Archbishop Murphy's seniors have been oh-so-close to a state championship for the past three years and late in the fourth quarter they appeared poised to finally leave the Tacoma Dome with the trophy.
But one gutsy play call changed everything.
In the end, the Wildcats lost 17-16 to the Lynden Lions in the Class 2A state championship. It was the third playoff loss to the Lions in four seasons.
Read Aaron Lommer's thoughts on the 2A state championship game here
“You couldn't write a more amazing script to a high school football game,” Archbishop Murphy coach Dave Ward said. “I'm proud of the way our guys fought until the end. It was such a game of little things.”
The turning point that put the Lions on the path to victory was a play that put two points on the scoreboard for Archbishop Murphy. With the Lions facing a fourth-down and 16 on their own 3-yard-line and just 4:16 remaining in the game, Lynden quarterback Josh Kraght got the call from his coach to take a safety.
“At first I was wondering,” Kraght said of the play. “Alright, I just got to trust Coach Kramme.”
After the safety, the Lions perfectly executed an onside kick that they recovered at their own 35-yard-line.
“It was a great onside kick,” Ward said. “Our guy got to it the same time that their guy did, so it was a wrestling match to get the ball.”
Less than three minutes later, Kyle Hanson found the end zone on a game-winning 10-yard touchdown run.
The call for a safety seemed risky, but if the Lions had punted, the Wildcats most likely would have been able to run out the clock by gaining just one first down.
“It was a smart call,” Ward said. “It was the only thing that they had to do and they did it.”
The fact that the Lions were even in the game didn't seem to make much sense. The Wildcats were dominating in almost every major statistical category for the first three quarters, but somehow the Lions kept hanging around.
“It's a game where we could have been up by two touchdowns going into the fourth quarter,” Ward said. “But that's a great team and they make you work and earn everything you get.”
“It was frustrating,” Wildcats senior offensive lineman and linebacker Sam Shober said. “I felt like at times we had it. At the end there we missed a couple of assignments and I think we made a couple of mistakes on defense and we kind of let it slip. That's a great team. I think we played well, but at the end of the day they had a lot of discipline.”
The Wildcats defense completely dominated the first half of the game, holding the Lions to just three possessions and 11 yards of total offense.
“I don't know if anybody really expected our defense to play like that,” Shober said.
Still the Wildcats led just 7-3.
Archbishop Murphy surprised the Lions with an onside kick to start the second half. The Wildcats recovered, but couldn't capitalize as their drive stalled just four plays later on a failed fourth-and-1 attempt.
Lynden took advantage, driving 77 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
The Wildcats answered right back, driving 64 yards for a touchdown to retake the lead. The drive was highlighted by a 30-yard shovel pass from Conner Kruse to Alex Kramer and capped off by an 8-yard touchdown run by Kruse.
The third quarter ended with the Wildcats leading 14-10 and having 243 yards of total offense to just 89 for the Lions.
“I know we could have had them easily,” Kruse said. “It was just little mistakes again that did it and they took advantage of them. They are a (darn) good football team. They really are and they showed it today.”
The Wildcats held their four-point advantage until Kraght took the safety for the Lions.
Kruse completed four of his six passes for 54 yards and rushed for 75 yards on 16 carries including one touchdown. Alex Galgano had 72 yards rushing on 19 carries.
Kraght completed just nine of his 20 pass attempts for the Lions, but did throw for 100 yards and a touchdown. Zach Vis also caught five passes for 62 yards for Lynden.
It was a difficult loss for the Wildcats, but Ward was proud of his team.
“I know they are really disappointed, “Ward said. “When you think back over the way we have played and fought back, these guys are going to be champions at whatever they do. I'm so proud of their resilience.”
Junior running back and linebacker Eneliko Tevaga said his team never gave up.
“We fought till the end,” Tevaga said. “I'm proud of that.”
After losing in the semifinals to Lynden in 2008 and 2009 and falling to Tumwater in the state championship a year ago, the members of the Wildcats' senior class leave Archbishop Murphy without ever fulfilling their dreams of a state championship, but an emotional Kruse said the season was still a success.
“It was a great year. I really wouldn't have it any other way,” Kruse said. “This is my family. It really is.
“This has been the funnest year I've had, it really has.”
Ward has experienced all the highs and lows with this year's senior class. He took over as head coach in 2008 when they were freshman.
“This was a great opportunity to finally finish the season with trophy,” Ward said. “It's still hard to believe that we didn't win that game and I know (Lynden head coach Curt) Kramme can't believe he did win it.
“And I'm not going to say much. I'm going to let it settle and say that Archbishop Murphy football is alive and well and if we keep knocking on the door, someday we will bang it down.”
Ward and the Wildcats may not have left with the trophy, but he acknowledged his team was part of a classic state championship game.
“I have been in close games right to the end and this one had some strange bounces,” Ward said. “I will just say that this was as close as it could be and the ball bounced their way a couple of times that I have never seen before. So the way in which the game ended up was unique.”
Aaron Lommers covers prep sports for The Herald. Read his live blogs at www.heraldnet.com/prepzone, follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at email@example.com.
At Tacoma Dome
Archbishop Murphy 0 7 7 2 -- 16
Lynden 3 0 7 7 -- 17
L- FG Lopez 32
AM- VanderWel 5 run (Wade kick)
L-Vis 8 pass from Kraght (Lopez kick)
AM- Kruse 8 run (Wade kick)
AM-Safety (Kraght runs out of end zone)
L- Hanson 10 run (Lopez kick)
Records Archbishop Murphy 12-2, Lynden 14-0
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