TACOMA – It was a bold move fraught with peril, but a strategy that probably gave Lynden its best chance to come from behind and win the 2A state championship Saturday.
Trailing 14-10 to Archbishop Murpy with 4:16 to play and his team facing a 4th-and-16 from its own three-yard line, Lynden head football coach Curt Kramme decided against punting. Instead, he instructed his quarterback to run out of the back of the end zone and take a safety.
Down by four or down six? It didn’t matter, the Lions still needed a touchdown to win.
Read Aaron Lommer’s thoughts on the 2A state championship game here
Punting on fourth-and-16 puts the ball in Murphy’s hands with the opportunity to at the very least run precious time off the clock. Taking the safety gave Lynden a chance to get the ball right back with a little trickery.
It worked. The Lions recovered an onside kick following the safety and then marched 65 yards for the game-winning score.
The incredible comeback brought Kramme his fifth state championship as a coach and left him momentarily at a loss for words.
“I don’t even know,” Kramme said, when asked about the remarkable victory made him feel. “I haven’t had time to process it.”
Kramme got some help on his game-changing decisions from a couple of others on the sideline with him.
First, assistant coach Jim Taubenheim approached Kramme after the third-down play and explained to his coach, a math teacher, that with a four-point deficit, only a touchdown would help Lynden.
“You know, if you take a safety, you’re only down six,” Taubenheim told his boss.
And Kramme listened. After his team took the safety, it was time to kick the ball to Archbishop Murphy, and Kramme listened again.
“We’re gonna onside kick it aren’t we?” another assistant coach asked.
“I don’t think so,” Kramme responded.
“A first down by them ends the game,” the assistant pointed out.
Take the safety, take the chance on an onside kick. It just might be the Lions’ best chance given the time remaining.
Kramme took the chance, then his Lions took the victory.
Lynden scored first in the game, kicking a first-quarter field goal, and scored a third-quarter touchdown to go up 10-7. Murphy regained the lead with a third-quarter touchdown of its own, and the score stayed 14-10 late into the game while Lynden struggled against the Wildcats’ defense.
A Murphy kick pinned Lynden back at its own nine-yard line. With time running out, Lions’ quarterback Josh Kraght was promptly sacked for a six-yard loss. A second-down pass fell incomplete.
On third down, Kraght threw incomplete again, this time while being pulled down in the end zone. Murphy coaches, players and fans cried for an intentional grounding penalty, which, in the end zone, would have resulted in a safety.
They didn’t get the safety on that play. It came on the next one.
“At first I was wondering,” Kraght, a junior, said of the intentional safety called by his coach on fourth down. “All right, I just gotta trust Coach Kramme. It takes a lot of football knowledge (for Kramme) to do that.”
“It made perfect sense,” Archbishop Murphy head coach Dave Ward said.
After that play, came another critical moment — the onside kick. Kraght and his coach knew if they could get the ball back, Lynden had a shot to come back.
After recovering the onside kick, it took two minutes and 33 seconds for the Lions to tie the score, and then a couple more seconds to kick the extra point and take the lead.
“Our offense is equipped for big plays,” said Kraght, who completed nine of his 20 pass attempts for 100 yards and a touchdown.
Lynden’s final drive was a stark contrast to the first half, when Murphy’s defense had its way with the Lions, allowing them just 11 yards of total offense — 18 passing and minus-seven rushing.
The Lions didn’t have a lot of time to rack up good statistics in the game. They had just three possessions totaling 5 minutes and 42 seconds the first half.
Murphy’s offense was just as dominant as its defense to start the game. The Wildcats controlled the ball for 18 minutes, 18 seconds. A big part of Murphy’s early success was because of its rushing attack. The Wildcats ran the ball 35 times in the first half, accounting for 155 of their 164 offensive yards then.
“We couldn’t get them off the field,” Kramme said.
Lynden’s late-game decisions frustrated and confused those on Murphy’s sideline, but the Wildcats refused to fold. There was still 1:40 to play.
“At first, I was really, really angry,” running back / quarterback Hans VanderWel said. “Then it’s just focus and come back from it.”
“Hey, next play. I was just looking at the score,” Wildcats running back Eneliko Tevaga said. “It’s disappointing, but you can’t win them all.”
This season, Kramme’s Lions did. They posted the first undefeated season in Lynden history, according to Kramme, going 14-0. However, Kramme is the first person to admit that a championship was never a guaranteed result.
“Archbishop is a really fine football team,” Kramme said. “They had every right to win this game. I’m glad they didn’t.”
Player of the Game | Archbishop Murphy
Senior Conner Kruse made the most out of his last game as an Archbishop Murphy Wildcat. He ran the ball efficiently on offense and bottled up Lynden runners as a linebacker on defense.
Even with a wild finish that led to a second straight defeat in the title game for Murphy, Kruse stood by his teammates all the way to the finish, even going so far as to call this his best year as a Wildcat.
“It was a great year,” Kruse said. “This is my family, it really is. … This has been the funnest year I’ve had.”
In his high school finale, Kruse rushed 16 times for 75 yards, including an eight-yard touchdown run where he dragged at least seven of Lynden’s 11 defenders on the field into the end zone with him.
Kruse also filled in at quarterback, completing 4-of-6 passes for 54 yards.
“Conner runs hard, and he threw the ball really well,” Murphy head coach Dave Ward said. “Conner is a senior, and went out at the top of his game. He played a great championship football game, and he should have a lot to be proud of.”
Kruse seemed to agree with his coach, although it sounded like he wouldn’t have minded one last victory in the Archbishop Murphy uniform. “Second is disappointing,” Kruse said, “but it’s still a proud moment to be here.”
Player of the Game | Lynden
Lynden quarterback Josh Kraght only completed nine-of-20 passes, but those nine completions went for 100 yards and a touchdown. Kraght followed his coach’s orders to run into the back of the end zone on 4th and 16 from his own three-yard line, and then subsequently led his team on a 2A State Championship-winning drive in 2 minutes, 33 seconds after the Lions recovered an onside kick.
The play everybody will be talking about on the drive home is Lynden head coach Curt Kramme’s decision to call for an intentional safety on fourth down. It gave Archbishop Murphy two points, and widened its lead to 16-10. However, it also set up an opportunity for an onside kick, which Lynden seized. The Lions recovered the kick with a little over four minutes to play and suddenly found themselves with much better field position than they had just a few seconds earlier.
The momentum shifted with the intentional safety and onside kick and the score did the same 2 minutes and 33 seconds later when Kyle Hanson ran to the left side and past everybody for an 11-yard touchdown run. Santiago Lopez added the extra point and Lynden took the final lead of the game.
He said it
“I’m a math teacher.” – Lynden head coach Curt Kramme, upon crunching the numbers and realizing that his team needed a touchdown, whether it was down by four points or, with a safety, six.
By David Krueger, Herald Writer