Panthers were among the final three teams playing this season; Prairie shined, and so did others
We all knew Camas was loaded this year.
We all knew Hockinson was going to have a strong defense of its two consecutive state football titles.
And, of course, we all knew that Washougal was also going to be the state quarterfinals.
OK, maybe not so much Washougal.
Seriously, outside of the Panthers, did anyone predict that the last three high school football programs from Clark County still playing would be Camas, Hockinson, and Washougal?
Well, that’s what happened this season.
As you already know, Camas is still playing. The Papermakers will take on Bothell for the WIAA Class 4A state championship.
Hockinson did have another strong season, reaching the 2A state semifinals.
Well, the week before the final four, it was the Panthers in the 2A quarterfinals, creating memories for a lifetime. Shoot, a few weeks earlier, not even the Panthers expected that.
“If you had told me in August that we’d be in the quarterfinals, I would have said yes,” Washougal coach David Hajek said. “If you had asked me midseason? Probably not.”
Yep, the Panthers figured they were going to have their best season in years. But after non-league losses to Prairie and W.F. West and then a league loss to Ridgefield, well, it was starting to look like a disappointing season.
In fact, the Panthers found a way.
Today, we celebrate the top wins and best moments from the playoff teams that did not make it all the way to Week 14, to championship week. (Camas has its own special coverage this week, as well as more to come this weekend.)
If you recall, we had the best moments from the non-playoff teams last month:
Today, the playoff teams. Let’s start with Washougal.
Washougal Panthers (7-5)
Class 2A state quarterfinalist
Washougal made it to the state for the first time since 1999 and then won its first state playoff game since 1974. Yeah, that’s kind of a big deal.
Best win: It would be easy to say the state playoff win, the victory at Clarkston. But let’s go, instead, with the win over W.F. West in Week 10. The Bearcats beat Washougal in the regular season. Washougal got revenge in the district playoff to make it to state.
“I’m hoping it’s a turning point for not only this year, but for the future,” Hajek said. “Every program has a turning point. Hoping we got that point. Not saying we’re going to be a quarterfinal team next year, but our seniors showed us we can be one of those programs.”
Best moment: Even in defeat, the Panthers proved they belonged when they went to Bellingham to take on Lynden in the quarterfinals. And then came seconds away from beating Lynden.
Counting this season, Washougal football now has played in five state playoff games since 1974. Lynden has eight state championships.
And Washougal had a late lead on the legendary program and almost made it to the semifinals.
Even after falling behind in the final 1:15 of the game, Hajek said he still believed the Panthers were going to win.
Dalton Payne threw four touchdown passes in his final game.
What a moment. What a season.
“We’re the surprise of the year,” Hajek said of Clark County football.
Now to the rest of the teams in order of classification:
Skyview Storm (8-3)
Class 4A state first round
Best win: Let’s go with the 30-3 victory over Union. That was a win over the defending state champions, and it was emphatic, a statement that the Storm were ready to take the next step. A year earlier, the Storm finished third in the 4A GSHL. This year, second was pretty much assured, and then the Storm came close to knocking of Camas for the league title.
Best moment: The Week 10 state preliminary round playoff win over Federal Way, a team that had just played undefeated (and eventual state top-seed) Lincoln close. Well, this one was not close. Skyview, in its final home game of the season, crushed Federal Way 49-0. Jalynnee McGee rushed for 224 yards and tied a school-record with six touchdowns.
Union Titans (6-5)
Class 4A state first round
Best win: The starting quarterback was injured, and the defending state champions were the third-place team from the 4A GSHL going on the road for a state preliminary round game. The champions played like champions once again, taking down Mount Rainier 42-6. Yes, 42-6. A blowout victory for the No. 3 team from the GSHL. An impressive performance.
Best moment: It came in a loss, but to a team that made it to this year’s state quarterfinals., a team with an interesting recent history with Union. A year ago, Union beat Puyallup twice, both times after falling behind by 14 points in the second half. Well, Puyallup grabbed a bigger lead this year against the Titans, and the Titans kept fighting. Puyallup led 35-14 with 11 minutes to play. Union tied it at 35. Then after being down 42-35, Union scored on the last play of the game. The Titans went for two. They didn’t get it but showed the heart of a state champion.
Prairie Falcons (9-2)
Class 3A state first round
Best win: As noted previously this season, that Kelso win in Week 5 was special. Sure, the Falcons were 4-0 and scoring a lot of points, but no one knew for sure how good this team was because it was not exactly a murderer’s row of competition. But the Falcons raced out to a big lead and announced they were here to stay in the 3A GSHL with a 38-22 victory.
