In what has to be the best Hazen football playoff game since 1991 when the Highlanders defeated two-time defending champion Tumwater 21-20, this Saturday night the Highlanders traveled to Bellingham to take on seventh-ranked Ferndale.
The challenge was great and Hazen's didn't disappoint. However, they came up short, losing 22-16 despite a final drive reaching the Ferndale 45.
"This was the team we knew since their freshman year," said Hazen Head Coach Drew Oliver about his seniors after the game in the teams locker room.
Hazen was in rare form, marching down the field on their opening drive. Junior running back Jordan Abdullah went 36-yards to the Ferndale 13. Then, junior running back Joe Glaefke put Hazen up 7-0 on a one yard touchdown run.
On Ferndale's opening drive, they made it to the Hazen 10 before Hazen's Kyle Nelson intercepted the ball in the endzone.
On Hazen's second drive, senior quarterback Tony Nipert connected with Isaiah Davis for a 69-yard touchdown reception. However, an illegal shift forced Hazen to punt.
Hazen would suffer another blow after driving the ball to the Ferndale 5. On the next play, Marquise Lee rushed toward the end zone, but was pushed along the goal line. Referees stated he fumbled the ball before his knee was down and that he was short by a couple feet from the goal line.
The head referee declined comment after the game, when asked if forward progress would have been in play, since the Lee wasn't making progress going side to side by forward before the fumble. However, referees did rule the ball was in the endzone and receoved by Ferndale.
The teams would trade punts again, this time Ferndale scored before halftime after several tackling miscues hurt Hazen for Ferndale big plays. Richmond Baardson scored from five yards out to tie the game at half.
In the locker room, team co-captain Cody Moorhead told his team, "if you guys want to win, provide it."
Head Coach Drew Oliver said "we all know who won that first half; it's not panic mode time."
The Highlanders came out running, eating much of the 3rd quarter clock. Hazen was in striking distance again at the Ferndale eight yard line when the referees ruled that Hazen fumbled the ball at the eight, but that Ferndale had the ball despite a Hazen player coming out from the pile with the ball.
Ferndale didn't fair better, they were forced to punt. A high snap forced Ferndale punter to the end zone before being tackled for a safety and 9-7 Hazen.
The Highlanders continued to pound the ball on the ground, as Mason Jacobs scores a 35-yard touchdown for a 16-7 lead with 11:24 left in the game.
Ferndale responded right back with a 68-yard pass to the Hazen 7, then a five yard touchdown run by Cooper Clark for a Hazen 16-14 lead with 9:47 left in the game.
Hazen made it to midfield, but a flag for holding forced Hazen to punt. Punter Kyle Nelson did a great job after the ball went over his head, kicking it to the Ferndale 32 yard line with 5:39 left.
Ferndale moved the ball for two quick first downs before fumbling the ball at the Hazen 42 with the Highlanders recovering. But Hazen went 4 and out and punted the ball with 2:58 left in the game and a two point lead.
The Golden Eagles moved the ball down the field to the Hazen 3 yard line. Hazen called time out with 56.2 left in the game. Hazen's defense stopped Ferndale's inside attack for a 3rd and 2 with 46.1 left. Ferndale scored on a two yard touchdown run by Alex Conley and a two point conversion by Cooper Clark for a 22-16 lead with 40 seconds in the game.
Hazen started off on their 23 yard line with no timeouts. Hazen made it to Ferndale 45 with 6.5 left. On their last play, the Highlanders did several laterals before being tackled and ending the game.
"We asked of you and you delivered," said Oliver in a closed door meeting with his team afterward. Patch was allowed in the locker room as the seniors were given the time they needed to say thank you to the coaches and teammates for the season.
"How you left it on the field tonight, there is no better," said Oliver.
Moorhead who is being heavily recruited by Army, Eastern Washington, Air Force and Wyoming told his team, "the level of passion-- you showed me you love football. I enjoyed playing as brothers and be able to smash some heads. Football is a gateway to becoming a man."
"We fought hard tonight, we didn't back down. It's the best I can ask of you. Football is my key to my future. I will be representing Hazen football at the next level," said Moorhead.
Hazen ends the season at 5-5.