Beavers always believed, and now they are the Class 2A Greater St. Helens League champions
Tears of joy. Tears of celebration. Tears of victory.
Real, genuine tears.
Jess Starr hugged his dad after the game, and he let it all out.
It meant that much to him. It meant that much to his teammates. It meant that much to his classmates.
And it meant that much to the community of Woodland.
That’s right, everybody, the Woodland Beavers are the 2023 Class 2A Greater St. Helens League football champions.
“That emotion is when you have nothing left in the tank because you gave everything you’ve got,” Starr said moments after Woodland secured the league title by holding off Ridgefield 28-21 in the final game of the regular season.
Woodland improved to 7-2 overall and 6-1 in the 2A GSHL. Ridgefield fell to 6-3 and 5-2 and is in a three-way tie for second place with Washougal and Hudson’s Bay. (Those three teams will compete in a tiebreaker Monday for seeding for the Week 10 district playoffs.)
The Beavers don’t need to worry at all about seeding. They are No. 1 for the first time since 2007.
“We knew that this was bigger than us,” Woodland’s Elijah Andersen said after scoring three first-half touchdowns. “This is something this school hasn’t done in so long. This is something we needed, something we needed for Woodland. We kept pushing and pushing.”
“I couldn’t be happier,” said center and defensive lineman Cody Armstrong. “This is the best senior year I could have asked for.”
Sean McDonald, in his second year as the team’s head coach, said this group started talking about its potential back in the spring.
“We talked about how everybody was going to count us out,” McDonald said. “We knew the athletes we had. We knew the linemen we had. We talked about the league championship every week. They battled every week, and they earned this.”
As far as everybody else, that was a pretty accurate statement. Can’t say there were too many who predicted Woodland would be at the top of the standings by the end of the campaign.
The 2022 champion Washougal Panthers were loaded. The 2021 champion Ridgefield Spudders were poised to bounce back. The Beavers? They won three games last year. And two in the previous season.
Well, everyone is a believer now.
“We were just playing our hearts out, honestly. It was about who wants it more, and we wanted it more obviously,” Starr said.
The Beavers went on a 15-play drive that took more than 8 minutes off the clock to score on its opening drive. It was a statement from the offensive linemen. They were ready.
“It makes me so happy when we are able to run the ball against all these tough defenses,” Armstrong said, noting Washougal, Hudson’s Bay, and now Ridgefield. “Here we are, we’re the league champs.”
Andersen scored on two touchdown runs for a two-score lead. Chase Hall found the end zone on a pass from Brett Martynowicz to make it 20-0.
Ridgefield got on the board late in the first half, but it was not late enough for the Spudders. The 41 seconds left on the clock were enough for Woodland to respond. Andersen got the TD reception this time for a 28-6 lead.
The Ridgefield defense made adjustments at halftime and was able to slow the Beavers in the second half. The Spudders got a touchdown on its first possession of the second half, and then made it a seven-point game with 5:45 to go in the fourth quarter.
The Spudders would then get two more opportunities to tie the game, or even take the lead. Woodland’s defense was up to the challenge.
Starr, playing linebacker, read a Ridgefield pass perfectly, stepped in front of the intended receiver, and knocked the ball high into the air, and into the hands of defensive lineman Armstrong.
“When I saw it in the air, I was like no way this is happening. Then I was like, it was a blessing from God. It was just in the air. I heard no noises, just the ball in the air, and I had to get up and make a play,” Armstrong said.
This game still was not over, though. The Ridgefield defense forced a three-and-out, and Ridgefield had 43 seconds and a long way to go, but had a chance.
Andersen would end up breaking up the final play of the game, and the Woodland Beavers could celebrate like it was 2007.
“It’s so …” Andersen said.
“I can’t even describe it. I’ve got no words.”
Regular season finales and playoff berths: Camas won the 4A Greater St. Helens League. Skyview, No. 2, and Battle Ground, No. 3, also qualified for the Week 10 state preliminary round. … Mountain View had already won the 3A GSHL. Kelso beat Evergreen on Friday, and Prairie beat Heritage. Kelso, Evergreen, and Prairie tied for second, and the three will meet for a tiebreaker on Monday, with only one team advancing to Week 10. … La Center completed an undefeated regular season and is the No. 1 seed from the Trico League. Seton Catholic is the No. 2 seed.
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