Ken Vance, editor
For the third time in the history of the La Center football program, the Wildcats have had their season come to an end in the semifinals of the state high school playoffs.
After jumping on top with a touchdown on its first possession of the game, La Center surrendered 34 consecutive points to Meridian and lost to the Trojans 34-14 Saturday at Civic Stadium in Bellingham.
La Center, which finished the season with a 9-3 overall record after winning nine straight games heading into Saturday’s semifinals matchup, couldn’t have looked better on its first drive of the game.
The Wildcats took possession of the football and methodically drove 76 yards in 15 plays for the first score of the game, which came on a 3-yard run by running back Wyatt Dodson. Dodson carried the football 11 times on the drive for a total of 34 yards.
Quarterback Hayden Williamson completed all four of his pass attempts on the scoring drive, for a total of 41 yards.
The Wildcats appeared poised to build upon its 7-0 lead when they opened their second possession at their own 44-yard line. Three straight runs by Dodson gave La Center a first down in Meridian territory but Williamson was intercepted two plays later.
The Trojans instantly capitalized on the miscue when Simon Burkett found Lukas Hemenway on a 56-yard pass play to tie the game at 7.
On the Wildcats’ following possession, La Center once again turned the football over, this time on a fumbled exchange from quarterback to running back. Meridian needed seven plays to convert the opportunity into a score on a 5-yard run by Cole Roberts, which put the Trojans ahead 14-7.
After La Center failed to get a first down on its next possession, Meridian scored again, this time on an 11-yard Burkett run and the score was 20-7 after a failed extra point with 5:38 remaining in the first half.
“We didn’t execute the way we wanted to and turnovers turned the tide of the game,’’ said La Center coach John Lambert. “It wasn’t just because of what we were doing, it was also what Meridian was doing and how good they were playing. And, It wasn’t for a lack of effort.’’
The Wildcats’ defense slowed Meridian down in the third quarter but La Center was unable to generate any points on offense. Wyatt Seibert ended one Trojans’ drive with a quarterback sack and Nathan Pruitt thwarted another when he knocked down a Burkett pass in the end zone on a fourth down play. Pruitt also had an interception in the first half for the Wildcats.
In the fourth quarter, Meridian scored twice to extend its lead to 34-7 before La Center added a touchdown on a Williamson pass to Tanner Dreyer, which covered 24 yards to provide the final margin of victory.
Dodson finished with 79 hard-earned yards on 26 carries. Williamson was 9-for-21 passing for 138 yards.
“You could make the argument that this is the greatest group we’ve ever had,’’ Lambert said of his group of seniors that provided the leadership for this year’s team. “Of course we’re all disappointed because we felt like this would be our year. But, reflecting back on the success we’ve had and the leadership, toughness, grit and hard work these guys have put in for a common cause, it makes you feel good.
“I know they’re learned some life lessons along the way, including tonight,’’ Lambert said. “They’ve learned how to communicate with people, how to be a good leader, how to be a good teammate, how to show resiliency and how to deal with adversity. Obviously, it’s difficult right now but there is always only one good team left that ends the year with a win.’’
MERIDIAN 34, LA CENTER 14
La Center 7 0 0 7 — 14
Meridian 7 13 0 14 — 34
La Center — Wyatt Dodson, 3-yard run. (Sean Fox kick)
Meridian — Lukas Hemenway, 56-yard pass from Simon Burkett. (Taylor Snook kick)
Meridian — Cole Roberts, 3-yard run. (Snook kick)
Meridian — Burkett, 11-yard run. (Kick failed)
Meridian — Kevin Galiano, 36-yard pass from Burkett. (Snook kick)
Meridian — Galiano, 76-yard pass from Burkett. (Snook kick)
La Center — Tanner Dreyer, 24-yard pass from Hayden Williamson. (Fox kick)