Chieftains play to the end

No-quit attitude keeps Columbia River in league hunt

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

Published:

 

To the end.

"It's very motivational to our defensive core," senior linebacker David Snuffin said.

To the end.

"It's our inspiration to go hard every single play," senior defensive lineman Dillon Willis said.

To the end.

The Columbia River football team will keep fighting, using those three words as the team's mantra this season.

The Chieftains have battled through a 1-3 non-league season, have overcome injuries to key players and, last week, saved their season with a double-overtime victory over a team that had been 5-0.

Friday, the Chieftains will try to avenge a costly loss to Prairie last year when they host the Falcons in a Class 3A Greater St. Helens League football game. If the Chieftains do succeed, they likely will set themselves up for a shot at the league title in Week 9.

The Chieftains evened their overall record to 3-3 last week, but more importantly moved to 2-0 in the 3A GSHL. They had to survive an extra-point attempt in the final seconds Friday in Kelso just to get to overtime. Once they were there, they were clutch. Especially the defense.

"A bunch of us were fatigued," Snuffin said. "But you just don't stop until the last whistle blows."

Kelso, with the ball first in the initial overtime, ended up getting a first-and-goal from the 1-yard line.

Play 1: "They tried a quarterback sneak. We all packed in," Willis said. "He couldn't go nowhere."

Play 2: Another sneak, but linebacker Miguel Figueroa was there on time. The ball came loose, and the Chieftains recovered. However, the officials ruled the QB was down before the fumble.

"For the record, that was a fumble," Snuffin said.

"We ran off to the sideline, and then had to go back out there," Willis explained.

"That was depressing," Snuffin said.

Still, they had a job to do, and they remembered their three-word code.

Play 3: After a penalty on Kelso, there was an incomplete pass.

Play 4: The Kelso quarterback scrambled, then dove to try to make it into the end zone. Figueroa was there again and knocked the ball loose. River ball.

"We had to stop them. It was all about heart," Willis said. "We knew what we had to do, and we executed."

The Chieftains would stall on their possession and miss a field-goal attempt, setting up a second overtime period. This time, the Chieftains had the ball first. On third down from the 24-yard line, quarterback Clayton Frank and receiver Dante Coleman just missed on a pass in the end zone.

"So we ran the same play (on fourth down)," Columbia River coach John O'Rourke said.

Touchdown.

Still, the Chieftains had to play defense one more time. Kelso was unable to do much and found itself in a fourth-down situation. It was Snuffin's turn to shine, making a game-ending sack.

"Oh my God, now I've got him," Snuffin recalled his thinking on that play. "I was really excited. It was really intense. It was one of the greatest football games I've ever played in my life."

The victory gave the Chieftains more than a league win.

"It helped us re-establish some confidence," O'Rourke said. "We can overcome the little obstacles and the big obstacles in the same game."

Then there is the obvious. With so many seniors, the expectation for this team was to get Columbia River back to the playoffs after a two-year absence. Then, they started 1-3. Non-league games, but still a blow to the psyche.

Now, the Chieftains are feeling like they can compete for a title. Surviving Kelso helped keep that alive.

"The goal is to win a league championship," O'Rourke said. "As soon as you lose one (league) game, you're dependent on other people. When you win that game, you're still controlling everything."

Of course, a big win one week does not guarantee a big win the next. Last year, a short-handed Prairie team stunned Columbia River and ended up taking the final playoff spot out of the league. Prairie has struggled this season, but the Chieftains expect a battle.

"We're just going to focus," Willis said.

To the end of the game, to the end of the season.