It’s not how long you lead, it’s when.
Tumwater High School running back Hunter Baker scampered 53 yards for a touchdown with less than two minutes to play to lift the sixth-seeded T-Birds to a 21-14 victory over No. 11 Prosser in the opening round of the Class 2A state playoffs Saturday at Tumwater District Stadium.
“They called a 37-cross block in the huddle,” Baker said. “They said run your butt off, get behind your blocks and run. I saw (running back) Dylan Loftis come through the hole and I read his block — and it was green grass.
“So I started taking off, looking backward and (wide receiver) Danny Goodburn was there right behind me, telling me to, ‘Go, go, go. Open field,’ And that’s how I knew I had it.”
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Baker also scored the tying touchdown for the T-Birds (10-1) on a 1-yard run with 4:55 left in the third quarter to tie the game at 14-14.
Baker finished with 17 carries for 128 yards to lead the T-Birds, who didn’t lead until Baker’s second score.
The game’s decisive drive began from the Tumwater 27 with 2:30 left. Tight end Thomas Drayton caught a 7-yard pass to start the drive, and Baker then rushed for 10 yards as the clock slipped under two minutes.
On the next play, Baker took the handoff and jetted into the end zone with 1:47 to go.
“He’s just a tough, hard-nosed kid,” Tumwater coach Bill Beattie said. “He’s an inside runner and gets the hits in there, and then the outside guys are the fast guys. But, then he runs in that long touchdown.”
It wasn’t an easy win for Tumwater, which had a bumpy first half. Outside of a 45-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Cody Whalen to tight end Scott Duboiski with 3:06 left in the second quarter, the T-Birds struggled to move the ball.
Their signature wing-T offense failed to produce any big plays. Their longest run of the opening half was 11 yards.
Paired with a handful of penalties and two fumbles, the T-Birds were sluggish as the Mustangs held a 14-7 edge at the intermission.
Prosser running back Kord Tuttle’s 1-yard run in the first quarter gave the Mustangs a 7-0 lead.
Tumwater tied the game on Scott Duboiski’s touchdown, but Prosser took the lead again when quarterback Will Weinmann threw an 8-yard touchdown to Will Thompson, who made a one-handed grab with 54.2 seconds left in the first half.
“We just made some mistakes,” Beattie said. “We hadn’t had a turnover in about eight weeks, and we fumbled the ball twice in the first half. We had some missed assignments. We had some penalties.
“Again, we’re playing a very good football team. We just didn’t come out clicking like we should. We finished the right way though.”
The T-Birds’ defense was stingy all game.
Defensive back De-Juan Freeman recorded two key interceptions. And both times, the T-Birds converted the turnovers into touchdowns.
“I just saw the wide receiver, he was lacking,” Freeman said about his second interception. “I saw the ball in the air and I said, ‘If the ball’s in the air, it’s mine.’ ”
The T-Birds held the Mustangs to 270 yards of total offense and shut them out in the second half.
Next week, Tumwater will travel to meet third-seeded Lynden, which beat No. 14 Eatonville in the quarterfinals Saturday evening in Bellingham.
The T-Birds knocked the Lions out in the opening round a season ago.
At Lynden 34, Eatonville 14: The Cruisers held with perennial 2A powerhouse Lynden through the opening half, and carried a 7-6 lead into halftime, but the Lions eventually won out at Civic Stadium in Bellingham, eliminating Eatonville in the opening round.
Brock Heppner connected with Kobe Elsner on a 45-yard touchdown to open scoring for Lynden with 2:03 to go in the first.
The Cruisers (8-3) responded less than three minutes later on a 2-yard plunge by Tristian Schoepf, but Lynden scored the next four touchdowns.
James Marsh ran for a 60-yard score, and threw to Heppner for another 13-yard touchdown.
Heppner and Elsner connected again for 49 yards, and Heppner added another 3-yard rushing touchdown to open the fourth quarter.
Caden Jumper scored a 4-yard touchdown for the Cruisers with 34.2 seconds remaining, but it was far too late.
Lynden Christian 20, Cascade Christian 0: Easton Stremier broke a scoreless tie midway through the second quarter on a 15-yard touchdown run, and that was enough to end Cascade Christian’s season in the opening round at Civic Stadium in Bellingham.
The Cougars remained in reach until late in the second half, holding the Lyncs scoreless in the second and third quarters, but never found the end zone.
Sam Faber (1-yard run) and Tanner Feenstra (9-yard catch) both scored in the fourth quarter to help the Lyncs seal the win.
The Cougars were without quarterback Parker Johnson, who threw for 2,092 yards and 19 touchdowns in seven appearances this season.
NO. 11 PROSSER
NO. 6 TUMWATER
P – Kord Tuttle 1 run (Ryan Beightol kick)
T - Scott Duboiski 45 pass from Cody Whalen (Nathan Vani kick)
P - Will Thompson 8 pass from Weinmann (Beightol kick)
T - Hunter Baker 1 run (Vani kick)
T - Baker 53 run (Vani kick)
Passing: P – Weinmann 25-48-3-242. T – Whalen 9-13-0-121.
Rushing: P – Tuttle 5-8; Logan Candanoza 3-3. T – Baker 17-128; Dylan Loftis 13-64; Turner Allen 8-23; Rico Spienger 4-14; Zane Murphy 2-12.
Receiving: P – Tuttle 1-8; Candanoza 1-2; Anthony Kernan 5-37; Nik Wiliams 5-82; Levi Vermulm 6-47; Thompson 4-51. T – Spienger 2-31; Loftis 1-13; Allen 3-13; Scott Duboiski 1-45; Danny Goodburn 1-12; Thomas Drayton 1-7.