After nine weeks of climbing, the Camas High School football team reached the top of the 3A Greater St. Helens League.
“A lot of hard work went into this by our players and coaches,” said head coach Jon Eagle. “I am so proud of our kids for how hard they have fought in the last nine weeks to get to this point. Now, it’s time to have some fun. The playoffs are all about fun.”
The Papermakers defeated the Kelso Hilanders 24-13 Friday, at Doc Harris Stadium, to become league champions for the first time since 2007. Seniors Logan Grindy and Brent Hill connected on a breathtaking 15 yard touchdown pass in the right corner of the end zone. Before the crowd could settle down, Hill knocked the ball loose from a Kelso receiver and wound up back in the end zone for his second touchdown in 19 seconds.
“It’s good to start out hot like we did, but we have to keep the foot on the throttle. We almost let this one slip through our fingers,” Hill said. “We underestimated Kelso. We thought they weren’t going to be as hard as they were. Good teams can’t do that.”
The Hilanders scored their first touchdown following a fumbled punt return near the end of the first quarter. The Papermakers made three long drives into scoring position in the second quarter, but could not finish the deal.
First, they were stopped on fourth down. On the second attempt, Miguel Salamanca showed incredible tenacity by running through a sea of defenders to get Camas to first-and-goal. Again, Kelso turned the tables by intercepting a pass in the end zone. On the final try, the Papermakers settled for a 33-yard field goal by Roldan Alcobendas and a 17-7 halftime lead.
“We haven’t played a team with a winning record in more than a month, and it showed. We got caught not ready,” Eagle said. “We’re not as good as we thought we were. People can say that we’re 9-0, but that doesn’t help. We’ve got a lot of things to work on.”
It got worse for Camas in the third quarter, before it got better. Kelso converted on fourth down twice, and scored a touchdown to get within four points. Scratching and clawing for yards again late in the third quarter, the Papermakers reached into their bag of tricks and pulled out a winner. Grindy posed like the Statue of Liberty, and handed the ball off to Zack Marshall behind his back. Marshall followed his blockers all the way for a 39-yard touchdown run.
“We had great fight at the end. I am so proud of our team,” Marshall said. “That is what is going to help us go far in the playoffs; that fight in the end.”
It got much worse for Camas in the fourth quarter, when Grindy suffered a fractured fibula. The senior felt something pop as he tried to dodge some tackles. He got his leg taped up and jumped back in the huddle to try and help his team finish the game.
“I didn’t know I had broken it,” Grindy said. “I knew it was worse than a sprain, but I wanted to go out and play just like everyone else.”
Eagle said he did not know how serious Grindy was injured until he watched the game on film Saturday.
“Here’s a guy who wants to win so bad, that he would go back out there with a broken leg,” Eagle said. “That says a lot about that him, and how much he loves this game and his team.”
The smooth ascent up the mountain has suddenly become treacherous, but Camas is going to keep climbing. Tony Gennaro steps in as quarterback. The junior took the snaps when the Papermakers won the Oregon State University football camp last summer, while Grindy was nursing an injured thumb.
Camas (9-0) hosts Rainier Beach (6-3) in a bi-district playoff game Friday, at Doc Harris Stadium. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
“They have a good quarterback who can throw it a mile, and they have a huge front line,” Eagle said.
The Papermakers are determined to win the first state playoff football game in Camas history. That is why the players and coaches will keep climbing, and the community will follow.