Tuesday night’s play-in matchup between Blaine and Cedarcrest ended in a 35-24 Red Wolves victory, ending the Borderites’ 2011 season and leaving Borderites players and fans wondering what might have been.
Blaine (4-6 overall, 4-4 league) ended their season smack dab in the middle, finishing fourth out of eight teams in the NWC 2A class.
Head coach Jay Dodd had no trouble pinpointing what went wrong.
“We didn’t play well on third downs, we didn’t play well on defense and we turned the ball over on offense a couple times,” Dodd said. “That’s what cost us.”
Mario Gobbato, the cornerstone of the Borderites’ offense, finished in typically stellar fashion, rushing for a season-high 386 yards on 36 carries and picking up all four Blaine touchdowns.
Still, those who have been tracking the junior running back’s cumulative yardage may be left wanting more after learning that Gobbato closed out the season a mere 9 yards shy of the state’s all-time single-season rushing record (2,678 yards, set by Ferndale’s Mathias Wilson in 1997).
With an average of 10.7 yards per carry in Tuesday’s game, it’s possible just one more handoff might have elevated Gobbato over the state record. Either way, the junior had a monstrous season, running up more than double the yardage of this season’s second-leading rusher (Mount Baker’s Levi Wigg, with 1,259 yards).
Despite turning in his highest single-game yardage ever, Gobbato’s effort was marred by three uncharacteristic fumbles, two of which wound up in Cedarcrest possession.
“On a night like tonight, when our defense is struggling to stop [Cedarcrest], we can’t afford offensive turnovers,” Dodd said. “When you rush for that many yards, you feel like you should score on every possession, and I think we stopped ourselves by turning the ball over.”
Another contributing factor to Tuesday’s loss, perhaps more so than Blaine’s three turnovers, was Cedarcrest’s clutch offensive conversions. The Red Wolves were able to convert an impressive 10 of 15 third downs. They also were perfect in fourth-down attempts, going 3-for-3, including a crafty fake punt setup that allowed quarterback Hunter Lee to find receiver Chris Dowd all alone for a 44-yard touchdown reception.
Blaine faced another unusual setback in their special teams coordination Tuesday, going 0-for-4 in scoring attempts with two failed two-point attempts and two blocked field goals. If those attempts had been successful, the Borderites would have remained tied or within one touchdown through the end of the third quarter. Instead, Blaine played catch-up the entire game.
A Borderite victory remained within reach as Blaine entered the fourth quarter trailing 28-24. However, 15 seconds later, Lee hit tight end Nick Gagner for a 44-yard touchdown reception to finalize the score at 35-24.
Despite the shortcomings in Tuesday’s game, there is a lot to look forward to next season. Gobbato’s return is one serious highlight. Blaine’s defensive core will also return, along with many of the offensive linemen.
Both Gobbato and Dodd expressed their disappointment that the senior players had reached the limits of their 2011 season success.
“Our seniors are outstanding people. Most of the graduating kids have been with us for all four years,” Dodd said. “They are great kids and teammates, and they do everything we ask of them. I sure wish we could have won some more of those closer games this year for them, because they deserve it.”