Blaine ends playoffs with hard-fought 27–24 bigger loss

By Oliver Lazenby

Blaine football ended its season with an emotional loss in a 2A bi-district playoff game that could have gone either way. Being the lowest-seeded team didn’t stop the Borderites from leading much of a tough district crossover game against undefeated Liberty High School at Renton.

For Liberty, an important touchdown with 23 seconds left in the first half and a fake punt pass in the fourth quarter contributed to its 27–24 win.

“A couple plays and it’s a different outcome,” said Liberty head coach Steve Valach. “I was really glad we were at home. It would have been a hard game to play on the road.”

The Borderites, led by a strong senior class, ended the season as Blaine’s best since 2013. Despite the strong finish, head coach Jay Dodd and his players hoped to beat Liberty.

“We knew they were a great team, but we expected to win,” he said. “We knew it was going to be a hard-fought and close game. We just came up a little short.”

Blaine controlled the game early on after winning the coin toss. Dodd said he had hoped for a strong start.

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Blaine quarterback Jalen Kortlever runs the ball in a 27-24 loss to Liberty in a bi-district playoff game.

“We wanted to get momentum early, and we did,” Dodd said. “We chose to take the ball and we were able to march it right down and score.”

Riley Fritsch scored Blaine’s first touchdown on a one-yard run. Liberty had a quick three-and-out on its first possession and Blaine kicker Kyle Sentkowski kicked a field goal on Blaine’s next possession for a 10–0 lead.

Chase Abshere scored Blaine’s second touchdown on a 6-yard reception from Jalen Kortlever early in the second quarter, to make the score 17–7.

Liberty was behind in the score for only the second time all season, Valach said.

Before the half ended, Cameron Spaeth scored for Liberty on a 12-yard run and Isaiah Owens snagged a 30-yard touchdown reception after a series of plays that Dodd said changed the game’s’ momentum. Liberty ended the half with a 21–17 lead.

“That was one of, if not the, biggest series of the game,” Dodd said. “I think we needed to go into the half with the lead rather than trailing because they were going to receive the opening kickoff.”

Valach also thought momentum was a key factor in the game. Liberty didn’t change it’s strategy after the first quarter, but more awareness of Fritsch’s running game helped Liberty make some key tackles, he said.

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The Borderites huddle before last Friday’s game against Liberty High School. Photos by Janell Kortlever.

“[Fritsch] was super impressive,” Valach said. “It’s the kind of football playing I love because there’s no fanfare, he just works hard.”

Liberty kicker Noah Wright made a fake punt pass in the third quarter to Spaeth, who scored his second touchdown of the game two plays later.  Fritsch, who ran for a total of 121 yards, scored again in the third quarter to bring Blaine within a field goal of a win, but the Borderites couldn’t overcome Liberty’s defense in the final quarter.

Though Liberty is undefeated, Valach said his team went into the game knowing it would be its toughest of the season.

“The quarterback is obviously really, really good, Alfonso Dermendziev had some great plays, Fritsch is as good a back as you’re going to see,” Valach said. “It was a really good football game that clearly could have gone either way.”

Looking back at the game, Dodd said he saw things that could have gone differently, but that the Borderites played well – even recovering from the change in momentum as Liberty scored right before half-time – throughout the game and season. Especially the seniors, he said.

“It’s sad that it’s over and that their careers at Blaine High School are over, but they’re just great people,” Dodd said. “It’s a smart, hardworking disciplined group.”

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