BATTLE GROUND — The La Center Wildcats missed out on their opportunity to become a final four football team Saturday afternoon, losing for the first time in 2012.
“It’s not like we had a bad season. It just feels that way right now,” senior lineman Jacob Mendez said.
Always tough after a loss, but the Wildcats quickly appreciated all that they accomplished this year.
“We have to be proud of what we did,” senior lineman Josh McNeal said. “I have no regrets. I love all of my teammates. I love all of our fans. I love all of our coaches. Sometimes, it’s your day. Sometimes, it’s not.”
This day belonged to Mount Baker.
The Mountaineers shook off a nine-point deficit after the first quarter and beat the Wildcats 24-9 in the Class 1A state quarterfinals at District Stadium.
“I’m so proud of our team,” La Center coach John Lambert said. “They fought all the way to the end. Sometimes you just run into a better team. Give Mount Baker a lot of credit. They are a well-coached, physically strong team.”
The Mountaineers demonstrated that strength for the final three quarters.
Jake Schleimer rushed for 151 yards on 22 carries and secured the win with a 24-yard touchdown run with 2:03 left in the game.
In all, the Mountaineers gained 316 yards of offense after being held to 25 yards in the first quarter. Defensively, they shut down the La Center offense, holding the Wildcats to 137 yards. The teams came into the game with the second- and third-best rushing attacks in all of Washington 1A football.
“It was kind of a weird offense to figure out,” Mount Baker defensive lineman Matt Scoles said. “Once we got it figured out, we had them stopped. They weren’t running the ball up the middle at all.”
La Center’s defense shined early, getting the ball to the offense on the 19-yard line just minutes into the game. The Wildcats converted on a 2-yard touchdown run from Conner Fulton for a quick 6-0 lead.
Mendez recovered a fumble on Mount Baker’s next possession, and the Wildcats converted with a Conner Wonderly field goal to make it 9-0.
La Center never got closer than the Mount Baker 41-yard line the rest of the game.
The Mountaineers got a second-quarter field goal from Edgar Zavala, then took the lead for good on their first possession of the second half. Quarterback Andrew Zender found Dylan Howard for a 28-yard touchdown pass. Zender completed six passes for 77 yards Saturday — all to Howard.
Mount Baker’s Izaiha Schwinden broke free on a third-and-9 play for a 53-yard touchdown run with 7 minutes in the fourth quarter.
La Center got the ball two more times with that score but failed to convert. Then Schleimer ended it with his 24-yard touchdown.
The Wildcats got another first down in its desperation mode, but a lost fumble to end the contest.
Despite the loss, the 2012 Wildcats get to claim a Trico League title and an undefeated regular season. They also became the first La Center team to win a state playoff game since 2004.
As Mendez said, not a bad season at all.
MOUNT BAKER 24, LA CENTER 9
Mount Baker 0 3 7 14–24
La Center 9 0 0 0– 9
LC — Conner Fulton 2 run (kick blocked)
LC — Conner Wonderly 24 FG
MB — Edgar Zavala 22 FG
MB — Dylan Howard 28 pass from Andrew Zender (Zavala kick)
MB — Izaiha Schwinden 53 run (Zavala kick)
MB — Jake Schleimer 24 run (Zavala kick)
RUSHING — Mount Baker: Schleimer 22-151, Schwinden 9-70, Kaleb Brownfield 3-25, Zender 5-3, Team 3-(minus-10.). La Center: Taylor Dreyer 18-63, Fulton 11-29, Jared Huddleston 4-15, Tyrone Kulla 3-6, Dylan King 5-(minus-2).
PASSING — Mount Baker: Zender 6-11-0-77. La Center: King 3-7-0-26.
RECEIVING — Mount Baker: Howard 6-77. La Center: A.J. Myers 2-19, Huddleston 1-7.