On the sidelines: Hold your flags and let the kids play

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The Washougal High School football team pushed first-place Hockinson to the brink Friday night, before the Hawks prevailed in overtime by the score of 14-7.

I would like to talk about the things the Panthers did to make their community proud. How they won their first six games of the season before these last three losses turned their whole world upside down. Even after those heartbreakers to Woodland and Mark Morris ended all hope of reaching the playoffs, Washougal was less than five minutes away from upsetting the league champions on the road in a game for nothing more than Panther pride.

But it was hard to talk about those things, because the officiating during the final minutes of regulation turned into a shouting match. The disagreements only continued in overtime.

Washougal broke through the muddy barricade to score the game’s first touchdown with about nine minutes left in the fourth quarter. The Panthers got the ball back, ran the clock down to 5:35, before getting off a long punt. But the referees signaled holding, which didn’t sit too well with the Washougal fans.

Not only did the Panthers have to punt the ball again, but they were pushed back an additional 15 yards. One of the officials turned toward the Washougal fans and said, “Stop calling us names.”

Now the Panthers had to punt the ball out of the end zone. Hockinson got much better field position and scored a touchdown to tie the game three plays later. Washougal answered with a touchdown, but was called back for holding.

The Hawks took the lead in overtime on a touchdown pass. The Panthers went all out to block the extra-point kick. Hockinson got the ball off and through the uprights, but Washougal was called for roughing the kicker. Instead of starting their sudden death on the 25-yard line, the Panthers were pushed back to the 40 and had to try and score touchdown from there.

On third-and-11, Washougal quarterback Colton Sullivan found and opening and made a beeline for the first-down marker. He appeared to have it, but the officials said he was fourth-and-short. Since the Panthers needed a first down or the game was over, I was surprised they didn’t stop play right there and take a measurement.

Sullivan crossed the marker again on fourth down. This time the officials asked for the chains. I had a horrible feeling the game was going to end right there for Washougal, but the refs signaled first down.

The Panthers still had 19 yards to go. On second down, Sullivan fired a deep pass to Karsten Short. A Hockinson defender slid into Short before he got to the ball, which was called for pass interference. But the officials also penalized Washougal for a block in the back.

The two penalties offset each other. Instead of the Panthers gaining 10 yards and a first down, they were still stuck on the 19-yard line. They could not get any closer to the end zone.

Was it just a stroke of bad luck for Washougal, or did the referees have a vendetta? I don’t want to ask this question. Unfortunately, I had to Friday night.

“The kids should determine the outcome of the game, not the officials,” said Panther head coach Bob Jacobs. “I think every coach in the world wishes for that.”

The Washougal football players are still very proud of what they accomplished for their town. Nobody can take these two winning seasons away from them. Read what they had to say about this rollercoaster ride in Tuesday’s print edition of the Post-Record.

See you on the sidelines.