Blaine breaks through fog to best Meridian

Published on Wed, Oct 23, 2013 by Ian Ferguson

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It was a foggy night in Meridian on October 18 when the Borderites challenged the Trojans on their home turf in the most important game of the season so far. The Borderites snatched a 24–21 come from behind win with an untested sophomore quarterback running the offense for three quarters of the game, but major injuries cast a pall on both teams.

Blaine was certainly the underdog going in. The two teams were tied at 2–0 in Northwest Conference (NWC) standings, but Meridian has a bigger line, an all-star back (conference-leading Letrez Jones) and a legendary coach (13-year veteran Bob Ames). To top it off, the Trojans were defending their home turf.

When starting quarterback Nathan Kramme went down late in the first quarter clutching his knee, Blaine’s hopes for a win – 
along with a successful second half of the season – seemed to be sidelined with him. Coaches have described Kramme as “the general” of Blaine’s offense. A junior with a great arm and game smarts, he can scramble as well as he can throw, and he keeps defenses guessing. As of October 22, coaches were waiting on MRI results and said Kramme would not likely play in Friday’s game against Mount Baker.

As coaches and trainers helped Kramme off the Meridian field, throwing coach Sean Linville worked with second-string quarterback Marcus Potts, a tall, thin sophomore with a good arm but little game experience, to get him ready. Potts took over the offense on Blaine’s second possession at Meridian.

“He was really nervous,” senior running back Cole Muder recalled. “I told him to keep his head on a swivel and stay calm.”

The low-hanging fog was so dense fans could barely see what players were doing and the game announcer had to omit details at times. Potts handed off to Muder two plays in a row, and 

Muder gained a first down. Potts was taken down in the backfield for a nine-yard loss, but on the next play Muder broke free of the melee at the line and sprinted 34 yards to the end zone for the first score of the game with eight seconds to go in the first quarter.

The Trojans answered one play after the kickoff return. Jones scored on a 66-yard run, and he scored again on Meridian’s next possession, this time on a 60-yard run. The 5-foot, 6-inch, 140-pound senior leads the Northwest Conference (NWC) in rushing with over 1,000 yards in six games. It was clear Jones would be Meridian’s biggest offensive threat, but he left the game in the first half and did not return in the second. He was seen sitting with his leg up, but any guesses as to an injury are purely speculative.

Blaine running back Rudy Nolasco also left the game with an injury in the first half, and didn’t return. Muder said the fog might have played a factor in the roughness of the game.

“It was tough to make reads downfield – we had to react quickly,” he said. “I’ve definitely never played in a game this foggy.”

In the second quarter, Potts had some shaky moments, fumbling a snap and a handoff and throwing few complete passes. In an effort to shore up those mistakes, Blaine coaches took advantage of a long halftime to hold a spur-of-the-moment practice in the end zone.

“It’s a credit to our coaching staff and a credit to our kids that we were able to make that shift,” said head coach Jay Dodd. “We all did a good job of changing the game plan.”

In the second half, Potts’ improvement was visible even through the thick fog.

“We had confidence in [Potts], and he gained confidence in himself throughout the game,” Dodd said.

Meridian scored early in the third quarter on a pass to wide receiver Sam Chambers, making the score 21–7 Meridian. After receiving the ensuing kickoff, the Borderites put together a long drive. Muder carried for a first down in a fourth-and-long situation, then the drive gained momentum. Wide receiver Josiah Westbrook caught a nine-yard pass over the middle, and then Muder gained another first down on a six-yard run. He broke free on the next play, gaining 17 yards and bringing the ball to the Meridian 20-yard line.

On the next play, Potts dropped back to pass and launched a high spiral to the left side of the field, where Westbrook made the catch and carried it in for a touchdown halfway through the third quarter.

For the next 12 minutes of play, the defense on both teams became almost impenetrable. Blaine and Meridian traded four consecutive turnovers on downs, with both teams refusing to punt and battling for every inch of field position. Finally, halfway through the fourth quarter, Blaine broke the stalemate and evened the score at 21 apiece on a 36-yard touchdown pass to Westbrook.

“Westbrook made a couple great plays,” Dodd said.

With momentum on their side, the Borderites forced a punt on the next possession, and then traded interceptions with the Trojans. Muder carried the ball to the Meridian 17-yard line and a fourth-and-two. Blaine called time out and brought in the special teams.

Kicker Peter Benne had nailed all three of his extra point attempts, and now faced a 36-yard field goal to take the lead. Fans in the stands had trouble seeing where his booming kick went. It looked like a Meridian defender got his hand on it, tipping it sky-high. The officials’ signals eliminated all doubt – Blaine was on top 24–21 with two minutes to play.

On their subsequent drive, the Trojans fought hard to gain ground against an amped-up Blaine defense. Smelling victory, linemen Josh Fakkema and Andrey Baydak broke through to tackle the Meridian quarterback for a major loss.

“Granted I’m only a sophomore, but that was the most memorable play of my career so far,” Fakkema recalled.

The Trojans didn’t give up. They converted a fourth-and-eight and marched to the Blaine 25-yard line before the Borderite defense forced a turnover on downs and won the game.

Anthony Westbrook, a Blaine fan who made the trip to Meridian, said players on both teams played hard despite the injuries.

“Our kids played well together as a team,” he added. “Marcus (Potts) really stepped up, Cole (Muder) had a great game and my son (Josiah Westbrook) played a great game as well.”

Dodd had a similar response looking back at the game and summing up the season so far.

“I felt we were the underdogs going in even before Nate (Kramme) got hurt, but our kids don’t care about that. They believe in themselves and they believe in each other, and that’s more important than being big and strong. There’s great senior leadership on the team, and the whole team has the right attitude.”

Blaine will travel to Mount Baker Friday, October 25. The game starts at 7 p.m.