An epic celebration erupted at Mount Tahoma Stadium in Tacoma on Saturday, Dec. 7, when Camas High School (CHS) senior quarterback Blake Asciutto kneeled to the turf on the final play of the 4A state championship game, sealing the Papermakers’ second title in the past four years.
At the same time, just 20 yards away on the sidelines, players dunked CHS head coach Jon Eagle with ice water, and emotions exploded like they were being uncorked from a giant champagne bottle.
“This is honestly the best feeling I’ve ever had in my life,” senior Randy Yaacoub said after the Papermakers beat Bothell High School (BHS) 35-14 to cap an undefeated season.
After going 5-5 last season and failing to qualify for the state tournament, the Papermakers dubbed the 2019 campaign as their “Revenge Tour,” which became the team’s motto throughout the season.
But the players likely never envisioned such a perfect ending to the team’s season-long quest for redemption; the Papermakers (14-0) beat all five teams that defeated them last season, including the Cougars, who ended their 2018 campaign with a one-point win in a Week 10 playoff game.
“We got to play Bothell again and we won. This means everything,” CHS senior linemen Tai Tumanuvao screamed after the game.
Players embraced each other, jumping up and down with adrenaline-fueled jubilation as officials walked onto the field with the state championship trophy. Junior running back Jacques Badolato-Birdsell clutched the trophy tight with both arms while posing for photographs with his teammates after rushing a career-high 34 times for 207 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
“Last year’s loss (to Bothell) really motivated us,” he said. “We did it. We showed them what we’ve got this year, and the brotherhood we’ve created here won’t be forgotten. I’m going to remember everything.”
After the photographs were taken, the players took the trophy to the fans, who were also erupting with blissful emotions in the packed grandstands.
“It’s so important that you can look back and see all the red in the stands,” said Eagle, drenched but smiling. “It means a lot. It makes a difference.”
‘This is real family’
As a cold mist returned to the stadium during the Papermakers’ post-game celebration, players reflected on their high school football journeys that began when they were freshmen in 2016 when CHS won its first state championship, defeating Richland High School in the Tacoma Dome for the title.
“Just watching that team play boosted all of us to seize this moment,” Yaacoub said. “We worked so hard to get here.”
The players said they’ll mostly remember the hard work they put in and the friendships that were created.
“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. All those days getting up early and working out before school and getting all sweaty and not being able to even take a shower before school, it’s all worth it,” Asciutto said.
Senior linemen Caadyn Stephen, a University of Southern California commit who moved to Camas from Alaska last year to gain more exposure to college programs, sustained a season-ending back injury in September but stayed tight with his team, supporting the players from the sidelines during the championship game.
“I’m playing for the best high school team in the nation,” he said. “This place has changed my life. Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better place or a better team or a better coach to play for.”
Senior Jackson Clemmer said the bond he shares with his teammates will be etched into their souls for life.
“This is a family,” he said. “Just look around at all these guys. This is real family and real emotions, and everyone is crying and just loving this incredible moment right now. Ten or 20 years from now we will all still be good friends because of what we just went through.”
CHS takes control early
After a day of heavy rain, the clouds and winds took a little break for the championship game and didn’t return until midway through the Papermakers’ victory celebration.
CHS took advantage of the favorable conditions and scored on its first possession of the game with a Badolato-Birdsell 5-yard touchdown run with 9 minutes, 33 seconds left in the first quarter, capping a seven-play, 85-yard drive.
On the Papermakers’ next possession, Badolato-Birdsell racked up 63 yards on nine carries, and Tyler Forner scored on a 1-yard run to give the Papermakers a 14-0 lead with 4:22 left in the first quarter.
Badolato-Birdsell struck again in the second quarter, taking a pitch 48 yards into the end zone to give CHS a 21-0 lead with 5:30 left in the first half.
BHS responded with a 6-yard touchdown catch by Blake Bickhaus with 56 seconds left in the second quarter.
The Cougars continued to move the ball on their first possession of the second half, and finished the drive with a 39-yard touchdown catch by Jordyn Turner to cut the Papermakers’ lead to 21-14.
Later in the third quarter, after a shanked punt gave CHS great field position, the Papermakers took advantage when Clemmer outmuscled two defenders for a 28-yard touchdown reception for a 28-14 CHS lead.
Both teams traded punts to begin the fourth quarter before the Cougars (11-3) turned the ball over on downs and the Papermakers went on a long drive which was capped by Badolato-Birdsell’s third touchdown of the game on a 3-yard rush, giving Camas a 35-14 lead with 2:45 left in the game.
Then Clemmer made another highlight-reel play, this time on defense with a one-handed interception on what turned out to be BHS’ final possession of the game.
“This whole week during practice we were focusing on No. 13 (Turner) because he’s a tall fast dude, so we knew we had to protect the deep ball,” Clemmer said. “My job was to stay deep and I just stayed deeper than him and somehow it happened.”
Forner led the Papermakers on defense with seven tackles and one sack. The stingy Camas defense limited the Cougars to 287 yards of total offense.