High school football: Clark County small schools ready for Saturday kickoff


A quick look at the 2A GSHL and Trico teams that will be playing a five-week schedule

The 2020 high school football season is upon us … in 2021.

Yep, just another oddity in what has been a strange 12 months.

The small-school teams from Clark County are scheduled to be on the field Saturday for games. Real games.

Tom Lambert and the La Center Wildcats just might throw the ball more than usual this season, according to coach John Lambert. Photo by Mike Schultz
Tom Lambert and the La Center Wildcats just might throw the ball more than usual this season, according to coach John Lambert. Photo by Mike Schultz

Coaches are thrilled that they have a season, overjoyed for their players, the ones who never stopped working out over the long offseason, just hoping for a chance to get on the field.

“When we talk to coaches in the league, we talk about making this as normal as possible in an abnormal time,” said David Hajek, Washougal’s football coach. “We want to give the kids something to remember.”

Coaches also appreciate the opportunity after such a long period of uncertainty.

“The WIAA did a pretty amazing job of continuing to advocate for the kids, bringing out facts and numbers,” said John Lambert, La Center’s football coach. “They were instrumental.”

Cody Wheeler and the Hockinson Hawks are looking to continue their dominating ways in the 2A Greater St. Helens League. Photo by Mike Schultz
Cody Wheeler and the Hockinson Hawks are looking to continue their dominating ways in the 2A Greater St. Helens League. Photo by Mike Schultz

Next week, the big schools will open their football seasons.

This week, it’s all about the small schools, and the start of their five-week schedules:

2A Greater St. Helens League

COLUMBIA RIVER

The season itself is a celebration for Columbia River’s squad.

Coach Brett Smedley said it is a credit to the players and staff for following the guidelines and protocols in order to have a season.

“It’s been stop-and-start since August up until a few weeks ago,” Smedley said. “Our group absolutely loves each other. It’s fun to see their energy and their excitement just to be out there.”

Even in a shortened season, Columbia River has maintained the goal it set for itself as soon as the 2019 season ended.

“The goal was to compete and be at the top of the league,” Smedley said of the Class 2A Greater St. Helens League. “Our league is extremely tough. I love the league we are in. Top to bottom, well established programs. It’s going to be a dogfight every single night.”

There are two things this team wants to celebrate. 

“There’s the joy of being around each other, but also the joy of competition, to come out on top,” Smedley said. “The focus is there. There’s no playoff, but let’s see what we can do.”

2019: 3-7 overall, 3-3 in 2A GSHL. Advanced to district playoff.

All-league returners: Mason Priddy, QB; Max Sturtevant, WR; Adam Huerena, TE; Caeden Craig, OL
Saturday: at Woodland, 4 p.m.
Rest of schedule:
Feb. 26: vs. R.A. Long, 7 p.m.
March 1: vs. Hockinson, 1 p.m.
March 12: at Washougal, 7 p.m.
March 19: at Hudson’s Bay, 7 p.m.

HOCKINSON HAWKS

Hockinson coach Rick Steele said he handed out gear months ago.

Not because the Hawks could practice in it, but just to give his players some hope that a season would materialize this academic year. It was more for mental health, he said.

“They were just so excited just to get gear, not knowing if we’d play or not,” Steele said. “Now, everybody is ecstatic. We’re rearing to go.”

Expectations remain high for the 2017 and 2018 Class 2A state champions. The 2019 squad reached the state semifinals, too. That’s a heckuva run.

Of course, no playoffs this year, but there is a five-game, 2A GSHL schedule in front of the Hawks.

“We think we have a pretty good football team. We’re looking to go undefeated and get our seventh straight league title,” Steele said. “Doesn’t matter if there’s a virus or not, we’re going full-steam ahead.”

2019: 11-2 overall, 6-0 2A GSHL. Reached the state semifinals

All-league returners: Daniel Thompson, RB; Makaio Juarez, WR; Cody Wheeler, LB; Jake Rogers, OL; Jake Talarico, LB; Hale Prior, DB

Saturday: at R.A. Long, 1 p.m.

Rest of schedule:

Feb. 27: vs. Woodland, 1 p.m.
March 6: at Columbia River, 1 p.m.
March 13: vs. Hudson’s Bay, 1 p.m.
March 19: at Washougal, 7 p.m.

HUDSON’S BAY EAGLES

If this were a traditional football season, coach Ray Lions said he would probably talk about how his Eagles could be a sleeper, a team that others underestimate, and a team that could surprise even the top teams in the league.

