Mountain View earning its place

Thunder players not talking playoffs until it is earned

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

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The Mountain View Thunder have not accomplished anything this football season.

That’s what the coaches keep telling the players. That’s what the players keep telling themselves.

They are close to achieving a major goal, though. Real close.

However, the Thunder know all about being close. The Thunder have finished with a winning record the past three seasons. Yet none of those 5-4 campaigns — including the past two led by head coach Adam Mathieson — resulted in a playoff berth.

Mountain View is 5-2 this season, including 3-1 in the Class 3A Greater St. Helens League, with two to play.

“We reminded them that in the past two years, we’ve ended the year with five wins,” Mathieson said. “We have five wins right now. What have we done that’s any different from the last two years? Nothing. That’s why we must prepare each and every day for each and every battle on Friday.”

The players have accepted that philosophy, even as they were reminded about it in a team meeting earlier this week. Back in August, every player in the program signed a banner, committing to the program and its core values. And this program does not believe in talking about playoff berths until playoff berths have been earned.

“We’ve had some success this year, but we want to continue to get better,” center Drew Bryant said. “Like (Coach) said, we haven’t accomplished much yet.”

Yet.

That is a key word.

If the Thunder do what they hope to do, they will be in the playoffs for the first time since 2006. (Oddly enough, that was the last year they did not have a winning record — they just won enough league games to qualify.) Mountain View plays Hudson’s Bay tonight and could clinch a playoff berth depending on results from other games. Next week, the team takes on Columbia River in a game that could determine a berth, as well.

There are a lot of variables and nothing is a guarantee. Which is why Mathieson is cautious.

“We didn’t come into the year to win five games or two games or nine games. We came into the year to improve every game,” he said. “We’re on the right track.”

Mountain View’s two losses have come against teams with a combined record of 13-1. The Thunder were within two touchdowns of Camas, and held Union to 10 points.

“In my mind, to be a successful football team, it’s going to start with defense and special teams,” Mathieson said. “The offense will come around as the year goes on.”

After that 10-0 loss to Union, the Thunder won their next two games by a combined score of 84-7.

Against Kelso last week, Mountain View’s defense held the run-happy Hilanders, who came into the game unbeaten in league play, to 64 yards on the ground.

“We’ve got a great system,” defensive lineman Ryan Johnson said. “Fill your gaps, strike ‘em, and make them second-guess what they’re doing.”

The Mountain View offense rushed for more than 300 yards.

“Team-wise, it’s very encouraging,” Bryant said. “We pride ourselves on being a physical football team. That week, we executed very well. We’re not perfect, but it was a great team effort. Wide receivers were blocking downfield, (running back) P.J. (Jones) was making good cuts, and the offensive line was getting off the ball.”

Johnson, it can be argued, is one of the best defensive linemen in the region. And that means he gets plenty of attention from opponents.

“I’m just trying to do my job,” he said. “If I’m getting double-teamed all day, that means our linebackers are getting the tackles.”

That, more than the win-loss record, is what counts for Mathieson. Johnson and the Thunder all are making individual sacrifices this season.

“It’s a humble group of kids. They have really bought into assignment football,” the coach said. “They have very little to do with personal stats. They’re into team stats. They’ve really bought into team glory. As a coach, that’s really rewarding.”