The La Center Wildcats overcame a sluggish first quarter, injuries, and a slippery field to cruise to a 34-8 victory over the visiting Stevenson Bulldogs Friday night.
The Wildcats used big plays from running back Alex Meza, who rushed for 126 yards and two touchdowns on just six carries, to pull away and ensure a win.
“I’d really like to thank the linemen,” Meza said. “They made excellent blocks, and they kept me from getting tackled at the line.”
The Wildcats’ offensive line gave Meza enough time to slash through Stevenson’s defense for a decisive 49-yard touchdown run in the early third to extend La Center’s lead to 21-2.
The final score, and Stevenson’s 1-6 record, appeared to misrepresent the Bulldogs’ play. Their offense was led by electrifying quarterback Alex McCrum, who ran for 187 yards and passed for another 156.
“We knew they had players that fought hard and worked hard and play hard,” La Center coach John Lambert said. “But we were expecting that.”
Indeed, as the Wildcats stopped the Bulldog offense in key situations. Dustin Veysey intercepted McCrum in the end zone on first-and-goal and twice forced turnovers on downs in the red zone in the second half.
But the Wildcats started slow, turning the ball over on downs their first offensive series and botching a punt snap that flew into the end zone for a safety to give Stevenson the early 2-0 lead.
However, the Bulldogs failed to capitalize on the Wildcats' sluggish start. Patrick Mayolo struck first for La Center, scoring on a 4-yard run to make it 6-2.
An interception gave the ball to an awakening La Center offense, which methodically drove 80 yards down the field to score on a Tyrone Kulla 5-yard touchdown run.
But the fireworks really started in the second half.
After Stevenson botched a punt snap of their own, due to the rainy weather, Meza ran 49 yards on La Center’s first play of the second half for a touchdown to make it 21-2.
La Center quarterback Jake Johnson temporarily left the game with a injury on the Wildcats’ next offensive series.
“I just got hit on the hand, I should be fine,” Johnson said. “It’s just a precaution.”
No problem. Meza exploded off the line for 65 yards to the Bulldog 25. Dylan King, Johnson’s backup, heaved a pass to Austin Heldt on the next play for a touchdown to extend La Center’s lead to 28-2.
Meza again scored late in the fourth quarter on a 2-yard run to seal the victory at 34-2.
Workhorse Mike Polyakov had 13 rushes for 58 yards and Heldt hauled in 6 catches for 111 yards.
Next up: La Center at White Salmon; Stevenson at Kalama
LA CENTER 34, STEVENSON 8
Stevenson 2 0 0 6— 8
La Center 0 14 14 6—34
S — Safety, snap out of the end zone
LC — Patrick Mayolo 3 run (kick blocked)
LC — Tyrone Kulla 5 run (Mayolo run)
LC — Alex Meza 49 run (Connor Wonderly kick)
LC — Austin Heldt 25 pass from Dylan King (Wonderly kick)
LC — Meza run (run failed)
S — Alex McCrum 3 run (pass failed)
Rushing — Stevenson — Zack Irwin 4-3, Karl Bell 2-(minus 1); McCrum 33-211, Josh Anderson 1-5. La Center— Meza 6-126, Mike Polyakov 13-58, Kulla 9-44, Mayolo 9-34.
Passing — Stevenson — McCrum 10-20-2-170. La Center — Jake Johnson 10-15-1-143, Dylan King 1-2-0-25.
Receiving — Stevenson — Irwin 2-30, Bell 4-36, Casey Smith 4-104. La Center — Heldt 6-111, Kulla 2-36, Andre Obot 1-8, Polyakov 1-5, Meza 1-5.