There’s not a single person out there that can deny Lummi’s desire to win.
But the Blackhawks were on the short end of the stick yet again Saturday, Nov. 29, at the Tacoma Dome, falling to Neah Bay 26-20 in the Class 1B state semifinal.
It was the fourth straight season Lummi has been eliminated in the playoffs by the Red Devils.
“I’m devastated. I’m crushed,” Lummi coach Jim Sandusky said. “I was highly confident that we would play well and come out with the win. I’m getting a little old to be saying maybe next year.”
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There is no “maybe next year” for the eight seniors on the roster, many of whom were in tears while they were consoled by family and tribal members after the game.
“I’m disappointed we lost. My team played hard. There’s a lot of mixed emotions,” a visibly shaken Devin Cooper said. “It was an awesome game. The best game of the year. I can say that.”
The contest certainly didn’t fail to provide plenty of fireworks, as the Lummi-Neah Bay rivalry often does.
With so much history and having met in the playoffs for now the past six years, there’s a lot of pride on the line.
“I think it’s a big thing for the high school as a whole and the two tribe communities fighting against each other just like old times,” Hank Hoskins said.
Dino Williams added, “It isn’t just a rivalry. It’s tribe versus tribe. We see each other all the time, we talk with each other. We just want to come out here and put on a good show.”
And that show started in the first quarter when Lummi forced Neah Bay to three straight three-and-outs before going on an 11-play, 56-yard drive capped by a 1-yard TD run from Austin Brockie to make it 6-0.
It wasn’t until the big play bit the Blackhawks that they allowed a first down.
Early in the second quarter, Neah Bay’s Cole Svec broke open a 72-yard run to make it 6-6.
The big-play bug came up again several times over the course of the game, with the Red Devils scoring from 68 yards and 28 yards on offense and a 60-yard fumble recovery touchdown on defense.
“I felt like we were the better team. Not taking anything away from them. We just didn’t play better on a couple of plays,” Sandusky said. “Overall, if you look at the game, take those couple plays away — and I’m not just talking about the score — we dominated.”
Most of Neah Bay’s damage came in the second quarter. Only moments after Svec’s score made it even, the Red Devils took a fumble recovery 60 yards to the house.
The fumble came on a Brockie run up the middle when he was hit hard, causing the ball to pop up. The Red Devils’ Chris Martinez grabbed it in midair and there was nobody left to beat. The two-point conversion put Neah Bay up 14-6.
Five minutes later, Hank Hoskins finished off a nine-play, 44-yard drive with a 1-yard TD run to make it 14-12.
Neah Bay once again punched back with a 68-yard TD pass to make it 20-12 heading into the half.
Just before the half though, senior Jacob Roberts was hit as he was fielding a kickoff. The hit was delivered around his neck area and he immediately folded to the ground.
After trainers evaluated him, the stretcher was brought out and the crowd went silent. He would get carted off the field as he moved his hands to signal he was OK.
“It was a big thing. It’s his senior year. All us boys, we’ve been playing together since we were 10,” Williams said. “It was hard to see him leave the field.”
Sandusky, who wasn’t too pleased with the hit, hadn’t heard from the hospital regarding Roberts’ status immediately after the game.
“I thought it was a late hit coming in and unnecessary,” Sandusky said. “Roberts had a sore neck (after the trainers evaluated him). You can’t mess around with a neck.”
Staying healthy and on the field has been a problem for the Blackhawks all season, Sandusky said, adding that they haven’t started a game with their best eight in a long time.
Part of the onus of staying healthy, conditioned and on the field in many situations — not in Roberts case — lies with the players, Sandusky said.
“Hopefully the younger guys will understand it’s the minor details and getting in shape,” Sandusky said. “Working out in the offseason, getting bigger and stronger and then working out during the season so we can stay out on the field. That’s killer.”
With two-way starter Roberts missing, the Blackhawks showed no letdown in the second half. They forced a three-and-out on the first possession for the Red Devils and recovered a fumble on Neah Bay’s second possession.
The fumble set the Blackhawks up at the two-yard line, where Hoskins promptly pounded it in with 7:55 left. The two-point conversion tied it at 20-20.
The Blackhawks defense completely dominated the second half from there.
Raven Borsey knocked a would-be touchdown pass out of the air on fourth down with 2:37 left in the third before Williams intercepted a pass on the next possession.
Another turnover was forced by the Blackhawks minutes later, but the Blackhawks offense couldn’t move down the field on any of their tries.
After a blocked punt by Neah Bay, the Red Devils used their short field to score the game-winning touchdown — a 28-yard TD pass to a wide open Cameron Buzzell — with 5:42 left.
The Blackhawks got two chances after that but fell short of collecting even a first down both attempts.
“We had a great game plan going in. I knew we would do well with it,” Sandusky said. “It just comes down to if guys do their assignment that we’ve been working on all week and the last few weeks, we would be walking out of here with the win. Bottom line, we win the game.”
Lummi ends its season 10-4, three of those losses coming at the hands of Neah Bay.