Paul Valencia: At 1-7, Seton has its winning season

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They started practice with a prayer.

A short team meeting.

Then some warm-ups.

Only on Monday, the members of Seton Catholic football team did all this for the first time as winners.

The Cougars are on a one-game win streak. While some might argue that one game does not make a streak, I say it does when the one is the first of its kind in program history.

Senior Erik Powell caught a touchdown pass from sophomore Will Noce-Sheldon in the game's final minute Friday to tie the game. Then Powell was true on the extra point, giving the Cougars a 21-20 victory over Kalama.

The fans rushed the field. The players hugged each other.

It was their championship moment.

"We know we're a winning team, even if we don't have a winning record," Powell said. "What we're doing will help in the future."

What they are doing now is taking their lumps during a long, first season of varsity football. Until Friday, the Cougars had lost every game by the average score of 61-9.

But on Friday, none of those other games mattered. The Cougars got their win. This is how they did it.

Trailing by six with around 2 minutes left, Seton's Drew Fuller stripped the ball from the Kalama ball carrier, and Noce-Sheldon recovered the fumble, giving new life for the Cougars.

Seton coach Dan Chase said it was the last possible play for a fumble. The Kalama runner had gained enough yardage for a first down. If the turnover would not have happened then, Kalama would have been able to kneel the rest of the game.

"I kind of thought it was over," Powell said. "Then Will had the ball in his hands. I knew once we had the ball, our offense could get in the end zone."

Penalties helped the Cougars move to the 8-yard line. Noce-Sheldon said he had thrown some bad passes earlier in the game and was determined not to do it again. He got the play call from his coach.

"My first read was Erik. I saw him in my window, and he was there," the quarterback said.

"It was a slant. I caught it and did a spin move around one guy," Powell said. "There were two guys near the end zone. I ran through them."

Powell's momentum carried him to the end zone to tie the game.

"Once I scored the touchdown, I knew I had to make the extra point," Powell said. "Everybody was celebrating, but I was focusing."

One of the better kickers in the region, Powell was confident. However, there is so much more than just a kick. There's the snap, the hold, the blocking. And for a team that had never come close to winning a game, this was the first pressure kick in Cougars history.

Everything was perfect, including the kick, right down the middle. Clutch Cougars. That made it 21-20 with about 30 seconds remaining.

Kalama did virtually nothing with its final plays after the kickoff. Ian Kirby was credited with making the final tackle of the game.

"Everything went by so quickly," Noce-Sheldon said. "All I remember is Paul Powell (Erik's younger brother) running around the field, and then he jumped in my arms. I remember seeing everyone flying out of the stands to come on the field. Everyone was just so relieved. We finally got what we wanted. We deserved to win for how hard we've been working in practice."

Erik Powell also had a memorable moment with his father.

"I don't think I've ever seen my dad that excited," Erik said. "He doesn't show emotion that much. It was pretty cool to see."

The victory lap continued for the Cougars at school. The team made the morning announcements.

"Just smiles all around. People who weren't at the game heard it was awesome and they were sorry they weren't there to see it," Noce-Sheldon said. "All the teachers were really proud of the entire team."

The Cougars have felt good about how they've approached this season, win or lose. It's for the future. Still, this week of practice is special. Winners all year, now they are winners on the scoreboard, too.

Paul Valencia covers high school sports for The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4557 or e-mail at paul.valencia@columbian.com.