LYNDEN – Class 2 A fifth-ranked Archbishop Murphy entered the fourth quarter with the momentum and an 11-point lead, only to watch it melt away as third-ranked Lynden scored twice in the final 12 minutes to engineer a 24-21 comeback win on Friday night.
Lynden’s backup quarterback Brock Heppner stepped in for the injured James Marsh at the start of the fourth quarter, trailing 21-10. Two plays later, Heppner followed a wall of blockers and scampered in from four yards out to pull the Lions within four.
A holding penalty on second down, then an illegal procedure penalty on fourth-and-4 stalled the ensuing Wildcats’ drive and forced a punt with 4:20 remaining.
Eight plays later, Heppner took advantage of the Wildcats’ blown coverage and connected with wideout Kobe Elsner on a slant for a 22-yard TD strike for the go-ahead score.
“It was a magical win,” Heppner said. “There’s nothing more we could have asked for. It was crazy.”
With both teams entering the game as favorites to win the Northwest Conference 2A Sky Division, Lynden (4-0 overall, 1-0 league) now has the inside track for capturing the division crown. Archbishop Murphy (1-2, 0-1) will need to win out and hope the Lions get knocked off down the road.
Lynden’s defensive stand at the 50-yard line with 7:12 remaining was huge. Following a 17-yard run by Wildcats’ tailback Mason Mathis that put Archbishop Murphy on the 50-yard line, a holding call pushed the Wildcats back.
“We just stalled on offense,” Archbishop Murphy quarterback Victor Gabalis said. “We could have done a lot better moving the ball. We just shot ourselves in the foot.”
The Lions stuffed Mathis on a third-and-9, followed by an illegal procedure by the Wildcats on fourth-and-4 and forced a punt that led to Lynden’s game-winning drive.
“Our kids didn’t flinch,” Lynden coach Blake VanDalen said. “They stared the opponent down and said, ‘Hey, you gave us way too much time.’ We were methodical, coaches were on point, players were on point, we cleaned up out mistakes and finished.”
Archbishop Murphy’s Mason Mathis was the Wildcat’s workhorse, rushing for 135 yards and one touchdown on 29 carries, including the TD that evened the score at 7-7 with 4:06 remaining in the first quarter.
Lynden’s backup quarterback Brock Heppner stepped up when James Marsh went down with an ankle injury. Heppner scored on a 4-yard TD run two plays later, then threw the winning score on a 22-yard dart. Heppner finished 5-for-8 passing with 71 yards and two total touchdowns — all in the fourth quarter.
“Coach says every week that ‘Finish’ is our motto,” Heppner said. “That’s a prime example right there of finishing. When things don’t go your way, you come back and flip the script. That last drive was crazy.”
It took Lynden only two plays to make a statement. On the second play from scrimmage, with three receivers bunched to the right, Marsh tossed a bubble screen to wideout Grant VanderYacht, who followed a line of blockers up the left sideline and beat Wildcats’ defenders in a footrace to the end zone for a 66-yard TD.
Trailing 10-7 with 5:28 remaining in the third quarter, Gabalis uncorked a 38-yard pass to the left corner of the end zone that ended in a highlight-reel TD reception by wideout Dillon Halpin. Halpin beat his defender, leaped in the air and snatched the ball, then bobbled it and came back down with it for the go-ahead score.
Archbishop Murphy has a bye week next Friday before hosting conference-rival Lakewood (3-1) on Oct. 5. Lynden travels next Friday to take on Lakewood on the road. The next two weeks will likely clear the dust and decide who takes the division crown.
“A good team, a good program is going to challenge you,” Archbishop Murphy coach Jerry Jensen said. “This was a great high school football game, and at the end of the day we came up short — and we’ll get better because of it.”