WOODLAND — With a league title and an unbeaten regular season up for grabs Friday, La Center relied upon its sure hands.
“We didn’t want it to slip through our fingers,” running back Wyatt Aguirre said after a 29-21 victory over Woodland. “We wanted it so bad; we worked so hard for this.”
Not that it wasn’t a little slippery. La Center built a 29-7 lead in the fourth quarter but didn’t have the game in hand until recovering an onside kick with 23 seconds to play.
With that, the Wildcats (9-0, 8-0) won what amounted to a winner-take-all bout for the Class 1A Trico League title, handing Woodland (7-2, 7-1) its first league loss. La Center will host Elma next week in a district playoff game, while Woodland will host Tenino.
Friday’s league championship largely turned on two Woodland fumbles and two La Center fourth-down conversions in the first half.
The Wildcats capped their first possession when Conner Fulton turned a fourth-and-7 screen pass into a touchdown.
Woodland’s next possession lasted one play before the Beavers turned over the ball. After Woodland held on downs, the Beavers kept the ball for two plays before fumbling it away again.
La Center took a 14-0 lead when Dylan King found a leaping Matt Braaten for a 25-yard score on fourth-and-20.
Woodland got within 14-7 before halftime when quarterback Hunter Huddleston ran 7 yards to cap a 63-yard drive.
But La Center possessed the ball for more than 10 minutes in the third quarter. And after Jared Huddleston ran 48 yards for a touchdown midway through the fourth period, the score was a seemingly secure 29-7.
“We fought to the end,” Hunter Huddleston said. “I think it kind of hit us. We got down two touchdowns, and thought, ‘Hey, this is the league championship.’ “
Woodland marched 65 yards in six plays that took 1:49 off the clock to pull within 29-14.
Following an exchange of possessions, Woodland’s Cy Whitmire intercepted a fourth-down pass and returned it 30 yards to the La Center 25. Four plays later, Huddleston was in the end zone and the Beavers were within 29-21 with 23 seconds left.
“You never know,” Huddleston said. “Maybe we get the onside kick at the end.”
They didn’t, leaving La Center to celebrate its first unbeaten regular season since 2004.
“I think last week we got challenged by a very good Toledo team, and that woke the guys up a little,” La Center coach John Lambert said.
And that could lead to bigger things.
“I think there’s enough talent here, enough desire and passion that if things go well we could go all the way,” Lambert said. “But that won’t happen if we don’t get better.”
LA CENTER 29, WOODLAND 21
La Center 6 8 7 8–29
Woodland 0 7 0 14–21
LC — Conner Fulton 17 from Dylan King (pass failed)
LC — Matt Braaten 25 from King (Fulton run)
W — Hunter Huddleston 7 run (Dillan Beckwith kick)
LC — Fulton 1 run (Conner Wonderly kick)
LC — Jared Huddleston 48 run (AJ Myers from King)
W — Trevor Huddleston 6 from Hunter Huddleston (Beckwith kick)
W — Hunter Huddleston 3 run (Beckwith kick)
RUSHING — La Center: Jared Huddleston 10-70, Wyatt Aguirre 14-55, Conner Fulton 13-23, Tyrone Kulla 1-8, Dylan King 6-(-4); Woodland: Hunter Huddleston 17-58, Eli Whitmire 7-30, Levi Leach 1-1, Cy Whitmire 1-(-2).
PASSING — La Center: Dylan King 3-6-1-36, Wyatt Aguirre 1-1-0-(-10); Woodland: Hunter Huddleston 13-16-0-125.
RECEIVING — La Center: Matt Braaten 1-25, Conner Fulton 1-17, Wyatt Aguirre 1-(-6), Dylan King 1-(-10); Woodland: Trevor Huddleston 7-53, Kyle Hendrix 1-27, Troy Flanagan 2-24, Cy Whitmire 2-11, Logan Piper 1-10.