Washougal football celebrates rare home playoff game

Photo by Mike Schultz
Photo by Mike Schultz

Panthers rally to beat Shelton in the first playoff game held on campus since 1994

It was a celebration 28 years in the making at Washougal High School.

So waiting one more day wasn’t too big of a deal.

The Washougal football team played a home playoff game for the first time since 1994 on Saturday. The Panthers put themselves, and their fans, through one of the most stressful games imaginable, too.

Washougal trailed. Tied it. Trailed again. Rallied again. Took the lead in the second half. Fell behind one more time. 

The Panthers weren’t done, though. Liam Atkin got the final touchdown of the game, giving Washougal a 38-34 win over Shelton to advance to the Class 2A state football playoffs.

Washougal running back Liam Atkin breaks free Saturday against Shelton. Photo by Mike Schultz
Washougal running back Liam Atkin breaks free Saturday against Shelton. Photo by Mike Schultz

In the bleachers was Anika Adams, student body president, along with several of her closest friends.

“It’s insane,” Adams said of the vibe on campus around the football team.

Washougal went undefeated in the Class 2A Greater St. Helens League and won its first league championship since 1999.

“Our school has been so supportive, super spirited,” Adams said.

Washougal’s fans, and players, celebrated the team’s first home playoff football game since 1994. Photo by Mike Schultz
Washougal’s fans, and players, celebrated the team’s first home playoff football game since 1994. Photo by Mike Schultz

Student government leaders and the cheer squad worked together throughout the season to come up with theme nights. There was a White Out. An Orange Out. One game, it was Construction Zone night so fans wore bright colors.

This week, it was Camo Night.

They might be hard to spot because it was, after all, Camo Night, but the student section showed up Saturday night to cheer on the Washougal Panthers. Photo by Mike Schultz
They might be hard to spot because it was, after all, Camo Night, but the student section showed up Saturday night to cheer on the Washougal Panthers. Photo by Mike Schultz

And for a while there, it was hard to see how Washougal was going to win on Saturday. Shelton came out strong and remained strong all night. Up 7-0. Up 14-6. Up 21-14. Up 27-20. Then up again at 34-32. 

But the hunted became the hunter, and the Panthers got that final score to claim a special victory.

The game was originally scheduled for Friday. Shelton had transportation issues, so the game was postponed for a day.

It might have led to a smaller crowd than a traditional showing for Friday Night Lights, but, again, after waiting for 28 yards, the Washougal faithful could handle the delay.

In 2019, the season before the pandemic, the Panthers won a Week 10 district playoff, then won in the first round of state to advance to the quarterfinals. But those three playoff games were all on the road.

And back in 1999, the last time Washougal won a league title before this season, the “home” playoff game that year was played at McKenzie Stadium in Vancouver.

David Hajek, the coach of Washougal, said the last playoff game at Washougal High School was a loss to Aberdeen in 1994.

Oh, and if the archives we’ve found are correct, Saturday’s game was the first home playoff win in program history.

“It’s just a great thing to have people excited about us out here,” Hajek said. “It’s not only in the school, but the community as well,” Hajek said. 

Washougal coach David Hajek addresses the Panthers after Saturday’s win. He said this season has been special not only for the team and the school, but the entire Washougal community. Photo by Mike Schultz
Washougal coach David Hajek addresses the Panthers after Saturday’s win. He said this season has been special not only for the team and the school, but the entire Washougal community. Photo by Mike Schultz

He has had people come up to him to talk about the great season. 

“I’ve never seen these people,” Hajek said. “Who are they? My wife just laughs.”

Hajek recalled the playoff runs by the Union Titans when he was an assistant coach with that program. A bigger school, the crowds packed McKenzie Stadium for those games.

“The band. The fans. It was kind of crazy. It was a spectacle,” Hajek said. “We’re getting toward that.”

The new principal at Washougal is impressed.

“We usually have community members who don’t even have kids in the school come to our games. We have a lot of alumni that come to our games,” Mark Castle said. “There is a small-town football feel for it for sure.”

He loves how the players and students have joined forces to make for quite an atmosphere.

“Super proud of our athletes the way they have been performing off the field and on the field,” Castle added.

Washougal was hoping to get another home playoff game with a top-eight seed for the 2A state playoffs. The committee thought otherwise, though. The Panthers got a 9-seed and will travel to take on Highline in the first round. The way the bracket is set up, the Panthers would only get another “home” playoff game if they win two to get to the semifinals. And that semifinal would be played at a bigger stadium somewhere in Southwest Washington.

The students and the rest of the fans will have to take their act on the road for the next Washougal football game.

Washougal’s Holden Bea is a dual-threat quarterback who has helped his team to the Class 2A state football playoffs. Photo by Mike Schultz
Washougal’s Holden Bea is a dual-threat quarterback who has helped his team to the Class 2A state football playoffs. Photo by Mike Schultz

No matter. The Panthers and their support group got five home games at Washougal High School this year. Including a playoff victory.

“Being in the student section is the most fun thing I look forward to at school,” Adams said. “The excitement and cheering on your school is so much fun.”


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