TACOMA – West Valley’s defense performed admirably while bidding to bring the school its second state football title. But, ultimately, Lynden’s sizable line imposed its will enough in the second half of a bruising game between like opponents to leave the Eagles unfulfilled.
The Lions (13-1) used up two-thirds of the final quarter during a 63-yard drive for the deciding touchdown in a 16-6 victory to win their second straight State 2A championship Saturday morning at the Tacoma Dome and third in four years.
When Brett Bajema sliced into the end zone from 2 yards out with 3 minutes, 58 seconds remaining, an outcome between two gritty opponents and their play-making quarterbacks was determined.
“We usually tend to wear people down by the end of the first half and into the second half,” Lynden coach Curt Kramme said. “This game we made several mistakes, but these guys try to find ways to win.”
Lions quarterback Jordan Hastings finished just 13 for 27 for 152 yards and was picked off twice. But four of those conversions came on the final drive, including on third-and-8 and fourth-and-9.
Leading receiver Brady Bomber was held in check much of the game. The overall difference maker, however, was Eastern Washington University-bound receiver/defensive end Ryan Seto, with a tight end’s 6-foot-5, 230-pound frame making him tough to keep in check. He had five drive-sustaining catches for 94 yards throughout the game, one setting up Lynden’s first touchdown for a lead just before halftime.
“I didn’t know I was going to get the ball that much,” he said, adding he’s not sure if it will be offense or defense at EWU. “It usually goes to Bomber.”
Both defenses bent but were loathe to relent during this game. Eagles lineman Hovik Melkonyan, who had a fumble recovery, linebacker Tyler Poldervart and defensive back Brandon Funk were just a few to stand out.
Mitch Peterson had an interception and much of WV’s second-half offense.
Each team mounted long, time-consuming drives that hastened a half that took just over an hour to complete. Both missed field goals on their first attempts, with WV using up 6½ minutes and 68 yards while overcoming a couple major penalties with clutch efforts before stalling at the Lions’ 8-yard line.
Dylan Ellsworth took a pitch and covered 26 yards on third-and-25. Drew Clausen scrambled for 11 yards on third-and-10. But the field-goal attempt by Randell Harris was just wide.
Lynden came back and used up 7:09 to cover 59 yards, but missed a 38-yard kick.
The Eagles’ next try covered 80 yards in nine plays, with Clausen selling run, then completing three passes – a diving 14-yard catch by Ryan Dahlstrom, a 32-yarder downfield to Peterson and finally an 11-yard touchdown to Sam Schoesler – to draw first blood midway through the second quarter.
But in the half’s final two minutes, WV elected to go to the air from deep in its end of the field, Lynden got the ball back at the Eagle 31 and took a 7-6 halftime lead on two passes by Hastings to score with just 50 seconds left.
Even though WV blunted drives with a pair of interceptions, the Eagles could not take advantage.
Funk, at 5-9, drew the task of defending Seto and got the first interception at his 1-yard line to thwart a Lynden third-quarter threat.
Krys Smith was tackled in the end zone for a safety. Still, the 9-6 deficit was manageable, particularly after Peterson picked off a Hastings pass in Lions territory. WV couldn’t budge against Lynden’s defense and the victors followed with their time-consuming, game-winning drive.
“We’d pick off a ball, get some momentum and just stall,” Eagles coach Craig Whitney said. “Our defense was left on the field way too much in the second half.”
WV had the ball for less than seven minutes in the second half, managed just 19 plays for 73 of its game total 224 yards and, like Lynden, turned the ball over three times. The Lions, however, amassed 207 of their 328 over the final 24 minutes of the game.
“I didn’t feel like (their size) was a problem,” said tearful junior Poldervart, part of the salty defense that led to Lynden’s similar struggle. “I felt our condition was fine.”
The loss was tough to take, but the experience, he said, was something he’ll never forget.
“Our defense played as hard as it could,” Whitney said. “They got the ball back when we needed it. But we needed to sustain and make plays.”