YAKIMA, Wash. — For a start, it couldn't have been more ideal.
But as for the worst fears, they couldn't have been more real.
La Salle's hard-running offense gained 90 yards on its first two possessions for a 7-0 lead while the defense opened with a three-and-out and an interception.
But Lynden Christian's size and depth absorbed the quick-start blow, began to exert itself in the second quarter and then took the game over in the second half as the Lyncs left Zaepfel Stadium with a 31-7 victory in the Class 1A state quarterfinals.
While the Lightning defense did a more-than-credible job against LC's ground game, quarterback Trajan Schouten rarely missed his targets, connecting on 15 of 18 passes for 229 yards and finishing the game with eight straight completions.
After hitting a field goal as time expired in the first half for a 10-7 lead, Lynden Christian scored on its first two drives of the third quarter to stretch the margin to 24-7. That put La Salle's run-based offense in the unfamiliar and uncomfortable position of playing catch-up, and the Lyncs sealed its win with three interceptions in the final period.
"That's a really good team over there with some great athletes," said coach Cody Lamb. "We felt we had a good plan today, but I can't help but feel I let the kids down by not being better prepared. It's playoff football and at this level you have to be almost perfect."
When the game was still very much in question, a crucial element that eluded La Salle's defense was stopping LC in third-and-long situations. On the Lyncs' two scoring drives in the second quarter they converted third downs of 21, 15, 10 and 8 yards.
LC finished the day 10-for-14 on third-down conversions.
"Third downs really hurt us," Lamb said. "We just couldn't get off the field, and that kept their drives going. Eventually, with their size and depth, we wore a little."
Lynden Christian's defense, considered the strength of the team, was definitely that after the initial gut punch. The Lightning gained 101 yards on its first 20 plays in the opening period but was held to 56 yards for the rest of the game.
Junior running back Ryan Kershaw ran for 51 of his 64 yards in the first half, and senior quarterback Kieran Kershaw threw for 50 yards and ran for 42. Kieran was hobbled enough with a lower leg injury to leave the game midway through the third quarter, but he returned quickly.
"We got behind and it put Kieran in a bad spot, plus he was hurting," said Lamb of his two-time SCAC West offensive player of the year. "I hate to have this as his final game because he's been such a great quarterback and leader for us."
La Salle's three-month run ended at 11-1 while Lynden Christian (10-1) will take an eight-game win streak into next week's semifinals against Deer Park, a 20-17 winner over Montesano.
"We fell short of our goal but this was a successful season no matter what," said senior linebacker Axcel Valladares. "Everyone gave it their all, but we came up a little short on some of the big plays. Everybody sacrificed a lot to get this far. The connection we all had was special."
The Lyncs used six different running backs, Schouten threw to six different receivers and his 6-foot-4 junior backup led the final scoring drive of the day. Ultimately, that depth was too much to handle.
"Depth is always going to be a challenge for us deep in the playoffs," Lamb stated. "It's been a grind all season with a lot of guys banged up — nobody's healthy. So I'm really proud of the way they fought today. I love football and the X's and O's of the game, but what I really love is coaching these kids. They changed my life."
La Salle — Kieran Kershaw 19 run (Nathan Ponce kick)
LC — Easton Stremier 1 run (Eli DenBleyker kick)
LC — FG DenBleyker 25
LC — Jackson Corkill 3 pass from Trajan Schouten (DenBleyker kick)
LC — Stremier 1 run (DenBleyker kick)
LC — Levi Korthuis 1 run (DenBleyker kick)
RUSHING — LC, Stremier 15-51, Logan Dykstra 3-26, David Bootsma 7-22, Corkill 2-12, Jackson Apol 1-12, Korthuis 4-7, Zach Sipma 1-2, Team 2-(minus 6), Schouten 10-(minus 30). La Salle, Ryan Kershaw 16-64, K. Kershaw 11-42, Axcel Valladares 2-1.
PASSING — LC, Schouten 15-18-1-229, Dykstra 3-4-0-16. La Salle, K. Kershaw 7-15-3-50.
RECEIVING — LC, Corkill 5-77, Bryce Bouwman 4-78, Sipma 3-53, Stremier 3-7, Korthuis 2-30, Bootsma 1-0. La Salle, Kannon Quesnell 2-26, Harley Hemenway 2-8, Sahil Randhawa 1-7, Nathan Sedgwick 1-5, Valladares 1-4.