It’s a story that’s never been told … until now.
After a 14-week conquest against teams from Oregon, Washington and Idaho, the Camas Papermakers defeated the Richland Bombers 24-14 at the Tacoma Dome Saturday to become state champions for the first time in school history.
“The biggest thing is, it isn’t about all the success and the wins and the plays we made. It’s all the times in practices when we were grinding. It’s pouring down rain, we’re cold, but we’re doing it all together,” said quarterback Jack Colletto. “And that’s what really makes this fun and enjoyable, when we’re doing it all together. It’s not just one person making something happen. We’re all pushing each other to be great and we’re all having a great time out there.”
David Aarhus was in tears thinking about everything he went through to get back out on the field. A fractured foot cost him the first seven weeks of the season, but he never missed a practice or a game. All of that pain, patience and preparation paid off when he got to play these last seven weeks of high school football and help his team win it all.
“The hardest thing was probably these last four quarters. Hardest football I’ve ever played in my life,” Aarhus said. “That fourth quarter seemed forever. A lot of us are banged up, injured. We just overcame that.
“No other way I’d want to win it,” he added. “Our names are etched in stone, and it’s going to be forever.”
The weight of that state championship trophy meant so much to Michael Matthews. All the hard work, dedication, blood, sweat and tears of so many Papermakers.
“It’s absolutely worth it to play football for this awesome community with my best friends,” he said. “It’s so much to take in. I’ve seriously dreamed about this day my whole life.
“No better way to end it,” Matthews added. “We’ve been talking about winning a state championship ever since we started playing football in the first grade. It’s really a dream come true.”
Camas started the game off with a bang. Colletto shook off the oncoming tacklers and fired a 35-yard missile to Cooper McNatt running all alone down the field. McNatt leaped over the goal line and came down with the football in the end zone. Less than three minutes in, it was 7-0 Papermakers.
“I knew I was getting in,” McNatt said. “The line gave Jack some time, and he threw me a perfect ball.”
Richland took advantage of two 15-yard penalties and tied the score on a 41-yard touchdown run by Ben Stanfield.
Michael Boyle went out to kick a field goal. He was a freshman on the 2013 Camas team that lost the state title game to Chiawana by one point. He remembered the missed field goals and extra-point kicks in that game.
Richland called time out to make Boyle think about it. The snap was bobbled, but Kyle Allen made a great recovery, placed the ball perfectly and Boyle blasted it through the uprights to give Camas a 10-7 lead at halftime.
“Total redemption,” Boyle said. “Even after I made that first PAT, I felt redeemed and then I just wanted to keep it going.”
Richland scored a touchdown on the first drive of the second half to go up 14-10, but Camas countered quickly.
Colletto smashed through the line of defenders for a first down, and then completed first down passes to Drake Owen and McNatt. After following his bulldozing linemen, Will Schultz broke through for a 38-yard touchdown run to put the Papermakers back up by three.
The lead was not safe. Richland kept coming up with big plays on third down and fourth down to continue marching up the field as the battle waged on into the fourth quarter. Finally, Sedric Ruiter, McNatt and Aarhus took a Bomber out on fourth down and inches to get the ball back for Camas.
“That’s just how our defense has played all year,” Ruiter said. “Everyone rallies to the ball. Eleven hats on them. We just take pride in that.”
Luke Bruno, Marshall McIvor and Cody Jackson teamed up for one more defensive stand by the Papermakers. The offense had another golden opportunity with four minutes left on the clock.
“Just remembering this is my last game for Camas,” said lineman Marcus Gray. “We need to put this in.”
Colletto noticed something in the Richland defense and told the linemen to offset the run. They hit their blocks, the Bombers backpedaled, but it was too late. Colletto was already past them and in the end zone on a 34-yard touchdown run.
“I was so pumped, but I said ‘we’re not done. Anything can happen in those last two minutes.'”
Colletto went back out on the field to play defense and made sure he didn’t get beat deep.
“I’m not going to let him beat me,” Colletto said of the opposing quarterback. “I just read his eyes, the ball came up and I made a play on it.”
Colletto intercepted a pass and ran it back as far as he could. Moments later, the Camas community celebrated its perfect, undefeated, state championship season.
“We did it! I’m so proud of everybody,” Colletto said. “Even after every playoff game, I was like ‘we got to stay the course.’ I’m still kind of in that mindset, but we did it. It’s over, and we won state.”
After the game was over, head coach Jon Eagle had one last assignment. He told his players to run to their side of the field and give thanks to the loyal fans who have been going to Camas football games for years.
Eagle just stayed in his spot, smiled and clapped his hands.
“You do it for the kids. You do it for the community,” he said. “I’m just glad that we could bring our community and our kids a great memory and a great moment.”
There couldn’t be a better ending to this story for the 31 high school seniors on this Camas football team. Throughout this 14-week journey, they never got tired of the grind. They never stopped doing all the little things it takes to become state champions because they love this game, respect their opponents and would do anything for Camas.
People who live and breathe football in this small mill town along the Columbia River in Southwest Washington will be telling stories about this team forever.