High school football: La Center reflects on season after playoff loss

Omak traveled to La Center on Friday night and took down the home team, 21-7, in the opening round of the Class 1A state football playoffs. Photo by Mike Schultz
Omak traveled to La Center on Friday night and took down the home team, 21-7, in the opening round of the Class 1A state football playoffs. Photo by Mike Schultz

Omak topped La Center 21-7

Paul Valencia
ClarkCountyToday.com

LA CENTER — It took a little more than a couple of hours Friday night, and just like that, it was over, finished, done.

The La Center football team’s season came to an abrupt halt. 

The Wildcats weren’t ready to be done, but that’s playoff football. 

Omak, the No. 9 seed in the Class 1A state playoffs, traveled to La Center, No. 8, and took down the Wildcats 21-7.

The La Center seniors go out as league champions, and as the fifth team in program history to win 10 consecutive games.

John Lambert called his four seniors: “The few. The proud.”

The longtime head coach has never had such a small senior class, and this group led La Center to a 10-1 record.

Isaac Chromey fights for extra yards in Friday’s game against Omak. Photo by Mike Schultz
Isaac Chromey fights for extra yards in Friday’s game against Omak. Photo by Mike Schultz

The seniors already have advice for the younger Wildcats.

“Just keep working. Just keep working,” senior Ryan Kawalek said. 

“I wish the best for the guys coming up,” added senior Austin Nixon. “You’ve got to take it seriously because it goes by faster than you think it will.”

Then there was Jalen Ward, fighting back tears, hoping to get his point across to the juniors, sophomores, and freshmen on the team.

“Just don’t waste a day,” Ward implored. “Some days, some weeks, I kind of took it for granted. I thought I’d have more time. It goes by so fast. You have to take every day, use every day.”

Jalen Ward breaks free on his way to a 40-yard touchdown. Ward caught a screen pass from Houston Coyle for La Center’s lone touchdown Friday night. Photo by Mike Schultz
Jalen Ward breaks free on his way to a 40-yard touchdown. Ward caught a screen pass from Houston Coyle for La Center’s lone touchdown Friday night. Photo by Mike Schultz

Their leadership will help mold next year’s team. Lambert said that the end-of-the-season banquet will feature two perspectives.

“It’s a celebration of this season while looking ahead to next season at the same time,” Lambert said. “We’re going to celebrate what the seniors brought.” 

Lambert noted that Garrett Maunu, the fourth senior, was injured and unable to play for much of the season. But Maunu was the starting quarterback early in the season, setting the tone for a team that started 10-0 — the only team in Southwest Washington, at any classification, to accomplish that feat this season.

La Center coach John Lambert addresses his team after Friday’s loss to Omak. Lambert said this year’s team will be celebrated, but he also is already looking forward to 2024. Photo by Mike Schultz
La Center coach John Lambert addresses his team after Friday’s loss to Omak. Lambert said this year’s team will be celebrated, but he also is already looking forward to 2024. Photo by Mike Schultz

He is going to miss this class, but Lambert also is already looking forward to 2024.

“There’s going to be some really cool things,” Lambert said. “We’re going to have a full offseason with Houston (Coyle) at quarterback.”

Houston Coyle not only plays quarterback for La Center, he also excels on defense. Here he is with an interception to end an Omak scoring threat. Photo by Mike Schultz
Houston Coyle not only plays quarterback for La Center, he also excels on defense. Here he is with an interception to end an Omak scoring threat. Photo by Mike Schultz

Coyle filled in for Maunu, and the winning just continued for La Center.

The Wildcats just did not have it, though, on Friday night. 

Omak scored a couple early touchdowns, including a 91-yard pass on a third-and-15 play, to go up 14-0.

Coyle found Ward on a 40-yard screen pass for a touchdown to make it 14-7, but the La Center offense turned the ball over just before halftime, and then again on its first possession of the second half. Omak capitalized with a drive in the third quarter to go up 21-7. La Center turned the ball over on its next possession, too.

“It ended badly,” Kawalek said. “That’s the way the cookie crumbles, I guess.”

Still, he appreciates everything La Center football has meant to him.

“I know all these boys. They’re all my brothers,” Kawalek said.

“I won’t forget anyone here,” Nixon added. “There are a lot of good memories. I loved playing with my friends out here.”

“For the past four years, it’s meant everything to me,” Ward said of the program. “This is all I’ve been thinking about, all I’ve worked for the past four years.”

Just like that, it is over.

The season is over, that is. 

Not the memories, though.

Not the Trico League championship. 

Not the long winning streak. 

Those things last forever.

Also Friday: Washougal’s season came to an end with a 33-10 loss at Orting in the Class 2A playoffs.


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