WOODLAND — The Hockinson Hawks have gone from one win in the 2A Greater St. Helens League to league champions in a span of a season.
Josiah Niemela rushed for 203 yards and three touchdowns Friday night, and Jacob Reagan made a special play on special teams, leading the Hawks to a 29-19 victory over Woodland.
“Being a Hockinson football player, we have always known weíre a top-ranked team,î Niemela said. “Not everyone gave us the recognition, but we deserved this. We put our work in this one.”
“They didn’t even have us in the running for the league,” said linebacker Torey Dunn, referring to the other teams in the league as well as the media from Vancouver to Longview. “Now, we just showed them.”
Hockinson (6-2, 3-0 GSHL) clinched at least a share of the title and earned the top seed from the 2A GSHL. The Hawks hope to complete an undefeated league schedule with a game against Washougal next week.
Woodland (4-4, 3-1) completed its league schedule and will take the second and final playoff spot from the league. While the Hawks went from one win to league champs, the Beavers were trying to go from zero wins in 2010 to first place. Instead, they were shut out in the second half after a 13-all first half.
Reagan, who has scored on offense, defense, and special teams in recent weeks, blocked a Woodland punt after a bad snap threw off the timing of the play. The ball ended up in the Woodland end zone for a Hockinson safety, giving the Hawks a 15-13 lead late in the third quarter.
“I just got low and got around the lineman who was blocking me,” the 6-foot-5 Reagan said. “I am super tall, and I was able to get to it.”
“He’s one of those kids who flies around like a crazy man,” Hockinson coach Rick Steele said of Reagan. “Sometimes he makes mistakes, but then he makes big plays.”
Hockinson did not score on its ensuing possession but got the ball back on an interception from Nick Guinett. The Hawks then went on a 13-play, 67-yard drive, capped by Niemela’s third touchdown of the game to make it 22-13 with 6:36 to play.
He credited his linemen for his 26-carry, 203-yard night.
“You can’t get better than that,” he said of the blockers. “They work harder than anybody on our team. I’ve got the easy job.”
Guinett, a junior, came out for football late this season. He dedicated his performance to the seniors who welcomed him with open arms.
“It was my job to help get the seniors this league championship,” he said.
Another miscue on another Woodland punt set up Hockinson at the 1-yard line. Reagan scored on the next play to make it 29-13.
Woodland’s Adam Shoup scrambled for a 12-yard touchdown run in the final minute of the game. The Beavers missed the two-point try, and then failed to recover the onside kick.
That set off a wild celebration on Hockinson’s side of the field.
“Two long years. Frustration,” Steele said. “Two years ago, I thought we had a good team, but it all fell apart. Last year, we knew were wouldn’t be very good. This year, we knew we had a good group. I’m just so proud of these kids. We had the hardest work we’ve ever had in the offseason.”
Woodland coach Mark Greenleaf was just as proud of his squad. The Beavers went 0-9 last season — then came up a half short of a league title. Still, with Washougal’s loss to Mark Morris, the Beavers clinched the final playoff berth from the 2A GSHL.
“That was our goal, to make the playoffs. They just did it,” Greenleaf said. “I feel bad for the kids we didn’t win the league championship. When two great teams play, it comes down to little mistakes. We made the mistakes tonight. But our kids never quit. We kept our composure during the times we were down, and we never quit.”
Niemela scored the first two touchdowns of the game — on runs of 11 and 8 yards — to give the Hawks a 13-0 lead in the second quarter.
“Coming into the season, we didn’t know he was going to be our starting running back,” Steele said. “He earned it. He just ran his butt off tonight.”
Cy Whitmire returned fire for the Beavers, scoring on a 71-yarder and a 2-yarder to tie the game at the half.
Whitmire finished with 141 yards on 15 carries.
The Beavers, though, were held to 56 yards of offense in the second half.
One of these teams was going to cap an amazing turnaround with a league title.
By the end of the night, it was Hockinson’s championship moment.
HOCKINSON 29, WOODLAND 19
Hockinson 0 13 2 14—29
Woodland 0 13 0 6—19
H — Josiah Niemela 11 run (Everett Klodt kick)
H — Niemela 8 run (kick failed)
W — Cy Whitmire 71 run (Malthe Barrett kick)
W — Whitmire 2 run (kick failed)
H — Safety, Woodland recovered own blocked punt in end zone
H — Niemela 1 run (Klodt kick)
H — Jacob Reagan 1 run (Klodt kick)
W — Adam Shoup 12 run (run failed)
Rushing — Hockinson — Niemela 26-203, Reagan 8-49, Zack McElveny 7-34, Cole Kirkpatrick 1-12, Nick Barclay 1-(minus 3), Jess Krahn 2-(minus 15). Woodland — C. Whitmire 15-141, Shoup 8-36, Eli Whitmire 2-12, Zach Falk 1-1, Hunter Huddleston 2-1. Team 2-(minus 19).
Passing — Hockinson — Krahn 7-13-0-73. Woodland — Shoup 11-29-2-111.
Receiving — Hockinson — Beau Sparks 5-59, Niemela 1-8, Jesse Tonkinson 1-6. Woodland — Huddleston 5-69, Logan Piper 2-21, Nick Fuller 1-11, C. Whitmire 3-10.