The Panthers put the rest of the 2A Greater St. Helens League on notice after shutting out Columbia River 17-0 at Fishback Stadium Friday.
“This proves to people that we’re for real. We’re coming,” said senior lineman Ian Harris. “We lost to them last year. Coming back and getting the win is just like revenge. Revenge is sweet. What can I say?”
Head coach Dave Hajek put it all in perspective. He played football for the Panthers. He has taught and coached at the high school for decades. He can’t remember the last time Washougal beat Columbia River in football.
“(Our players) should be proud. We haven’t beaten River in a very long time. At least since I’ve been around,” Hajek said. “Our goal is not just to beat River. We’d like to win a league title, or at least be up for it, but time will tell. I think we will continue to get better and I think we will be in a situation where we can play for a league title.”
The Panthers limited the Chieftains to 130 yards of offense, including only 21 passing yards. After a scoreless first, Washougal jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the second quarter. Ryan Stevens delivered an 11-yard touchdown pass to Nathan Tofell. Stevens also kicked a 33-yard field goal, following a fumble recovery by Jakob Davis.
It was still anybody’s ball game at the start of the second half. The Panthers moved down the field swiftly, until penalties sent them tumbling backwards. Washougal retraced its steps on a couple of gutsy runs by Stevens, Kade Coons and Grant Lewis. The Panthers faced a third down and 15 when Stevens dropped back to pass and Brevan Bea came down with the ball in the end zone for a touchdown. The 28-yard strike gave the Panthers a 17-point lead.
“We ran the same play twice. I just couldn’t see him on the first one. On the second one, Kade was like, ‘(Brevan is) wide open. Give him a shot, put some air into it.’ So, that’s what I did, and he came down with it,” Stevens said. “I felt that definitely sealed the game. We got our momentum right back and took away their hope for the second half.”
Columbia River couldn’t hold on to the rock for long before fumbling it again. Nick Oakes dove on the ball for Washougal, and the Panthers were off and running again.
“It was a great feeling. Saw that ball on the turf, had to scoop it up. Not letting go of that,” Oakes said. “We just wanted to complete what we did. Win the second half. Just finish and fight through when you’re tired.”
Washougal forced the Chieftains to turn the ball over on downs as the third quarter came to a close. Preston Thornton also picked off a pass for the Panthers in the fourth quarter. Washougal held on to the ball and kept driving down the field for the final four minutes of the game.
“You’re happy for that,” Hajek said. “They didn’t wilt under the pressure. They weren’t afraid of Columbia River, and River is a team that has historically beaten Washougal.”
Last year, Washougal blew a 10-point lead to Columbia River and lost the game to drop to 0-3. The Panthers rallied and made the playoffs for the first time in nine years. This season, Washougal is off to a 3-0 start.
“It’s like exercising a ghost. A ghost from Washougal’s past. Not only beating River, but feeling like we got one stolen from us last year,” Hajek said.
“It was a great win, but we have to get better,” he added. “We made way too many mistakes and penalties. You do that against Hockinson and you lose.”
Washougal faces Mark Morris Friday, at Longview Memorial Stadium. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. The grass field there can be tricky, and rain is in the forecast.
After heading to Ridgefield Friday, Sept. 29, the Panthers host defending league champion Hockinson Friday, Oct. 6, in their homecoming game.
“We’re just going to build on the brotherhood. It’s getting stronger every game,” Harris said. “We’ve been playing since we were little. It’s all for the brotherhood.”