With under a minute to go and down by 14 points to Lord Tweedsmuir, it would have been easy for Blaine fans to pack up and leave Blaine High School stadium, but they would have missed one of the most spectacular comeback attempts in recent memory.
Although the comeback fell short and the home team lost 35–34, it was an electrifying finish to a game that defied expectations.
One of the unspoken expectations for Blaine fans was that the Canadian opponents wouldn’t compete as well as they did. Historically, Blaine rarely loses to teams from Canada, where football is not the most popular sport.
That expectation seemed to be spot on during the first possession of the game, when the Borderites marched decisively to
the Tweedsmuir one-yard line. However, a Blaine fumble followed quickly by a Panther touchdown hinted that Lord Tweedsmuir didn’t cross the border to be walked over.
“These guys are surprisingly good,” said Blaine fan Kerry Sells.
Blaine’s defense struggled to contain Panther tailback Jamel Lyles all night. He broke dozens of tackles to run for 119 yards and two touchdowns, caught three passes for 120 yards and a touchdown, and returned a kickoff 92 yards for a fourth touchdown.
The 5-foot-11-inch, 200-pound senior was the top-rated running back in B.C. last year. He hopes to play for an American college after he graduates high school (he mentioned Ohio, among others). When asked what it’s like to be a standout football player in a country that doesn’t focus on gridiron football, he gave credit to his offensive line and said, “We always get hyped up to play games in America.”
As impressive as Lyles’ numbers were, he didn’t hog the spotlight. Blaine captain Cole Muder earned 145 yards for Blaine on consistent run plays, and wide receiver Josiah Westbrook had an all-star night. He caught five touchdown passes from quarterback Nathan Kramme, and the pair connected for 138 yards.
In one of the best defensive plays of the game, Westbrook prevented a Lord Tweedsmuir touchdown by stripping the ball from the runner at the Blaine one-yard line. The ball bounced out the back of the end zone for a Blaine touchback.
“I was focused on forcing the fumble and keeping the ball inbounds,” Westbrook said regarding the heads-up play. It was the second fumble he had caused in the game.
Westbrook also kept Blaine’s hopes alive when he scored in the final minute of the game to bring the score to 35–28 Lord Tweedsmuir. Then, with 28 seconds to play and down by seven, he recovered the onside kick that kicker Peter Benne freshman kicker Kyle Sentkowski* sent bouncing off the hands of one of the Lord Tweedsmuir special teams players. Westbrook went on to catch the final TD reception in the final seconds of the game to bring the score to 35–34 Lord Tweedsmuir.
Peter Benne, a kicker who also plays soccer, had been putting on a special teams clinic when he lined up to kick the tying extra point. His thunderous kickoffs regularly pinned Lord Tweedsmuir behind their own 20-yard line. He sent four extra point attempts through the uprights with authority. He also converted a fourth down when he picked up a flubbed hike on a punt attempt, dodged a few tackles and ran the ball 12 yards.
“I was surprised to see him shake off those tackles, but when he did I knew he’d pick up the first down because he’s one of the fastest kids on the team,” head coach Jay Dodd said.
“That play fired us up,” Westbrook said. “Our defense was tired, and that rallied us.”
Benne’s impeccable performance was marred in heartbreaking fashion for Blaine in one of the last plays of the game.
After Westbrook’s final TD reception, Benne scored Blaine’s extra point to tie the game on his first attempt, but Blaine was penalized five yards for not having enough players on the field, and the point was redacted. On the second attempt, a Lord Tweedsmuir linebacker got his hand on the ball and blocked the kick, costing Blaine the game.
Dodd didn’t make excuses for Benne, saying he is working on getting more height under the ball, but he said it was mistakes like the illegal formation that cost Blaine the game.
“You want to give the other team credit,” he said. “They looked good on film and even better in person. But we didn’t play our best. We made a lot of mistakes that we can’t make in the future, especially on defense.”
Players were missing their slots and missing their tackles. Dodd said many of the missed tackles were due to basic mistakes like poor body positioning. The conclusion?
“We’re going to go back to basics on defense,” Dodd said. He outlined a plan to get the Borderite defense up to snuff before conference play begins in October.
“We’re going to work on lining up correctly, executing positions correctly and playing the fundamentals better,” he said. “We’re keeping it simple, and not asking the players to do too much.”
With the same starting lineup underperforming in the last two games, Dodd said he and the other coaches are shuffling players to find a better combination on defense.
“We’re letting guys compete for spots to find a combination that works,” he said. That shuffling has been going on in practice this week and will continue in Friday’s home game against Lakewood.
“I think we’re going to play a lot of different people on defense on Friday to see who can handle game situations,” Dodd said.
On film, Lakewood looks similar to Lord Tweedsmuir with big runners and big blockers.
Their run-oriented offense has won two games this season, works up the middle as well as on the perimeter and will be a big challenge for Blaine to try and stop. Lakewood is rated in the top ten for 2A, Dodd said.
The Borderites are 0–2 in non-conference play after losing to Ferndale and Lord Tweedsmuir.
The Lakewood game begins at 7 p.m. on Friday, September 20 at Blaine High School stadium.
The first Northwest Conference game for the Borderites is scheduled for Friday, October 4 at Lynden Christian.
*Article corrected September 18 at 3:50 p.m.