Best moment: The Falcons made it to the state playoffs for the first time since 1992 and then went on the road as an 11-seed and nearly took down Marysville-Pilchuck. The Tomahawks needed a field goal on the last play of regulation to force overtime, then got the win. It was not a win for the Falcons, but proof that the program had arrived. Prairie won a share of the 3A GSHL title and made it to state.
Evergreen Plainsmen (5-5)
State preliminary round
Best win: Easy. The Plainsmen beat Mountain View for the first time since 2007. Tae Marks got a blocked punt and then caught the game-winning touchdown. Derrick Webb scored four touchdowns on offense and had three takeaways on defense. This 40-35 victory catapulted Evergreen from an also-ran to a playoff team. The Plainsmen went to the playoffs this season. Mountain View did not. Who predicted that back in August?
Best moment: OK, it might be hard to top the Mountain View win, but how about the No. 3 seed from the 3A GSHL — not considered a hotbed of football — almost beating Garfield in the state preliminary round? The Plainsmen never stopped battling before falling 38-36 in Memorial Stadium, playing underneath the Space Needle. Seriously, who could have predicted that back in August?
Hockinson Hawks (11-2)
Class 2A state semifinalist
Best win: That would have to be the Lakewood victory in the state quarterfinals. The two-time defending state champions, injured, beat up a bit, but certainly not beat down. Lakewood led by 14 points in the fourth quarter in front of a packed house at Battle Ground’s District Stadium. Hockinson would get two touchdowns, go for two on the final score, converted, and advanced to the semifinals with a 29-28 victory. It reminded this reporter of Hockinson’s first postseason victory, back in 2014 when the Hawks rallied from a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit at the same stadium.
Best moment: The Hawks got to celebrate a postseason win at home. A true home game. Playing on a grass field, the team has played most of its home playoff games at District Stadium in Battle Ground, on turf. Well, the weather cooperated late October and into early November. So the district playoff game could be held at Hockinson. The Hawks won, advanced to state again, and didn’t have to get on a bus to go home.
Ridgefield Spudders (6-5)
Class 2A state first round
Best win: Well, considering Ridgefield had done very little the past couple of years in the 2A Greater St. Helens League, the win over Washougal in Week 5 has to be the pick. That victory, which saw the defense make play after play after play as Washougal kept trying to take the lead, ended up leading to a home game for Ridgefield in the district playoffs.
Best moment: The Ridgefield Spudders dominated that district playoff game, in front of the home crowd, for a 49-6 victory over Aberdeen. That sent Ridgefield to the state playoffs for the first time since 2005. A pretty good moment for first-year coach Scott Rice, an incredible moment for the program.
Columbia River Chieftains (3-7)
2A district playoff
Best win: The Chieftains did not record a lot of wins but got the ones that mattered, the ones that qualified them for a playoff berth. In Week 3, they rolled to a victory over Ridgefield. At the time, no one knew how important that would be. After all, Ridgefield hadn’t done much in years. It turned out, Ridgefield was a state playoff team. That was a huge win for Columbia River.
Best moment: I don’t care that it was a blowout loss. I just see Columbia River in the playoffs. The Chieftains made it to Week 10. Yes, that meant having to play the No. 1 team in the state. And yes, Tumwater had no trouble with the Chieftains. But the Chieftains got an extra week of practice with a new head coach and will always get to say they made the playoffs in 2019. That is an accomplishment.
La Center Wildcats (9-1)
Class 1A state first round
Best win: Have to go to Week 9 against Castle Rock. A Trico League title was on the line. Remember, La Center was not the defending league champion for the first time in years. It was 28-24 at the half. Early in the fourth quarter it was 35-32. Anything could have happened. La Center never lost the lead, scoring the next touchdown. Castle Rock scored late, but La Center recovered the onside kick and won 42-39. A dramatic finish to the regular season and a league title for the Wildcats.
Best moment: Going to go all the way back to Week 2 and a 35-6 win over rival Woodland. A year ago, La Center opened the season with 2A rivals Ridgefield and Woodland, losing both on the way to an 0-4 start. This season, La Center avenged those losses and would go on to an 8-0 regular season, then made it to 9-0 before losing in the first round of state. Those first two weeks told the football community that La Center was back.
King’s Way Christian Knights (5-5)
1A district playoff
Best win: The difference between a playoff team and a non-playoff team came from the White Salmon game. King’s Way Christian got off to an incredible start, leading 26-0. White Salmon scored the next 16 points, but the Knights were up to the challenge to hold on for the victory. A third-place finish in the Trico League for a team that did not win a league game last season. Best moment: The Knights played their first three games on the road. Then came home to a brand new home. The Knights played their first home game in the new stadium, a full grandstand on campus. King’s Way Christian rolled to a win over Riverside of Boardman, Ore., but the game took backstage to the venue.