TACOMA — They'll be back.
You can bet they'll be back.
You don't roll to 12 straight victories and reach the state semifinals and have nine juniors starting on offense along with six juniors starting on defense without allowing the thoughts to drift forward a year.
So while Camas lost 51-28 to Skyline of Sammamish on Saturday in the Class 4A football playoffs at the Tacoma Dome, while the Papermakers saw their perfect season suddenly fall to not-quite-perfect, it was only reasonable to ask about next season.
"Right now we're going to reflect and be thankful for the season we had," junior receiver Zach Eagle said. "This senior class paved the way, and maybe next year we can go farther."
Yes, maybe they can.
But about that reflection thing. Camas won a league title in its first year at 4A. It won two state playoff games by a combined score of 127-38. It finished 12-1, which is the envy of, oh, just about every other high school team in the state.
"The world will look at winning and losing," coach Jon Eagle said. "But what we want is the parents to look and say, 'I'm proud of my kid because of the effort he gave.' "
It's not the Papermakers' fault they ran into a buzz saw of a Skyline team. The Spartans are the defending state champions and next week will be playing for their fifth title in six years. Add to that pedigree the presence of quarterback Max Browne, and you have a championship formula.
Browne, you see, committed a year ago to the University of
Southern California. He is regarded by some as the best quarterback prospect in the country — and that might be an understatement.
But as Skyline was running off 44 straight points to obliterate an early 14-0 Camas lead, you could see the foundation being laid for next year's Papermakers. It could be found in the way Camas kept fighting, pulling within 44-28 and having the ball in Skyline territory. And it could be found in the youth on the field.
"Oh, man, I'm so excited for next year," said quarterback Reilly Hennessey, a junior. "You can never express the importance of experience. This opens our eyes even wider to what it takes — a little more work, a little more time in the weight room, a little more focus.
"I was happy to see we didn't give up. We played until the clock said 0:00. That lessened the hardship."
It's not that Camas won't have holes to fill. The Papermakers will miss Colton Dowd and Connor Maloney and all-everything John Norcross.
And Jon Eagle praised all of his 15 seniors for their perseverance and their dedication to the program.
But when you look at the stat sheet, when you see Nate Beasley with 138 rushing yards and Zach Eagle with 15 catches for 224 yards and Hennessey with 305 passing yards — all juniors — you become convinced that Saturday wasn't their final appearance in the Tacoma Dome.
"That's a special class," coach Eagle said of his juniors. "They've been successful at every level."
And even with that, those juniors can build on the wisdom handed down from the seniors.
"Coming out of the locker room," Beasley said, "the words that meant the most to me was the seniors saying, 'Win it next year.' We can actually achieve what we didn't achieve this year."