As openers go, Mountain View and new coach Aaron Hart took on quite a test.
First, there was the opponent. Nooksack Valley, whose size and talent make it one of the favorites to win this year’s Class 1A state title, strolled into McKenzie Stadium on Friday.
Then there were the conditions. A warm and humid evening left numerous players on both teams suffering from muscle cramps.
Despite some big-play moments of brilliance, those challenges were too much for the Thunder, who fell 35-21 on Friday.
“We’ve got some talent for sure,” Hart said. “As a coaching staff we have to clean some stuff up. It didn’t look like we prepared them well enough. This is on us as a coaching staff, not on those kids.”
The first game of the season always reveals a lot about a team. Mountain View showed it can strike at any moment.
Quarterback Cash Cook threw two touchdown passes, both to Aiden Nicholson. After a 27-yard strike in the first quarter, the second went for 65 yards. That pulled Mountain View within 28-21 three plays after Nooksack Valley opened a two-score lead with 8:15 to play.
Jaden Brown also broke free for a 42-yard touchdown run that gave Mountain View a 14-7 lead in the first quarter.
“I like our explosiveness,” said Mountain View senior linebacker/offensive tackle Ayden Denbo. “We had some good long plays. I love that if we can clean it up.”
Mountain View, which reached last year’s Class 3A state preliminary round, had chances to stick with an opponent that was a Class 1A semifinalist last year. But two drives inside the 10 yielded no points.
The Thunder had a 23-yard field goal attempt in the final minute of the first half go wide. In the third quarter, a 61-yard catch by Akili Kamau set up Mountain View at the 8 yard line. But a fumble three plays later gave Nooksack Valley the ball.
Nooksack Valley, a rural school northeast of Bellingham, had no turnovers and relied on its multi-pronged rushing attack to roll up 391 yards on the ground. The Pioneers have six linemen who weigh 250 pounds or more.
Quarterback Joey Brown rushed for 183 yards and two touchdowns, including a 67-yard breakaway that put the Pioneers ahead 35-21 with 5:22 to play. Halfback Colton Lentz rushed for 91 yards and three first-half touchdowns, giving Nooksack Valley a 21-14 lead at halftime.
Making his first varsity start at QB, Cook completed 14 of 25 passes for 286 yards and one interception. Nicholson caught six of those passes for 139 yards.
“He’s got a good connection with the guys around him,” Hart said. “The offensive line did an exceptional job of giving him time, especially in the first half. In the second half they were a little worn down, so he had to run for his life a little bit.”
The cramping that afflicted both teams took a greater toll on Mountain View, which had 34 players in uniform versus more than 50 on the Nooksack Valley sideline. Multiple Thunder receivers were sidelined for several plays as trainers helped stretch their legs. The temperature was in the low 80s at Friday’s 4:30 p.m. kickoff.
“It was awful today,” Hart said. “That’s something I wasn’t anticipating. We’ve got to make sure to give them extra water breaks, even in practice. We’ve got to come up with an extra mechanism to clean this up, some extra potassium.”
Despite running low on gas in the fourth quarter, Mountain View showed plenty it can build on. The offense racked up 407 yards. The defense came up with multiple stops in a shutout third quarter, letting the Thunder stay within 21-14 until the fourth.
Denbo hopes Friday’s tough first-week test leads to more resilience later in the season.
“At the end of the day, they’re a tough team,” Denbo said. “They’re a technical team and they tired us out in the third and fourth quarter. If we grow our bond as teammates, we can step above that.”
NOOKSACK VALLEY 35, MOUNTAIN VIEW 21
Nooksack Valley 7 14 0 14—35
Mountain View 14 0 0 7—21
NV —Colton Lentz 2 run (Jorgen Vigre kick)
MV — Aiden Nicholson 27 pass from Cash Cook (Owen Purvis kick)
MV —Jaden Brown 42 run (Purvis kick)
NV — Lentz 2 run (Vigre kick)
NV — Lentz 1 run (Vigre kick)
NV — Joey Brown 17 run (Vigre kick)
MV — Nicholson 65 pass from Cook (Purvis kick)
NV — Brown 67 run (Vigre kick)
RUSHING — Nooksack Valley: Colton Lentz 14-91, Corey Olney 4-19, Jackson Bennett 3-30, Joey Brown 14-183, Skyler Whittern 11-63, Mason Moua 1-5. Mountain View: Jaden Brown 10-86, Cameron Magnussen 3-8, James Thompson 5-24, Cash Cook 4-3.
PASSING — Nooksack Valley: Joey Brown 8-13-0-74. Mountain View: Cash Cook 14-25-1-286.
RECEIVING — Nooksack Valley: Jackson Bennett 2-25, Evan Bravo 4-41, Skyler Whittern 1-5, Tristan Kamphouse 1-3. Mountain View: Akili Kamau 5-104, Aiden Nicholson 6-139, Jaden Brown 2-26, Dylan Huber 1-12.