprights with a 19-yard game-winning field goal try lying in wait.
The Trojan, who only started kicking this year, waited through two timeouts and an offside.
“Butterflies,” Escbach said of what he was feeling. “Everything, playoff hopes, this is all for my team right here.”
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Escbach hadn’t made a field goal in his football career before. But when Kevin Castro’s run came up a yard short of the end zone on third down, coach Bob Ames called on Escbach.
The wind at his back didn’t matter with how short the field goal attempt was. There was only one thing Escbach needed to do — find a way to get it through the uprights.
The snap is good, the hold is good, the kick is up, the kick is good.
The sometimes-kicker turned into a hometown hero with the swing of a foot and Meridian beat the top team in the NWC 10-9, effectively keeping the Trojans playoff aspirations alive and ruining Baker’s chance at clinching the spot with a week to play.
“Sheer joy, sheer joy,” Escbach said. “So glad to help my team.”
Despite the Friday night success on senior night and last home game for Escbach, he almost didn’t play due to injury.
“We didn’t even know he was going to suit up,” Ames said. “He made his extra point and that field goal at the end was clutch.”
It was a game that was all about the uprights for both teams. Mount Baker missed an extra point in the second quarter and missed a field goal in the fourth quarter.
The failed tries reminded Ames, who said he was in shock after the game, of the last time the two teams met — a 33-25 Baker win — when Meridian missed an extra point early in the game.
“Back there, when we played them last time, we had an extra point blocked,” Ames said. “We had to chase that all game and it ended up costing us big time.”
Tonight was a different story with much less scoring.
The game was playing out as many Baker games do — with Mountaineers’ running back Liam Short bouncing his way to big yardage. The big back had 108 yards at halftime before finishing the game with 203 yards on 25 carries.
Short’s 40-yard touchdown run in the second quarter put the Mountaineers up 6-0 and that’s the way it would stay until the fourth quarter, when Meridian’s running back Nick Dritsas decided he wanted in on the action too.
The junior Trojan finished the first half with two carries for a total of one yard. Dritsas’ second half featured a go-ahead 39-yard touchdown run to make it 7-6, while he piled up 110 yards on 15 carries.
After Dritsas’ 39-yard score, Baker went on a seven-play drive that ended with Zane Smith hitting a 25-yard field goal to make it 9-7.
The Trojans responded with their game-winning drive, which included three third-down conversions. One of the third-down conversions was with the help of a pass interference call on Mount Baker, extending the drive and putting the Trojans in a goal-to-go scenario.
“They got right where they wanted and it just comes down to that (field goal),” Baker coach Ron Lepper said. “But there’s a lot of plays before that but that’s the one people are going to talk about. We had some opportunities earlier and we just needed to capitalize.”
The Baker loss extends the 1A race into the final week. The Mountaineers will face Lynden Christian and with a win will clinch the NWC 1A title.
“We knew it was going to be tough over here and it was. Give Meridian credit, they got it done tonight,” Lepper said. “It’s a tough conference. I didn’t think we’d go undefeated in this conference.”
Meridian’s 1A title hopes rest on beating Nooksack Valley next week and Baker losing, but Ames isn’t looking ahead to the playoffs just yet.
“We have no delusions of grandeur,” Ames said. “We’re just going to enjoy this one tonight.”
MB — Liam Short 40 run (kick fail)
Mer — Nick Dritsas 39 run (Joel Escbach kick)
MB — Zane Smith 25 FG
Mer — Escbach 19 FG
RUSHING — Mount Baker: Liam Short 25-203, Mason Bass 1-(-2), Jed Schleimer 3-2, Zach Yurchuk 7-37. Meridian: Kevin Castro 7-14, Nick Dritsas 17-111, Dakota Jones 2-3, Tanner Tutterrow 7-10.
PASSING — Mount Baker: Mason Bass 0-2-1-0. Meridian: Tanner Tutterrow 9-19-1-99.
RECEIVING — Mount Baker: none. Meridian: Kyle Young 3-61, Kevin Castro 5-35, Nick Dritsas 1-3.