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Freeman expected to play for State 1A football title

Freeman junior running back Markus Goldbach has rushed for 1,326 yards and a team-leading 23 touchdowns. (Colin Mulvany)
Freeman junior running back Markus Goldbach has rushed for 1,326 yards and a team-leading 23 touchdowns. (Colin Mulvany)

This is exactly where the Freeman football team expected to be this week – preparing for a trip to the Tacoma Dome.

And there’s one other thing the Scotties have anticipated. They want to hang a State 1A championship banner at their school.

“This has been our goal since we were little kids,” junior running back Markus Goldbach said. “Playing YMCA and Pop Warner, we knew this senior group and junior group were going to be here.”

Goldbach’s cohort in the backfield, senior Max Laib, agrees.

“We made one goal at the beginning of the season and it was to get to the Dome,” Laib said. “Nothing’s going to get in our way.”

Fourth-ranked Freeman (13-0) and the No. 5 Mount Baker Mountaineers (11-1) are the highest-ranked teams left standing. They square off Saturday afternoon at 1.

Zillah, which was ranked No. 1 most of the season, was knocked off in the crossover week, No. 3 La Center was eliminated in the first round and Mount Baker sent No. 2 Cascade Christian home last week in a 31-28 overtime thriller.

In terms of offensive strategy, Freeman and Mount Baker are mirror images. The Scotties feature the one-two punch of Laib and Goldbach, and they want to control the ball and clock.

Laib has a team-leading 1,389 yards while Goldbach has 1,326 and a team-leading 23 touchdowns. Laib has 21 TDs.

The Mountaineers use a wing-T scheme with a one-two tandem of their own. Izaiha Schwinden has a team-leading 1,261 yards and 22 TDs while Liam Short has 1,150 and 16 TDs.

Both teams rely on sturdy offensive lines – and this is where the game will likely be decided. Freeman’s offensive and defensive lines are sizeable.

“It’s the linemen,” Goldbach said of the key for the Scotties. “I’m thankful for all of them.”

The quarterbacks could have an impact, too. After the Scotties found themselves in a 20-0 hole against Cashmere last Saturday, junior quarterback Preston Hoppman had a couple of key completions during pivotal drives.

Hoppman has thrown for 1,407 yards and 19 TDs.

Mount Baker quarterback Andrew Zender has thrown for 1,034 yards and 15 TDs.

There wasn’t a sign of panic from the Scotties when Cashmere used three turnovers to build its early lead – even though Freeman hadn’t played from behind, let alone from such a big deficit, all season.

“We’ve trained all year for this,” Laib said. “We knew we’d have a game where we’d have to come back.”

Freeman coach Jim Wood expects his team to play like it has all season.

“Our main objective this week is to polish everything up,” Wood said. “Mount Baker is a solid team. I thought we played real well last week after the first quarter. We were tight. Now that we’ve been in that situation we’ll be a lot calmer. We need to learn from that.”

Wood said the experience of coaching a team in the Tacoma Dome nine years ago is something he can pass along to this year’s team.

“There’s a dryness and humidity in the Dome,” said Wood, who was Freeman’s defensive coordinator when the Scotties finished second in 2004. “So we’ve been hydrating all week.”

Mount Baker, which is located near Bellingham, is playing in its first state title game.