Graduating seniors from high schools in Southwest Washington had a week to find a common bond on the football field before playing in the Freedom Bowl Saturday.
After visiting the Shriner’s Hospital for Children, the game took on a whole new meaning. Rivalries and petty differences went out the window. These able moving athletes focused on giving their all for children sidelined by disabilities.
“At the first practice, we kind of clashed. By Wednesday, we started to pull together as a family. We put the Shriner’s Hospital before us,” said Washougal lineman John Sunderland. “Those kids are phenomenal. They go through so much, while we’re privileged to have these athletic gifts. We’re helping them fulfill their dream to run and play football.”
Washougal grads Sunderland, Tristan Roseff and Brandon Casteel teamed with Camas players Reid Conlee, A.J. Finley and Isaiah Ephraim. They helped the East all-stars beat the West 28-13 in the Freedom Bowl Saturday, at McKenzie Stadium in Vancouver.
The West took a 13-0 advantage on their first drive in the third quarter, but a missed extra point kick gave the East hope.
“We were all running straight off adrenaline,” Ephraim said. “We’re tired, but we’re going to win this.”
Mountain View receiver Corey Henderson and quarterback Lexington Reese connected on two touchdown passes to give the East a 14-13 edge going into the fourth quarter.
Finley intercepted a pass in the end zone to give the East the ball again.
“We knew we needed to make a big play. I had no idea it was going to be me,” Finley said. “I’m glad my team won more than I was about getting that interception.”
Hockinson’s Austin Johnson caught Reese’s third touchdown pass to give the East some breathing room. After the West turned the ball over on downs, Ephraim secured a 26-yard touchdown pass.
“I’m just happy I caught the ball,” Ephraim said. “It was definitely the highlight of the game for me.”
It wasn’t an easy catch. Ephraim said he turned to the left, but the ball was coming right. When he spun around, the ball was going to the left. He stopped, reached up and got his hands around the ball.
“I didn’t even know if I was in the end zone or not,” Ephraim said. “And then it was like, ‘Wait, I just scored for our team. We just put this game away.'”
Finley, Ephraim and Sunderland were thrilled to give the children of Shriner’s hospitals an entertaining game.
“It was a humbling experience. I got to see a ton of kids who wish they could do the things we can do out here,” Finley said. “Winning was important, but the number-one goal was to be an ambassador for those kids.”