Papermakers, Hawks, and Titans have won five state titles since 2016
There was that Ridgefield state title in 1995.
Nine years later, Evergreen won it all.
It would be 12 long years before a Clark County high school football team would win another state championship.
Those long waits are over now. And the hope is there won’t be too many long waits in the future.
Since 2016, Camas, Hockinson, and Union have combined to win five state championships.
This is what Southwest Washington is now, a contender, every season.
Camas coach Jon Eagle recalled talking to a journalist many, many years ago.
“It’s not if, it’s when,” Eagle said. “When is Southwest Washington ever going to make some noise? It’s a matter of time.”
After years of coming so close to winning it all, Camas broke through with its first state championship in 2016, taking the Class 4A crown.
The next year, Hockinson made good on its promise, winning a 2A state title
In 2018, perhaps the greatest day in Clark County high school football history: Hockinson repeated as 2A champion and Union completed an undefeated season to win the 4A crown.
And in 2019, Camas had revenge on its mind and completed its mission.
This abbreviated 2021 winter/spring season will not have a state champion.
But it will have championship-worthy programs.
“We have a lot of good coaches, and a lot of good programs,” Eagle said.
Not just at the high school level.
“You can tip your hat to the multiple youth programs that have flourished in Clark County,” Eagle said. “They’re making the game fun and teaching fundamentals. All of us benefit from that.”
Clark County Today went to Camas on Friday to watch the Union Titans take on the Papermakers. On Saturday, we watched Hockinson beat Woodland.
This is a celebration of championships and of the championship mentality that made it all possible.
The Union Titans get bragging rights for this quick season. They managed to hold Camas to single digits in a 17-9 victory on a cold, rainy night in front of a mostly empty Doc Harris Stadium.
Not quite the same atmosphere as a typical Camas-Union game, but the rivalry remains special.
Jack Grimsted, a senior at Union, celebrated the victory but also gave credit to Camas for inspiring him, and others, over the years.
Grimsted played major minutes his sophomore season when the Titans won it all. He has been following Union football since the school opened, in 2007. He was very young then, but his father was the principal, so yes, Union football has played a huge role in Jack’s life.
In 2008 and 2009, Union reached the championship game and the final four. Skyview had a run in there, too. Then it was Camas, Camas, Camas for so long, Grimsted noted. And in 2016, Camas finished the season on top.
“That kind of triggered me to say I need to get my group going,” Grimsted said.
Two years later, Grimsted and the Titans were celebrating in December.
“Our coach, Rory Rosenbach, does an amazing job with putting players in the best possible position,” Grimsted said.
While the Titans were celebrating Friday night, the Papermakers went into the grandstands to gather their gear, contemplating their first loss since November of 2018.
Logan Silva, a junior, said the Papermakers will just have to work hard and respond to this result. Win or lose in this rivalry, Silva said he is proud to represent the region.
“It’s nice to know that this is the best football area in the state, southern Washington,” Silva said. “Back-to-back. Couldn’t ask for anything more. There is a lot of pride in southern Washington.”
It means something to be the best in the region.
“It makes kids confident,” Eagle said. “You hear, ‘If we can make it out of our league, you have a chance to win the whole darn thing.’”
There were a few years this century when the No. 1 team from the 4A GSHL lost in the preliminary round. Nowadays? That game is a virtual bye, often a running clock.
“When I came here five years ago, I knew that really good football was being played down here,” Rosenbach said.
He got to see Camas win that title in 2016. He led Union to the 2017 league title, then pushed his Titans to the state title in 2018.
“Southwest Washington went from being beat in the first round, to the quarterfinals, to teams that could win it. The 15 years of building before I got here came to fruition,” Rosenbach said. “It is fun to speak to colleagues around the state, and they know it now. It is common knowledge that Southwest Washington is a little bit of a hotbed. Not too bad. Not too bad. I’m proud to have a small part of it.”
In Friday’s game, some new names found the end zone for these champions. Kellen Milliken and Jaydon Jones scored rushing touchdowns for the Titans. Gabe Guo scored a fourth-quarter touchdown for the Papermakers, giving Camas some hope for a comeback.
Union linebacker Therman Bibens was all over the field. He forced two fumbles. And he made the fourth-down stop to secure the Union victory.
While this year is so different because football season started in February, a lot has stayed the same at these programs: Players graduate. New guys step up and lead. Repeat.
The expectations are for excellence, whether it is a full season with playoffs or a six-game sprint before spring break.
The same is true for the Hockinson Hawks. Not only did the Hawks win back-to-back titles in 2017 and 2018, they made it to the semifinals in 2019. Hockinson is 38-2 in its last 40 games.
“It’s a blessing to be part of it, to be part of the best teams in the state down here and be able to compete with everyone. Southwest Washington shows out every year,” said Hockinson junior Cody Wheeler, who had a significant role on the second title team when he was a freshman.
He was pulling for Camas last year, too, and Union the previous year.
“Definitely, we’re rooting for them because they are hometown teams,” Wheeler said.
It’s called Clark County football pride.
Sure, there were championship teams prior to 2016, but this, right now, is the era of football for the region.
“How many years did we talk about nothing coming out of Southwest Washington,” Hockinson coach Rick Steele said Saturday.
Especially in the 2A ranks, when the GSHL league champion often lost in the district playoff and would not even get to the state-playoff field of 16 teams.
“Camas getting there kind of laid out the roadmap for us,” Steele said.
His Hawks learned some valuable lessons, as well. After they got past the Week 10 losses, they eventually made the quarterfinals.
“It really showed our kids what it takes to play at that level,” Steele said.
Soon, his Hockinson Hawks were scrimmaging 4A powers, such as Camas, in offseason workouts.
“It really got laid out for us, in a good way,” Steel said. “This is what a good football team looks like, and this is how far we have to go to get there.”
The Hawks got there — twice.
This year, no chance at a state title, but the Hawks are going for their seventh consecutive league title.
Andre Northrup scored on a kickoff return and an interception return in Saturday’s 27-3 win over Woodland as the Hawks improved to 2-0. The Hawks also got a safety in the defensive battle.
The Hockinson band was allowed in the stadium, as well, along with a limited number of fans.
It just felt a little more like football with the music, the cheerleaders, those spectators.
Hockinson leaving the field a winner is the norm, as well.
Union, Camas, and Hockinson, in fact, are used to that winning feeling, but they never get tired of that feeling.
Will other programs join them in the coming years, as state champions?
There are plenty of programs building toward that goal. And those programs know that if they can reach the top of the league standings, they’ll have a shot against anyone in the state.
That used the be exception. Now, it is the expectation.