Winning at the Tacoma Dome is no longer impossible for the Camas High School football team.
The Papermakers shattered that glass ceiling when they defeated Bellarmine Prep 49-21 Saturday, in the semifinal round of the state tournament.
“Every year since I’ve been here, we’ve been breaking down barriers but we had never been able to get past this one,” said senior offensive lineman Matt Walser. “It’s such a great feeling to be able to smash through this road block and keep going. Right now, I feel like we can do anything.”
Camas (13-0) will face Chiawana (12-1), of Pasco, in the state championship game Saturday, at the Tacoma Dome. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m.
“We want to finish out with a win, but so does the other team,” said senior linebacker and tight end Michael DiGenova. “Both teams are going to be ready for a fight. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
These Camas football players have been dreaming about this opportunity since they were little kids. They say this bond between them has grown, matured and strengthened over time.
“We work together as a family,” said senior defensive lineman John Ashford. “I’m surrounded by my brothers. They got my back and I got theirs. This win just brought us even closer.”
Camas proved it belonged in the championship game from the opening kickoff against Bellarmine Prep. DiGenova snagged a 28-yard pass from quarterback Reilly Hennessey. Nate Beasley broke loose off a block from Drew Clarkson and galloped for a 42-yard gain to give the Papermakers a first-and-goal. Zach Eagle caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Hennessey, and it was quickly 7-0 Camas.
“That day we lost here last year has been on my mind ever since,” Hennessey said. “All of my brothers had the same dream and the same thirst as I did. For them to compete as hard as I did every day to get back up here and win makes this moment even more special.”
Papermaker defenders Ashford, DiGenova, Eagle, Adam Dawson, Matt Danis, Jorden Payne and Jason Vailea were all over the Lions. Seniors Brad Hansen and Dylan White were also back in the rotation from injuries.
Camas got the ball right back, and Hennessey fired first down passes to James Price, Eagle and Payne. Eagle reached the end zone again on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Hennessey.
“I’ll sleep good tonight knowing our season isn’t over yet. We get to play football for one more week longer this year,” Eagle said. “We trusted each other throughout the journey. That’s how we got to this point, with each other the whole way.”
Hennessey completed 21 passes for 343 yards and three touchdowns. Eagle made 11 catches for 170 yards and three touchdowns. DiGenova grabbed six footballs for 134 yards on offense to go along with an interception on defense.
“I couldn’t have done it without my coaches putting me in the right spot and my teammates doing their jobs,” DiGenova said. “You can’t put it into words what it means to make those plays in big games like this. It’s just a phenomenal feeling to get the job done like that.”
Bellarmine Prep scored a touchdown on its next possession, but Camas didn’t flinch. There would be no repeat of last season in the Tacoma Dome, when the Papermakers let a 14-0 lead slip away and lost the game.
“Not for one second did I think about last year’s game,” said head coach Jon Eagle. “I just saw great maturity and great leadership. These kids weren’t starry-eyed. It was just another football game. You got to treat it that way.”
Like any other football game, Camas kept piling on points. DiGenova snagged a 25-yard silver bullet, Beasley added a 13-yard run, and Eagle and Hennessey scrambled for first downs to get the Papermakers near the goal line. Vailea bowled over a Bellarmine Prep lineman to score a 5-yard touchdown.
Dawson sacked the opposing quarterback and the Lions were forced to punt again. DiGenova made three more catches to set up another first-and-goal for Camas. Beasley capped off the drive with a 2-yard touchdown dash. He rushed for 128 yards in the game on 27 carries.
Bellarmine Prep turned a 79-yard kick return into a touchdown, but it didn’t take Camas long to respond. Eagle and Slav Mikhalets snagged catches for first downs. Eagle handled a fireball from Hennessey, shook off a defender and had a clear path to the end zone. This 41-yard touchdown was Eagle’s third in the first half.
“We wanted to win this game, and we did everything we could to make it happen,” he said. “We had to play hard for four quarters, and I think we did that.”
The Papermakers led 35-14 at halftime, but didn’t settle. DiGenova dragged a defender for a few more yards after making a catch and run for 37 yards. Eagle dodged a couple more defenders on his 22-yard strike. Cole Zarcone carried the Papermakers closer to the goal line. Vailea carved out the final three yards for his second touchdown.
Zarcone delivered a 9-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. He had eight carries for 68 yards in the game.
It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play football in the Tacoma Dome. Camas has experienced it three times. This state championship game coming up is the one this mill town has been making paper for.
“We’re just teenage boys out here chasing dreams,” Hennessey said. “We’ve got seven days of high school football left. I can’t think of a better way to spend seven days of my life.”