Week 9 dramatics on tap for high school football

Tonight's game will determine playoff spots, or maybe not

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

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Four teams. Two games. Three playoff spots.

And Friday might not be enough to settle this Class 3A Greater St. Helens League football equation.

Columbia River is the only team from the league that knows it is in the playoffs. The Chieftains just do not know yet if they will win the outright league championship, or tie with one or two other teams.

Mountain View takes on Columbia River at 8 p.m. Friday at McKenzie Stadium, with the Thunder trying to tie the Chieftains with a 4-1 league record.

Kelso also could get to 4-1, with a victory over Prairie at Battle Ground's District Stadium. Kickoff for that game is 7 p.m. Of course, if Prairie prevails, that will leave at least two teams at 3-2, and maybe three teams, depending on how Mountain View fares at McKenzie.

"This is how leagues should be," Prairie coach Terry Hyde said. "I like the fact that it's like this. A lot of opportunities for a lot of kids to play another week."

For Prairie, it's simple. The Falcons must win Friday. If they do that, they know they will at the very least have a chance to play off for the final playoff berths on Monday.

Yes, in all of these fantastical scenarios, there is a chance at free football Monday evening.

If Prairie, Kelso, and Mountain View all finish at 3-2, the three will meet Monday at Kiggins Bowl for a Kansas Plan tiebreaker. Only two of them can make it to the playoffs.

There will be no playoff, however, if there is a three-way tie for first place. Because all three teams will be going to the playoffs, a coin toss will determine seeds. The result of the coin toss will be announced, if necessary, after Friday's results.

Bottom line, every team is just looking to win and then see what happens in the other game.

"I think we're going to make the most of it," said Prairie's Colton Prestwich, referring to this final opportunity. "I really think we're going to get there."

The Falcons, who graduated a number of players from last year's playoff team, opened the season 1-4 before winning two of their last three. They sit at 2-2 in league. They could take the No. 3 seed tonight without a tiebreaker. If they win and Mountain View beats Columbia River, the Falcons would tie Kelso for third but get the head-to-head tiebreaker for the final berth.

Columbia River, with its double-overtime win over Kelso and then a last-minute touchdown to beat Prairie, is 4-0 and sitting in the best spot among the contenders.

"We've encouraged them to improve every week, and they've done that," Columbia River coach John O'Rourke said. "They've succeeded in some close contests, right-to-the-end games."

The Chieftains have already assured themselves of at least a share of the league title. But they don't want to leave any doubt.

"We want to be league champs," River quarterback Clayton Frank said. "We don't want to share it."

They also want to keep the momentum they have gained since opening the season 1-3.

"I believe it's much better for you to go into the playoffs with a previous positive experience rather than a negative experience," O'Rourke said. "If you lose the last week, it affects how you prepare for the playoffs. You have to heal your wounds."

The Mountain View Thunder are healing right now from a tough loss last week at Kelso. Mountain View more than doubled Kelso in yards but failed to capitalize in the red zone in a 14-12 loss.

"Kelso really opened our eyes," Mountain View's Russel Culverwell said. "This week of practice has been really good. We're super-pumped."

"Coming off of last week, we're trying to redeem ourselves," added teammate Brad Hansen.

In the 4A GSHL, things are a bit more settled. Camas has clinched the No. 1 seed. Skyview and Union will play tonight at Kiggins Bowl for the second and third seeds. Both teams have clinched playoff berths.

In the 2A GSHL, Ridgefield is assured of heading to the playoffs as the No. 2 team. Hockinson can clinch the No. 3 seed with a win over Washougal or an R.A. Long loss to Mark Morris.

Week 9 games in the Trico League are seeding games, with La Center, Woodland, Toledo and Castle Rock having clinched playoff berths. La Center and Woodland will play for the league championship and Nos. 1 and 2 seeds. Toledo and Castle Rock will play for the third and fourth seeds.

Mountain View coach Adam Mathieson, known for downplaying the significance of any game, was in true form Thursday at practice.

"We never talk playoffs, we never talk rivalry," Mathieson said. "We're zero-and-zero this week, and River is zero-and-zero this week. Game day is fun for everyone regardless. For us, it's like a normal week. The kids love playing, the coaches love coaching."

He did acknowledge that some people get fired up for Week 9 games with so much on the line.

"This stuff is cool for fans and for journalists," he said.

Good enough for us.

Let's play some football.