The roar of the Panthers could be heard all around Clark County, and echoed in Longview.
Here comes Washougal.
“This is just the start of new Panther football,” said junior running back Sam O’Hara. “We want to win. We want to change the culture of our school and our program.”
Knocked down to his knees in the end zone, O’Hara still had the tenacity to stretch out and grasp a sizzling hot potato from Colton Sullivan to lead the Washougal High School football team to a 10-7 victory over Hudson’s Bay Friday, at Kiggin’s Bowl in downtown Vancouver.
It was the exclamation point to a 73-yard, 12 play drive that started on Washougal’s 27-yard line with 6 minutes, 14 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
“That was a lot of fun,” Sullivan said. “After every play, I looked at the clock and it just kept ticking off. It was minutes, and then it was seconds, but we kept going.”
The Panthers pounced into the end zone and celebrated, only to have the touchdown waved off due to a penalty. Washougal regrouped and went for broke. Sullivan dropped back to pass, but was blindsided by a defender from the right. That’s when Sullivan found a fifth gear.
“I fought out of it, somehow, and just kept going,” Sullivan said. “Just as I was about to get hit again, I saw Sam. I said ‘please catch this.'”
O’Hara had been howling, trying to get his friend’s attention.
“I yelled ‘Colton,’ praying that he saw me,” O’Hara said. “He got it to me, just as I was open.”
It is one of those special plays that will be talked about in the halls at school today, and for years to come. The Panthers have arrived.
“I almost want to break down into tears, I’m so proud,” said senior linebacker Ryan Erdwins. “It’s a shocker. I hope it sends a message that we’re not going to roll over. It came down to who wanted it more, and Washougal wanted it more.”
It was a night that new head coach Bob Jacobs will never forget. The Panthers may have been shorthanded with only 22 in pads, but they all played with the heart of a lion.
“I hope the school and the community is proud. I know there are a lot of proud parents and coaches tonight,” Jacobs said. “Of all the things football has taught me, it’s how to deal with adversity. You can let adversity beat you, or you can cowboy up and overcome it. We want to build momentum and pride for our school and our football program. This is a step in the right direction.”
The Panthers put the pressure on Hudson’s Bay early, with a 40-yard field goal by Sullivan in the first quarter. The Eagles answered with a touchdown in the second quarter, and maintained their advantage until midway through the fourth quarter.
Defense kept Washougal in the game. The Panthers got their paws on four fumbled footballs, including a momentum-shifting strip by O’Hara on a Bay receiver who had his eye on the end zone and not on the ball.
“That guy was going to score, I told myself I had to catch him,” O’Hara said.
Erdwins dove on top of the bouncing ball, and the Panthers breathed in new life.
“It’s not the size of our team, it’s the size of our heart,” Erdwins said.
It was a great Friday night for Washougal, but it is only the first week of the season. The Panthers play at White Salmon Friday. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
“We’re going to enjoy this one, and then get back to work. We’ve still got a lot of work to do to earn respect,” Jacobs said. “I’m not asking for miracles, I just expect our kids to compete. Play as hard as you can for as long as you can. That’s all I ask of these kids.”