BATTLE GROUND — The La Center Wildcats used some big plays to get to the big time of Class 1A football.
Taylor Dreyer rushed for 195 yards and had consecutive long touchdown runs in the third quarter, and Jared Huddleston caught two touchdown passes, leading La Center to a 29-13 victory over Meridian of Laurel in the first round of the 1A state playoffs Saturday afternoon at District Stadium.
La Center (11-0) won a state playoff game for the first time since 2004 and will host Mount Baker in the quarterfinals next week.
“Nothing like it, that’s for sure. This is the most incredible feeling ever,” Huddleston said.
The La Center defense stopped Meridian on the Trojans’ final four possessions. Interceptions from Tyrone Kulla, Dreyer, and Matt Braaten sealed the victory for the Wildcats.
Dreyer scored on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter, finding a hole up the middle for a 53-yard run and a 16-6 La Center lead.
The Trojans responded with their final touchdown of the game, only to find themselves chasing after Dreyer again.
And again, it was the first play from scrimmage. This time, the score went for 60 yards and a 23-13 advantage.
“Once you see the blocking, and you see the open field, it’s fantastic,” Dreyer said. “But it’s not just me.”
Huddleston gave the Wildcats a 16-point lead with a diving catch in the end zone for a 21-yard scoring pass from King with 4:39 in the game.
The Wildcats, while thrilled to be in the quarterfinals, say they are not satisfied. Not with just making it to the elite eight, and certainly not the way they performed Saturday.
“We weren’t crisp every single play,” defensive end A.J. Myers said. “We need to give it our all every single play. I don’t think we did that today. I’m proud of the guys for pulling it through and winning it, though.”
La Center coach John Lambert appreciated Myers’ honesty. He agrees, too.
“Part of it is we want to play as close to perfect as possible,” Lambert said. “Today, we did not play as well as we could have. We won the game, so I’m not complaining. Ultimately, we will need to improve.”
The game began with an odd sequence. Meridian fumbled on its opening possession. La Center came back with a 16-play drive to the 7-yard line that ended with an interception in the end zone.
The Meridian defensive back was ruled to have come out of the end zone, then back in on his own. He was then tackled by La Center running back Conner Fulton in the end zone for a safety and a 2-0 lead for the Wildcats.
La Center took the free kick and drove to the 8-yard line before getting no points again. That gave La Center 23 plays, two drives inside the 10, and no touchdowns.
The Trojans drove 92 yards and scored on a 26-yard pass from Max McGuinn to Letrez Jones for a 6-2 lead.
Instead of the long drives that ended with nothing, La Center decided for the quick opportunity. Huddleston got behind the defensive back, shook off defensive pass interference and caught a perfect ball from quarterback Dylan King on the way to a 62-yard touchdown to put the Wildcats up 9-6 going into the half.
“I felt the guy with the pass interference on me. I guess he tripped, though. I don’t know. It was a blur. I just caught it,” Huddleston said.
Even with the lead, the Wildcats did not feel right about how they played that half.
They felt a lot better one play into the second half, with the first of Dreyer’s big runs.
“We knew what we had to do. We had to come out fired up,” Dreyer said. “We did it, and it paid off.”
Dreyer, one of La Center’s many capable ball carriers, did not expect to get as many touches as he did. Wyatt Aguirre, though, was injured on the first play of the game.
“I wasn’t surprised he was able to do that for us,” Lambert said of Dreyer. “One of our strengths is we have a lot of depth in the backfield. If someone goes down we can replace him with someone just as good.”
Saturday, all the Wildcats were good enough to survive and advance in the bracket.
LA CENTER 29, MERIDIAN 13
Meridian 0 6 7 0–13
La Center 2 7 14 6–29
LC — Safety, tackled ball carrier in end zone.
Mer — Letrez Jones 26 pass from Max McGuinn (pass failed)
LC — Jared Huddleston 62 pass from Dylan King (Conner Wonderly kick)
LC — Taylor Dreyer 53 run (Wonderly kick)
Mer — Relijah McMillan 15 pass from McGuinn (Casey Bromet kick)
LC — Dreyer 60 run (Wonderly kick)
LC — Huddleston 21 pass from King (kick blocked)
RUSHING — Meridian — McGuinn 13-63, Junior Castro 13-52, Jones 6-15, Evan Childs 4-15. La Center — Dreyer 17-195, Conner Fulton 8-32, Tyrone Kulla 3-8, Wyatt Aguirre 1-8, Huddleston 7-5.
PASSING — Meridian — McGuinn 15-24-3-236. La Center — King 2-6-1-83.
RECEIVING — Meridian — Drake VanderYacht 5-76, Sam Chambers 3-55, Jones 3-53, McMillan 2-22, Castro 1-20, Jeremy Brockman 1-10. La Center — Huddleston 2-83.