Deep in the heart of Camas

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Thousands of Papermakers, young and old, brought their lunch pails into the Tacoma Dome and watched their football team go to work.

On the first drive of this 4A state semifinal game Saturday, Nate Beasley had three carries for 45 yards and Zach Eagle added three catches for 23 yards. Beasley capped off the effort with a 24-yard touchdown.

Then, it was time for defending state champion Skyline to have a turn with the ball. On third down, Camas senior linebacker John Norcross bursted through the line of scrimmage and slammed quarterback Max Browne into the ground.

It would be Papermaker ball again, but the Spartans were able to pin them on the 3-yard line after the punt took a favorable bounce. On the next snap following a short run by Beasley, Camas quarterback Reilly Hennessey dodged the defensive rush into the end zone and threw a spectacular pass that had the Papermakers on the edge of their seats. They saw Zach Eagle deep down the field with nobody covering him. The ball fell right into Eagle’s nest and he soared into the end zone on a 94-yard strike.

“I don’t think I had ever been that wide open,” Eagle said. “Reilly saw me, hit me with the perfect pass and it was off to the races. It was so exciting.”

It only took 7 minutes into the game for Camas to gain a 14-0 advantage, but what happened next took everybody by surprise. Skyline turned four interceptions into 44 straight points. The Papermakers cut the Spartan lead down to 16 points with less than nine minutes to go in the game, but Skyline gained two more turnovers and a 52-28 victory.

“I thought this was a game we could win, but it doesn’t go your way sometimes,” Beasley said. “We started building momentum, but they came back fighting. We kind of spoke too soon after we got those first two touchdowns.”

But Camas never quit. A lot of teams would have rolled over when they were down 44-14, but that is not the Papermaker nature. Camas played some of its best football of the season late in the third quarter and into the fourth quarter, when the Papermakers scored two touchdowns and made two defensive stands.

“That really showed what Camas football is all about. We don’t give up. We just keep playing until that final whistle,” Beasley said. “We showed it in that fourth quarter. We trained for that whistle and we still had it.”

Camas showed plenty of guts on a 10-play, 72-yard drive that left no question about the heart of this city. Eagle fought for yards and first downs, Norcross and Jason Vailea worked their wildcat magic one last time, and then Hennessey dove in between two defenders and landed in the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown dash.

The defense did its job, and the Papermakers got the ball back. Hennessey fired first down passes to Eagle and Michael Digenova, but then Camas faced a fourth-and-10 hurdle. Hennessey shook off two defenders and eluded another, before slinging the football to Eagle.

“We all made it clear we weren’t going to go down without a fight. We wanted to prove we were here for a reason,” Hennessey said. “That one play was in slow motion. I just told myself, ‘you’re not going to go down.’ I flicked it to Zach and he made something big happen.”

Eagle maneuvered around the defensive backs and landed in the end zone for his second touchdown. He also eclipsed the 200-yard mark.

“Reilly was doing everything he could to keep that play alive, and so was I,” Eagle said. “We still believed we could win. It was a team fighting spirit led by a great group of seniors and juniors. Everybody did everything they could to get us back in this game.”

The Camas defense then had its moment. Vailea, Macon Sumpter, Norcross, Colton Dowd and Josh Ashford buried a Spartan on the Tacoma Dome turf.

One play later, Vailea grabbed Browne’s legs and wouldn’t let them go until he brought down the University of Southern California bound quarterback. Browne completed 29 of his 32 passes in the game for 386 yards and four touchdowns.

Two more turnovers kept Camas out of the end zone. As the final minutes in this unforgettable season ticked away, the Papermakers who came all this way were still chanting, “We love Camas!”

“The common thing I heard was ‘look around,’” Norcross said. “This is the last time we are going to play football for Camas High School. Look at all those people in the stands and the players next to you who are not quitting. It’s the best experience I’ve ever had.”