That all could still happen, by the way.

At the same time, there is nothing traditional about this abbreviated season.

“I don’t want to put too much pressure on these guys,” Lions said. “I want them to enjoy themselves.”

The Eagles have some great athletes, but like all teams, the preparation time has been so different that it is difficult for coaches to know what to expect on the field.

“This is a whirlwind, but you know what? We’re going to make the best of it,” Lions said. “We’ve got a big five weeks ahead of us. We’re going to make the best of this that we possibly can, and pick it back up and go for next year.”

2019: 2-7 overall, 1-4 in the 3A GSHL. (This is the team’s first season in 2A GSHL.)

All-league returners: Gabriel Ortega, OL; Levi Mikaele, LB

Saturday: vs. Ridgefield, 7 p.m.

Rest of schedule:
Feb. 26: at Mark Morris, 7 p.m.
March 5: vs. Washougal, 7 p.m.
March 13: at Hockinson, 1 p.m.
March 19: vs. Columbia River, 7 p.m. 

RIDGEFIELD SPUDDERS

“I think we have a good football team,” said coach Scott Rice.

A lot of coaches share the same viewpoint. Not a lot of specifics because it is difficult to judge. All teams just barely got the opportunity for full contact participation in practice after the region entered Phase 2 of the state’s path to recovery.  

And then the winter storm limited practice even more. 

Rice said it was like cramming an entire offseason into just a couple of weeks, or, in a way, just four days.

Regardless, the Spudders are about to take the field, and that’s all they could have hoped for after such a long wait.

“Once we get out there and rolling …” Rice said. 

He didn’t need to finish the thought. 

“I’m super excited. I have a really great group of seniors. It’s amazing. To see the kids every day, emotionally, it’s been a huge deal to me, and I know it’s a huge deal for the kids to be out of their houses and playing football. 

“They’re chomping at the bit for the opportunity to play Saturday.”

2019: 6-5 overall, 4-2 in the 2A GSHL. Advanced to the first round of state playoffs.

All-league returners: Aidan Hundt, WR; Dylan Parton, DL; Tanner Roberts, LB: Bailey Meek, DL (Meek was the defensive player of the year in Trico League last year before transferring to Ridgefield.)

Saturday: at Hudson’s Bay, 7 p.m.

Rest of schedule:
Feb. 26: vs. Washougal, 7 p.m.
March 5: vs. Mark Morris, 7 p.m.
March 12: vs. R.A. Long, 7 p.m.
March 19: at Woodland, 7 p.m.

WASHOUGAL PANTHERS

With a five-game league schedule in an eight-team league, Washougal coach David Hajek called it a “weird season.” 

No playoff spot to fight for, and he’s not even sure if a league championship is on the line because not everybody plays each other. In theory, multiple teams could go undefeated. 

But he does know there is something special to play for this season.

“You’re playing for your own honor,” Hajek said. “We’re trying to give our seniors something.”

Naturally, the Panthers want to win. But there is more at stake.

“High school sports is about playing with your friends and building memories,” Hajek said. “Twenty years from now they won’t remember the score of a game, but they will remember playing with their friends. We want to give these guys something positive in their lives.”

2019: 7-5 overall, 4-2 in the 2A GSHL. Advanced to 2A state quarterfinals
All-league returners: Peter Boylan, RB; Gavin Multer, P

Saturday: vs. Mark Morris, 5 p.m.

Rest of schedule:
Feb. 26: at Ridgefield, 7 p.m.
March 5: at Hudson’s Bay, 7 p.m.
March 12: vs. Columbia River, 7 p.m.
March 19: vs. Hockinson, 7 p.m. 

WOODLAND BEAVERS

“Man, it’s not easy,” coach Mike Woodward said, referring to the bizarre practice protocols, coaching in a mask, players wearing masks. Heck, all the stuff associated with trying to play football during the pandemic. 

It’s not easy, but it is worth it, he said.

“I’m happy, excited that we’re finally getting to do this,” said Woodward, who returns as the program’s head coach after taking 2019 away from the game. “The big thing is we’re super happy for the seniors to be allowed to suit up. Whether it’s one game or 10, just super happy for them. Making sure the seniors had a chance to play, that’s been a real positive.”

And, in a way, this mini-season could be a way to set up next season, as well.

