WOODLAND — After a rocky start, La Center’s secondary delivered a timely game-changing moment.
Cornerback Evan Honore stepped in front of a Mount Baker deep ball and returned an interception 92 yards as time expired in the first half to complete a two-touchdown swing and sent the Wildcats into the locker room up 10 points. It was a key moment in La Center’s 42-24 win over Mount Baker on Friday night at Woodland High School.
Wildcats coach John Lambert was quick to praise.
“He’s our version of Earl Thomas,” Lambert, whose Wildcats are headed to the 1A state quarterfinals, said. “As soon as he caught it, one of the coaches was yelling in my ear, ‘it’s going to be a touchdown!’ That really helped us going into halftime feeling a little bit better about ourselves.”
Now La Center is headed to the second round to play the winner of Nooksack Valley and Cascade Christian on the road.
Honore caught all four of La Center’s completions — one of them for touchdown — and added 38 yards on the ground to his defensive outing. The Wildcats found 268 of their 309 total yards of offense on the ground in a game that featured an unceasing downpour. Running back Wyatt Dodson ran for a game-high 156 yards and two touchdowns.
La Center is no stranger to meeting up with the Bellingham-area high school in the playoffs. Lambert remembers the “shellacking” the Mountaineers gave them in 2012 and 2013, which makes it more savory now that the Wildcats have won three-straight meetings.
Friday’s game was not always the runaway win the final score indicates.
Mount Baker returned the opening kickoff to the La Center two-yard line, and scored two plays later — not 30 seconds into the game.
“It was pretty nerve-wracking at first,” Dodson said.
La Center responded quickly when Honore caught an option screen pass and scurried 17 yards in for a touchdown on the Wildcats’ first possession. But the Mountaineers took to play action, and beat La Center with two deep balls.
“We knew we had to cover the deep routes, and we just didn’t,” Honore said. “At halftime we locked it in, and changed our coverage a little bit.”
On both touchdowns — which were 32 and 50 yard passes — Mount Baker quarterback Kaleb Bass found Thomas Barbo wide open after convincingly stalling the defense with the fake handoff.
“We made some errors that were critical,” Lambert said.
The feeling was the same when Mount Baker took an 18-14 lead over the Wildcats early in the second quarter. But when the Mountaineers went for the ensuing two-point conversion, Bass went down in pain with a knee injury that ended his night in the second quarter.
Mount Baker only passed when in dire straits from there on out, and La Center defended accordingly.
“We leaned on the run game a little bit because their quarterback was gone,” Lambert said.
And it paid off.
The Wildcats put together a 10-play, 59-yard drive out of halftime that featured nine runs by Dodson. He capped the drive with a six-yard touchdown run.
“We knew we had to keep
Then came the defense.
La Center recovered two fumbles in the backfield in the third quarter. The second fumbled was followed with a 23-yard touchdown run from Honore to put the Wildcats up 42-18 — and the nail firmly in the coffin.
“We came out stronger, focused,” Dodson said, “knowing what we needed to do.”
LA CENTER 42, MOUNT BAKER 24
Mount Baker 12 6 0 6 — 24
La Center 14 14 14 0 — 42
MB — Carson Engholm 1 run (kick blocked)
LC — Evan Honore 17 pass from Hayden Williamson (Sean Fox kick)
MB — Thomas Barbo 32 pass from Kaleb Bass (conversion failed)
LC — Wyatt Dodson 14 run (Fox kick)
MB — Barbo 50 pass from Bass (conversion failed)
LC — Williamson 16 run (Fox kick)
LC — Honore 92 interception return (Fox kick)
LC — Dodson 6 run (Fox kick)
LC — Williamson 23 run (Fox kick)
MB — Carson Engholm 4 run (conversion failed)
RUSHING — Mount Baker: Carson Engholm 19-89, Carson Brandland 10-43, Sam Barrett 5-15, Junior Camacho 3-5, Kobee Malone 1-15, Jason Lee 2-4; La Center: Wyatt Dodson 28-156, Tanner Dreyer 8-23, Hayden Williamson 5-31, Evan Honore 5-38, Thomas Dreyer 4-6, Collin Namanny 4-14.
PASSING — Mount Baker: Kaleb Bass 2-4-0-84, Carson Brandland 1-7-2-28, Carson Engholm 0-1-0-0; La Center: Hayden Williamson 4-9-0-41.
RECEIVING — Mount Baker: Thomas Barbo 2-84, Junior Camacho; La Center: Evan Honore 4-41.