Woodland to face Ridgefield on Friday night for the 2A GSHL crown
They don’t look like typical tackles on an offensive line, but they get the job done.
Kind of like their team.
The Woodland Beavers might not have looked like potential league champions back in August — not too many outside of the program predicted this season — but here they are, with a shot at the Class 2A Greater St. Helens League title.
These undersized underdogs have been overwhelming opponents almost all season.
“I love it when they think, ‘Oh, it’s going to be an easy game,’” junior tackle Charles Elkinton said.
He was referring to the look some opposing players have when they see Elkinton and the rest of the Woodland offensive line.
Elkinton is 5-10, 190 pounds. Not exactly the prototype size for a left tackle.
“Then they go against me, and they go, ‘Oh, this isn’t going to be as easy of a game as I thought.’”
Seth Popp is 6-1 and 180 pounds, and he mans the right tackle position for the Beavers.
“We have something to prove. We have something the fight for,” Popp said.
The Beavers did not look like much after their Week 2 loss to La Center. Sure, La Center, a 1A program, is undefeated, but the Beavers only managed one touchdown that night.
Maybe that is why no one saw what was next for the Beavers.
They scored 33 points to beat defending 2A GSHL champion Washougal.
That was an emotional high, but the next week, the Beavers found themselves in a rut. Columbia River topped the Beavers 26-20.
Huh? Those scores baffled a bunch. Was Woodland lucky against Washougal? Or did Woodland just have an off night?
The next four weeks have delivered the answer. Woodland has scored 40 or more points in a four-game win streak to improve to 5-1 in 2A GSHL play. The Beavers — yes the Woodland Beavers — are playing Ridgefield on Friday night for a league championship.
They got here led by linemen using technique and toughness to overcome the fact that they are not the biggest in the region. Elkinton and Popp are joined by center Cody Armstrong and guards Diego Gutridge and Jess Starr.
“Keep leverage,” Elkinton said of the key to success. “That’s the name of the game. If you are lower than your opponent, you’re going to win. It’s all about your hands and your feet, too. It’s all technique.”
“Technique makes or breaks you,” Popp added, noting that he played a game a couple years ago when he was only 145 pounds, but he still was able to succeed.
This line also has thick skin. Every week, the individual players are graded on every single play. They get praised when they do well, but they also hear it when they fail. Every week. Every play. They are held accountable.
The guys with the ball appreciate the effort of the linemen. Woodland quarterback Brett Martynowicz has the linemen over to his house for breakfast the Sunday morning after every win. With a 6-2 record this year, that food bill has to be getting up there.
The Beavers are hungry for more, too. And they know it all starts up front.
Elkinton and Popp have played on the line since they started playing the game.
“I didn’t know anything about football when I started,” Elkinton said, remembering back to the seventh grade. “‘I’m here to play. I hear you need more people.’ They put me on the line.”
Clearly, he enjoyed it.
Popp started playing in the eighth grade.
“I played it as a sport to stay active and make friends,” Popp recalled. “I wasn’t expecting big things from football. I started out on the line, too. I loved it. You realize the true heart of football is a lot of the time found on the line.”
The Beavers found that heart in the Washougal game. They had a 12-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that included 11 run plays, giving the Beavers a 27-14 lead. It was a statement drive: When the Beavers are using their leverage, performing with the right technique, they can move mountains.
Football can be a humbling experience, though. The very next week, the loss to Columbia River stunned the Beavers.
“Everybody felt what it was like to lose … and we’re like, ‘We can’t let that happen again.’ We’ve got to push harder and keep fighting,” Elkinton said.
“The emotional low was kind of a warning,” Popp explained. “If this happens again, we’ll feel worse.”
Well, it has not happened since then, and the Beavers have a shot at the program’s first league championship since 2007. Woodland (6-2, overall, 5-1 2A GSHL) is at Ridgefield (6-2, 5-1) with kickoff scheduled for 7 p.m.
The Beavers went a combined 6-13 the past two seasons. Elkinton said the vibe around campus regarding the football program was not good.
“Those vibes aren’t there anymore,” he said. “It’s different. It’s nice.”
Popp said he appreciated the big homecoming crowd in the Beavers’ big win against Hudson’s Bay a couple of weeks ago. He would love to be able to bring a championship home to the community.
Win or lose Friday night, they have already clinched a winning season, and there will be a playoff game for the Woodland Beavers.
Leading the charge will be an offensive line that holds itself to the highest of standards.
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