Football fever is running wild in Washougal

Following a winning season, the Panthers look to spread their wings

By Dan Trujillo, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 

o Friday, 7 p.m, at Fishback Stadium.

o Friday, 7 p.m, at Fishback Stadium.

Sept. 3, 2010, is the day football fever infected Washougal.

On that fateful evening at Kiggins Bowl in downtown Vancouver, Sam O’Hara snagged a game-winning touchdown pass from Colton Sullivan in the final seconds of the game to lead the Panthers to a 10-7 victory over the hometown favored Hudson’s Bay Eagles.

Week by week, the contagious excitement spread like wildfire. And by the end of the year, Washougal had its first winning season since 2004. It all goes back to that shot in the dark against Hudson’s Bay. On Friday, the two teams face each other again at Fishback Stadium. Kick off is at 7 p.m.

“The kids worked hard all summer, and I’m excited to see it pay off for them against Hudson’s Bay,” said head coach Bob Jacobs. “Beating a 3A school two years in a row would be great. At the same time, I respect their kids and their coaches. It’s going to be a battle. I just hope we play well enough to deserve to win.”

Before going 5-4 in 2010, the Panthers went 0-9 in 2008 and 2-7 in 2009. The goal for 2011 is to compete with the larger schools, such as Hudson’s Bay, and contend for a playoff spot.

“I’m happy out here, knowing we are moving in the right direction. Our morale and enthusiasm after only one year together says a lot,” Jacobs said. “It’s tough when you come into a place where everybody is used to getting beat. You have to change the culture. The first thing I told these kids is if they worked hard and did all of the right things, they could compete. When it started happening, the kids started buying into the whole deal and everything else just took off.”

O’Hara hopes to have the hot hand again for the Panthers this season, along with Zack Boland and Caleb Howard. After a summer of weight training and conditioning, the three Panthers are ready to test themselves against Hudson’s Bay.

“If it’s anything like last year, it’s going to be close,” Boland said.

“It came down to the last drive and we were able to pull off a victory,” O’Hara said. “Once again, I think it’s going to be a competitive game between us. We’re not cocky, but we are confident in our level of play. We are going to have to focus on each and every snap, and play hard for the whole 48 minutes.”

By changing the culture of their town, the Washougal football players have flipped the backstory to Friday night’s game. A year ago at this time, the Panthers would have been the underdogs against Hudson’s Bay. Now they are on the hit list of some angry Eagles, but they are not about to run and hide.

“Of course [Hudson’s Bay is] going to try and come back with a vengeance, but we are looking to end up on the winning side of the scoreboard,” Howard said. “And this time, it’s in our house.”