Today is the day six Washougal High School seniors have been dreaming about for four years.
Zach Boland, Caleb Howard, Sam O’Hara, Jeremiah Palmer and Colton Sullivan never made it to the playoffs in football, so they focused all of their attention on soccer.
“We’ve all been working toward this moment for pretty much the whole year, and in previous years too,” Boland said. “I trust my teammates with my life.”
“When I say these guys are my brothers, I view them as that,” O’Hara added. “We grew up together in this town and we all care about this community. I just feel lucky to be around this great group of guys all through high school.”
With senior Michael Wright and an explosive batch of underclassmen, these Panthers are going to step foot on to the turf at Sunset Chevrolet Stadium at 6 p.m. tonight and play Fife in the first round of the 2A state championship tournament.
“It feels like a whole new season now,” Wright said. “With the way we have been playing lately, we don’t want it to end.”
Washougal has not been this far in soccer since the boys placed fourth at state in 2001. Stepping into uncharted territory can be scary and exciting. Assistant coach Charlie Boyce offered some worthy advice.
“Don’t get wowed by the moment in the first 10 minutes,” he said to the boys. “Own the game in the first 10 minutes. Let them know it’s your show.”
The Panthers were listening.
“We’ve got to come out fast, or it could change the whole outcome of the game,” Sullivan said. “We’ve got to jump on them and take them by surprise.”
Washougal got the jump on their opponents in the district tournament. After losing to Tumwater 3-0 in the semifinals, the Panthers rebounded in a big way by knocking off their league nemesis Hockinson 2-1 Thursday. Elesey Razumovskiy netted both goals before the Hawks could even get on the scoreboard.
“For one group of seniors, it was going to be their last game,” said head coach John Tyger. “Our kids understood that. They dug down deep and left it all on that field. It was one of those games where you knew they were not going to be denied.”
That set up a rematch with Aberdeen for third place Saturday at Fishback Stadium. O’Hara scored the only goal off a throw-in from freshman Yorro Bah, and the Panthers shut the Rams down on defense to win 1-0.
“In times we lost those games, it was because we couldn’t finish. So it felt good to score the first goal and keep going from there,” O’Hara said. “We have been able to compete with every team we’ve played this year. I’m glad to see our hard work pay off because we have worked very hard. And if we can continue to win, that is only going to bring more support to our town and our community.”
Those six Washougal seniors never going to forget those final seconds of soccer Saturday, and the celebration that followed.
“It was just amazing hearing the crowd count down from 10. We were all looking at each other knowing we had finally made it,” Wright said. “Teams like this don’t come around all that often. We want to enjoy every moment because we don’t know when we will ever get this chance again.”
Tyger hopes it doesn’t take another 11 years. Since taking over as head coach at Washougal in 2002, this is his first trip to state. He said it was worth the wait to be able to see such a special group of boy’s dreams come true.
“It all started when these seniors came into the program together as freshmen. The ball hasn’t always bounced in their favor and luck wasn’t always on their side,” Tyger said. “After that game on Saturday, it was surreal. It was like all of their hard work had finally paid off for them.”