Panthers go down fighting against Columbia River

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Washougal's Nathan Tofell and Tyler Bowlin bring down the River running back Friday, at Columbia River High School.

These Panthers sure are fighters.

Marcos Martinez and Jake Klackner scored touchdowns to give Washougal a 14-3 head start against the newest team in the 2A Greater St. Helens League Friday, at Columbia River High School.

The Chieftains gained the lead by the end of the third quarter, and then took advantage of three turnovers by the Panthers in the fourth quarter, to secure a 35-21 victory.

“I thought we came a long ways in the last week,” said Washougal head coach Dave Hajek. “[Columbia River] won the 3A league title last year. We did a good job battling with them and I thought we were going to pull it out.”

The Panthers set the pace right out of the gate. Klackner caught a 14-yard pass from quarterback Ryan Stevens on third down, and then a 12-yard pass from Stevens on fourth down to keep the drive alive. Kade Coons broke loose for a 24-yard run to set Martinez up for a 2-yard smash into the end zone.

Washougal stuffed Columbia River in front of the goal line on its first try, and held the Chieftains to a field goal on the next one.

“We were doing what the coaches said and everything was clicking,” said defensive back Luke Langland. “Our intensity was up. We were going play after play, never taking a play off.”

Washougal got back into scoring position when Klackner snagged a 30-yard pass over his shoulder. Stevens hit Klackner again up the middle, and he dove across the goal line for a 10-yard touchdown.

Klackner said intense practices paid off for the Panthers in this game.

“The first two weeks didn’t go so well,” he said. “This week, we were really focused and fired up. Everything was good and we played really well. We need to do that again.”

The Panthers continued to make tackles, but couldn’t stop River on those critical third downs. This allowed the Chieftains to pick up some steam and score touchdowns before halftime and the end of the third quarter to take a six-point lead.

The biggest turnaround for Columbia River came in the first half of the fourth quarter, when a defensive back picked up a live ball off a backwards lateral that hit the ground and returned it for a 60-yard touchdown.

“[The officals] said it was a lateral. From my vantage point, it looked like it went forward,” Hajek said. “There’s not a lot we can do about that. The positive part of that whole play is that the kids came back. They didn’t use it as an excuse to stop playing.”

Washougal countered right away on a 44-yard touchdown pass from Stevens to Langland to rally back within seven.

“The corner bit on the short route. [Stevens] saw that, threw it deep and nobody was back there to stop it,” Langland said. “It was a game changer, and we knew we had a chance. It was a great play. It really brought the energy back into us.”

Washougal regained possession with two minutes left in the game. Columbia River intercepted the ball and then scored a touchdown to solidify the victory.

The Panthers continue to scratch and claw for that first win of the season.

“Hurts to lose, but we gave it everything we had against a really tough team and I’m proud of everyone,” Klackner said. “I know we’re pretty fired up right now. We want this win really bad and we are going to do everything it takes.”

After two tough road games, Washougal returns home to host Mark Morris Friday and Ridgefield, Sept. 30. Both games begin at 7 p.m., at Fishback Stadium.

“No matter what the score is, these kids do a great job of representing Washougal,” Hajek said. “All I care about right now is that they continue to work hard and they continue to fight, which they will because they’re Washougal kids.”