BATTLE GROUND — During the past decade, the Greater St. Helens League Class 4A football scene has been a three-team affair between Camas, Skyview and Union. Mostly Camas of late, as the Papermakers have won four consecutive 4A GSHL titles.
But slow and steady, a new shooter is developing. In 2016, Battle Ground football looks ready for harvest.
The Tigers are 4-0 and dominant this season, having won each of their games by double-digit margins. They ran two good Oregon teams — Beaverton and Tualatin — off the field, boat-raced what was a top 10 team in Mountain View, and last Friday, easily dispatched district-rival Prairie.
Last week, Battle Ground cracked the state’s top 10 4A rankings, at No. 10.
Now comes the Tigers’ litmus test: Friday at Camas. The Papermakers, 4-0 and ranked No. 2 in the state, have put three of their four opponents away by halftime.
“We feel like we should be able to win the league. In the past, we wouldn’t have said that,” said Larry Peck, Battle Ground’s coach since 2010.
The Tigers have the most appropriately named quarterback in this area in Gunner Talkington, who has thrown for 1,267 yards and 14 touchdowns. In his most recent outing, Talkington completed 22 of 25 passes for 343 yards and four touchdowns in a 48-14 rout of Prairie.
Battle Ground has about 120 players out for football, depth that has grown over Peck’s seven-year tenure. It hasn’t been easy, as Peck’s Tigers were 1-8 his first year, but over time, success has grown. Battle Ground won its first five games in 2012 on the way to a 5-4 record. Last year, the Tigers were 8-3 and won the school’s first-ever playoff game.
The Tigers are 30-30 since Peck became coach.
“It’s a process. It’s the way your kids prepare, the way you do things on game night, teaching the system and getting kids dialed in. The honest truth is, we’ve got a lot of good kids right now,” Peck said. “We didn’t always have the talent and skill level to match up in this league. Now we do.”
Which gives Battle Ground a chance to clear what Peck says is the “last hurdle.”
“Beat Camas, beat Skyview and go win the league title,” he said.
Talkington gives the Tigers’ offense a puncher’s chance. As a high school quarterback, Talkington is among the best in Washington. The 5-10 senior has the passing numbers, but also speed that puts a defense on edge. Talkington has run for nearly 200 yards and five touchdowns this season.
“I like to throw the ball a lot, and my coach has me run the ball a lot,” Talkington said.
Talkington didn’t acquire his first name through sports. Gunner was his given name at birth.
“My parents wanted me to have a unique name and Gunner came to their mind,” he said.
What the three-year starter lacks is size, at least at the next level. Still, even at 5-10, Talkington is hearing from several of the NCAA Division II and III schools in the Northwest, as well as Eastern Washington.
Told he could use a few inches, Talkington said “Yeah, I know, but that motivates me to work a little harder than those 6-foot plus guys.”
The same can be said for Battle Ground football, which has made up a lot of ground the past few years. Last year, the Tigers beat Union for the first time ever. They’ve been making up ground on Skyview, a perennial GSHL power. Friday, they get to test themselves against Camas, which has won 44 consecutive regular season games, and in 2013 and 2014, combined to score 162 points on Battle Ground.
After last year’s 8-3 season and historic playoff win, progress in 2016 is simple for the Tigers.
“Win the league title and go deeper in the playoffs. That’s what we’ve been talking about since last year,” Peck said.