DEMING — Luke Smith, in his first-ever start at quarterback, found senior wide receiver Landen Hanstead in the corner of the end zone for a 9-yard, go-ahead touchdown with 4:26 left in the game and Mount Baker hung on to beat Meridian 30-27 on Friday, Oct. 20 at Mount Baker High School.
Smith, a 6-foot-3 sophomore who was filling in for injured starter Toga Tigilau, finished with two crucial touchdowns to keep Mount Baker (3-5, 2-1 Northwest Conference) alive in the 1A state playoff race (1A District 1 gets one automatic state bid and one crossover bid).
“All week, we’ve kind of been practicing harder than normal because, you know, we have to win this to have a chance for playoffs,” Smith said. “I just kind of had to go in with a mindset where I have to succeed.”
Smith’s first touchdown was nearly as important as his eventual game-winner. On Mount Baker’s first drive of the second half, trailing 14-9, Smith broke two open-field tackles on a 14-yard touchdown scamper, running through multiple Meridian defenders at the goal line.
He finished 4-of-9 passing for 53 yards, one touchdown and an interception. He added 38 yards rushing and another score on six carries.
“[Smith has] got some ability to make some plays on his feet, which he did,” Mount Baker head coach Ron Lepper said. “I’m really happy for him. As his first high school start, you know, to come here at home [and win] in a game like this that we had to have.”
Meridian (3-5, 0-4 NWC) entered the game already eliminated from postseason contention, but the Trojans were on the doorstep of ending Mount Baker’s playoff hopes.
It came down to the little things, Meridian head coach Patrick Ames said.
“The team that tackled better tonight won,” Ames said. “Football, you know, in its simplest form, is blocking and tackling and [Mount Baker] did it better than we did.”
The Trojans responded to Mount Baker junior running back Dylan Moa’s 55-yard touchdown run on the first play of the game by putting together a 4-play, 67-yard touchdown drive — capped by a 3-yard rushing score from senior Joshtyn Elmer — to tie the game at 7-7 before two minutes had even come off the first quarter clock.
Early in the second quarter, Meridian junior running back Landen Downey punched in the first of his two rushing touchdowns on a 16-yard rumble to give the Trojans a 14-7 lead.
Meridian Jaeger Fyfe’s interception on the Trojans’ 2-yard line became a nightmare when Elmer was tackled in the end zone for a safety on the very next play, sending the game to halftime with Meridian leading 14-9.
Smith gave the Mountaineers a one-point lead, 15-14, following his rushing score, but Downey’s second score of the night — a 2-yard dive — gave the Trojans a 20-15 advantage.
Moa, who finished the game with 167 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 20 carries, initiated yet another lead change with his ensuing 3-yard touchdown run, and Hanstead converted the two-point conversion on an end-around to give Mount Baker an even 23-20 lead.
Elmer found the end zone again on another long Meridian drive with 25.9 seconds left in the third quarter, and the Trojans entered the final frame leading 27-23.
Hanstead’s touchdown eight minutes later would be the sixth and final lead change of the contest. Mount Baker senior defensive lineman Alex Maloley sealed the win via a batted pass at the line of scrimmage on fourth down from the Mountaineers’ 14-yard line.
“Regardless of what didn’t go right or, you know, what we could have done differently, when we had to get a stop, we got one,” Lepper said.
Hanstead finished the game with two catches for 17 yards and a touchdown while also carrying the ball three times for 32 yards. Junior running back Brady Bruland also turned 13 carries into 49 yards for Mount Baker.
Elmer led Meridian with 101 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries while adding five catches for 83 yards. Downey carried the ball 13 times for 93 yards and two scores.
Fyfe completed 15 of 26 passes for 189 yards for Meridian, and senior wide receiver Cohen Fuller had four catches for 55 yards.
Mount Baker has a chance to force a three-way tiebreaker with Lynden Christian (6-2, 3-0 NWC) and Nooksack Valley (5-2, 2-1 NWC) if the Mountaineers can beat LC at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 27 in Lynden.
Next up for Meridian is a non-league home game versus Bellingham (5-3) at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 27 at home.