“This is a great chance to build your program and get the younger guys going as we lead into what we hope to be a normal season next (fall),” Woodward said.

2019: 2-7 overall, 2-4 in the 2A GSHL. 

All-league returners: Jason Bowman, OL; Emmanuel Cruz, K

Saturday: vs. Columbia River, 4 p.m.

Rest of schedule:
Feb. 27: at Hockinson, 1 p.m.
March 5: vs. R.A. Long, 7 p.m.
March 12: at Mark Morris, 7 p.m.
March 19: vs. Ridgefield, 7 p.m. 

Trico League

FORT VANCOUVER TRAPPERS

A new head coach and a fresh start for the Trappers.

And a Trico League schedule.

Yep, that’s different.

Fort Vancouver played an independent schedule in 2019. The Trappers moved to Class 2A this academic year but for football, the Trappers are heading to the Trico League, in Class 1A, for a season.
Doug Bilodeau, the new coach, loves this five-game opportunity.

“I tell my coaches this is the best spring football Fort Vancouver will ever have,” he said. “I look at it as we’re blessed to have it, so we’re going to make the best of it. Some young kids will get some experience, and boom, we’ll be back at it in a few months.”

Bilodeau said the Trappers want to rid themselves of stereotypes after years of struggles. 

“We’re going to try to have a new Fort here. We’re building something new,” he said.

It starts with this Trico League season.

“I expect the kids to have some successes and some confidence building,” Bilodeau said. “I want them to come away hungry to start up the next season again.”

2019: 1-8 in an independent schedule. 

Players to watch: As an independent, Fort Vancouver did not have all-league players last season. But a couple to watch include: Niko Liufau and Keenen Weinmaster.

Saturday: vs. La Center, 1 p.m.

LA CENTER WILDCATS

La Center has an advantage like no other team in the area. The Wildcats have a returning quarterback with the most starts in school history in Tom Lambert. Oh, and he is the coach’s son, so he has been able to talk football, every day, with his coach without breaking any pandemic rules.

Oh, and Lambert is the reigning offensive player of the year in the Trico League.

Expectations remain high at La Center. The Wildcats finish against Castle Rock, a team that will be highly motivated to get back at the Wildcats.

Also, if La Center does win that final game … 

“Hopefully it will be the first time since 2000 that we’ve ended a season with a win,” coach John Lambert said.

Oh yes, La Center is a fixture in the playoffs but has not won it all. Which means every year, La Center loses its last game.

No playoffs this year. If La Center beats Castle Rock, it will be on a winning streak heading into next season. 

2019: 9-1, 4-0 in Trico League. Advanced to first round of 1A state playoffs.
All-league returners: Tom Lambert, QB (offensive POY); Bryten Schmitz, RB/DB; Jeremy Humphrey, LB; and Micah Adams, DL.

Saturday: vs. La Center, 1 p.m.
Rest of schedule:
Feb. 26: vs. Goldendale, 7 p.m.
March 5: vs. Montesano, 7 p.m.
March 12: at White Salmon, 7 p.m.
March 19: vs. Castle Rock, 7 p.m. 

SETON CATHOLIC COUGARS

New coach Dennis Herling certainly did not expect his first season to be like this, starting in February.

But he’ll take it.

“Do we want to win every game? Of course we do. It’s more fun when we win,” he said. “Our biggest thing right now is, let’s go have some fun. And let’s not take any games for granted because we almost didn’t get this.”

He is so happy for his seniors.

“They worked their tails off to stay ready, even when it looked bleak,” Herling said.

The players inspired the coaches, he said, and that made it easier for the coaches to remain as positive as possible throughout the long offseason.

2019: 4-4 overall, 0-4 in Trico League

All-league returner: Elijah Volk, RB

Saturday: vs. White Salmon, 2 p.m.

Advertisement

About The Author

Paul Valencia joins ClarkCountyToday.com after more than two decades of newspaper experience. He became the face of high school sports coverage in Clark County during his 17 years at The Columbian. Before moving to Vancouver, Paul worked at Oregon daily newspapers in Pendleton, Roseburg, and Salem. A graduate of David Douglas High School in Portland, Paul enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving three years as a soldier/journalist. He and his wife Jenny recently celebrated their 20th anniversary. They have a son who has a passion for karate and Minecraft. Paul’s hobbies include: Watching the Raiders play football, reading about the Raiders playing football, and waiting to watch and read about the Raiders playing football.

Related posts