The history of football in Camas has been rewritten, but the Papermakers are not going to stop climbing.
Camas reached the century mark Saturday, becoming the first football team in school history to win a state playoff game. The thousands of fans who spilled out of Doc Harris Stadium are never going to forget those final seven minutes, when the Papermakers scored a touchdown and made a heart thumping stop on fourth-and-goal to defeat Juanita of Kirkland 20-13.
“It feels amazing. The whole team came through. It’s like a dream come true,” said senior defensive back slash wide receiver and running back Addison Owen.
“I really believe in my team, right now,” he added. “We’re one of the best teams in the state.”
Doc Harris had never been louder than it was during the final defensive stand made by Camas. Down by seven points, the Rebels earned three first downs and then converted on fourth down to get within 14 yards of tying the game with 2 minutes, 50 seconds to go. That is when the Papermakers put a stop to all the madness.
“We came together and said, ‘three minutes left for the rest of our lives,'” said senior linebacker Ikaika Gunderson. “From that point on, we gave 100 percent on every possession.”
Gunderson stopped the runner dead in his tracks on first down. Juanita saw daylight on the next play, but Camas junior defensive back John Payne grabbed the ball handler’s leg from behind and wouldn’t let go. On third down, Jeremy Faulkner zeroed in on the Rebel runner and made the tackle.
Now, it was all on the line for the Papermakers. One more down to get, nine yards to defend and 29.8 seconds left on the clock. Junior Kyle Goodnow snagged the retriever not too long after the ball was hiked. The Rebel disappeared from view in a whirlwind of Camas defenders, and crashed three yards short of a first down.
“After all the work we had done in the last four years, I knew we could make that stop,” said senior lineman Odin Coe. “You never forget the big games like this one, but what I’ll remember most is the practices every day with my teammates and getting up early in the morning to lift weights. It has all paid off.”
Owen ignited the offense from the first drive of the game. He caught a pretty over-the-shoulder catch from quarterback Tony Gennaro, and turned it into a 43-yard gain for first-and-goal. Owen lost the ball on the next play, but he picked it up and crossed the goal line to give the Papermakers a quick six points.
Coe led a gang tackle that stopped Juanita a yard short on third down. The Rebels decided to go for it on fourth down, but couldn’t get a play off through the sonic boom created by the Camas crowd before they were called for delay of game. Pushed back six yards, there was no choice but to punt.
The Papermakers clearly had the momentum at that point, and then disaster struck. The football was snapped over Gennaro’s head, and bounced all the way back into the end zone. Gennaro dove into the fray, and scratched and clawed for the pigskin, but Juanita recovered it for a touchdown. Owen jumped up and swatted the extra-point kick to keep the game tied at 6-6.
After the teams traded defensive stands, Camas regained control with about three minutes to go in the first half. Goodnow recovered a fumble, and then Gennaro hit Brent Hill on the fly down the right sidelines for first-and-goal. Gennaro finished the deal by connecting with Kyle Ervin on a 6-yard touchdown pass.
“I know if I throw the ball up to any one of these guys, they’re going to come down with it,” Gennaro said.
He also shares plenty of smiles with his role model Logan Grindy, who is out with a fractured fibula but has not missed a game or a practice.
“It’s tough not having Logan out there. He’s our team leader, and he’s done this for so many years,” Gennaro said. “Every time I come back to the sidelines, I thank him for all of his help. I couldn’t do this without him.”
The Papermakers led 13-6 at halftime, but the battle was far from over. After nearly 16 minutes of back and forth action that had the fans of both teams on the edge of their seats, the Rebels’ side erupted when Juanita blocked a Camas field goal and ran the football all the way back for a game-tying 70 yard touchdown.
The home side gasped when Ervin fumbled the tricky kickoff, but he avoided disaster by recovering the ball and giving Camas a nice return. Gennaro and Hill connected again, this time on a 36-yard acrobatic strike between two defenders. The Papermakers were buried on third-and-11, when Miguel Salamanca snatched the ball out of the air to earn a first-and-goal.
After calling timeout, Camas had the perfect play designed. Gennaro faked the defenders into going right, before he broke their ankles by throwing the ball to Faulkner in the left pocket of the end zone.
“I just let that one go,” Gennaro said. “It was all Jeremy. He was so wide open. It was such a perfect play.”
Camas fans were screaming at the top of their lungs, as Faulkner made his run. Gennaro already had his hands up. Everybody with a Camas hat or uniform on was ready to celebrate, except for Faulkner. He had his eyes on one of the biggest touchdowns in Papermaker history, and it was up to him to catch it.
“Those catches are sometimes the hardest ones to make,” Faulkner said. “There’s just too much time to think about it. That one ball just seemed to hang up there forever.”
Faulkner’s game-winning catch from Gennaro ranks right up there in Camas history with the one Jeff Rice made from Scott Hagensen in 2005 that catapulted the Papermakers to the first of three straight appearances in the state tournament. Every time those teams lost in the first round, it made football players in Camas want that first state playoff victory more than ever.
“All those guys put Camas on the map,” Faulkner said. “We’re here to continue that tradition, and to take that next step for our town.”
Hagensen could not have picked a better year to return to Camas High School. He has helped set up sporting events for the Papermakers, while working on a master’s in teaching at Concordia University.
“I didn’t get to watch the whole game, while I was working. What I saw was good, hard-nosed football. The kids should be proud,” Hagensen said. “It’s amazing the confidence these guys must be feeling right now. They broke the curse.
“You never know what can happen,” he added. “If these guys can win a few more games, they could be in for the big time.”
Let the historical postseason continue for the Papermakers. Camas hosts Lakes in the quarterfinals Friday, at Doc Harris Stadium. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. One more victory, and the Papermakers are on their way to the Tacoma Dome.