If you ever doubted that George Fairhart could go for the gusto, take notice.
He did Saturday night at the most crucial juncture of a Class 1A state quarterfinal football game — and it paid off for his fifth-ranked Eatonville Cruisers.
Coming all the way back from a three-touchdown deficit to send the game into overtime, the longtime Cruisers coach decided to gamble and go for a two-point conversion — and got it in Eatonville’s stunning 29-28 victory over reigning state runner-up Mount Baker at Civic Stadium in Bellingham.
Eatonville (11-0) advanced to the state semifinals for the first time since 1997, and will play No. 1 Cascade Christian on Saturday in the Tacoma Dome.
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After the Mountaineers (9-3) scored on their overtime series to take a 28-21 lead, the Cruisers went right back and got a score on Ryan Franz’s run.
Trailing 28-27, Fairhart told his offense to stay on the field to go for the victory.
“I thought it was time to go for it,” Fairhart said. “I just wanted to win on our terms.”
Fairhart said two plays were called in the huddle. The first one was an off-tackle run. But as soon as the Mount Baker defensive line shifted in that direction, the Cruisers instead went with a quarterback sneak, which Jacob McCormick converted right up the gut for the winning points.
Three lost Mountaineer fumbles, a punt netting zero yards, an Eatonville onside-kick recovery and another two-point conversion, all within the final 11:51, helped the Cruisers overcome a three-touchdown deficit and send the game into that memorable overtime period.
Mount Baker used strong defense, hard-running and some trickery to build a 21-0 lead heading into the fourth.
The Cruisers started the comeback by cashing in on the first of two Liam Short fumbles. McCormick, who went 10 of 17 for 73 yards and a scoring pass, finished a 35-yard drive with a 12-yard touchdown run to cut Mount Baker’s lead to 21-6 with 10:36 to go.
A Mount Baker punt that yielded no yards then gave the Cruisers the ball at the Mountaineers’ 11 with 6:34 to play.
Five plays later, Eatonville scored on a fourth-and-6 on a 7-yard touchdown pass from McCormick to Justin Kaelin, trimming the lead to 21-13.
With the Mountaineers trying to run the clock out, Short was stripped of the ball, setting up Ryan Franz’s 6-yard touchdownrun with 1:40 left. Eatonville converted the two-point try with a QB sneak to send the game to OT.
“We have some great leaders on our team,” Fairhart said. “They didn’t get down. They didn’t start complaining. They hung together, and that gave us the opportunity to come back.”