The River Ridge Hawks didn’t win Saturday night in their Class 2A football opening-round state playoff game against three-time defending champion Lynden, but you’d never guess it by the raucous fan base that greeted the Hawks at Civic Stadium after the postgame handshake.
Lynden moved onto the quarterfinals with the 41-21 victory, but for River Ridge, the message moving forward is using this loss as motivation.
“This proves that River Ridge can be good,” senior Thayer Murphy said. “We haven’t done that well in the past. It just shows that River Ridge is in there. That’s going to be how it is for a long time, hopefully.”
“We have to build on this,” Hawks coach Steve Schultz said, “and we’re getting there.”
Schultz quickly gathered his players into the lockerroom postgame for an impassioned speech on a night where temperatures dipped to 31 degrees by game’s end.
The Hawks’ football program hasn’t played in this magnitude of a game since the Dale Chase-led 1998 team advanced to the state quarterfinals before losing to Cascade of Everett.
And yet, they entered Saturday’s game as an underdog with a “why not us?” mentality against a Class 2A state powerhouse program that’s won five of the last six state championships, including the past two against former 2A Evergreen Conference rival Tumwater.
But as Schultz was quick to point out: “They’re pretty freakin’ good.”
The Hawks’ speed, power run game and nearly 42 points-per-game average that led to their nine previous wins were no match for a Lions (10-1) team with a dominant passing attack. They had a 35-0 lead at halftime on just 21 first-half plays, behind quarterback Sterling Somers (4 of 5 for 157 yards in the first half) and running back Trent Postma (seven carries, 28 yards, two TDs), last year’s 2A state player of the year. On the flip side, Lynden’s No. 1s on defense held the Hawks in check.
Three receivers entered Saturday’s game with at least 500 yards on the season, including Jordan Wittenberg’s 1,038 yards and 10 touchdowns. His 36-yard touchdown reception with 9:56 remaining in the third put the game in running clock at 41-0.
Michael Key (a pair of 2-yard rushing touchdowns) and Chris Leiba (20-yard touchdown catch) had River Ridge’s touchdowns mostly against Lynden’s second- and third-string defenders.
The loss ends River Ridge’s best season program history at 9-2, one round short of reaching the .
Lynden’s run defense held River Ridge’s starters to an average of 3.8 yards per carry for most of the game, but penalties were the story early on (10 in the first half, including four false starts) killed momentum and positive drives.
“We made a lot of mental mistakes in the first half,” Murphy said.