4A football championship: Catch Camas ... If You Can

Coaches weigh in on their experiences against Papermakers

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

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This will be a difficult Saturday for Skyview football coach Steve Kizer.

He wants the Class 4A Greater St. Helens League to win the state championship. However, on the other sideline is one of his closest friends.

"I want them both to win," Kizer said of the Camas Papermakers and Chiawana head coach Steve Graff. "Camas is as good a team that has come out of here. It would do a lot for our league. But me and Graff have been best friends for 20 years. It's a tough deal."

Camas (13-0) takes on Chiawana (12-1) of Pasco at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the Tacoma Dome, with the Class 4A state championship on the line.

Kizer also is one of the few people who have seen Camas and Chiawana in person this season. Kizer's Skyview squad lost to Camas in Week 5, and Kizer attended Chiawana's semifinal victory over Federal Way last week.

The Columbian asked three area coaches to give their thoughts on Camas going into championship Saturday. Union's Cale Piland almost got a second shot at the Papermakers this season. Kizer's team had no answer against the Papermakers in the league opener. And Mike Peck, the offensive coordinator for Battle Ground, saw his Tigers have the most success this season against the Camas defense.

"The best way to describe Camas is speed," Piland said. "They have a lot of team speed, and they also play at a very fast pace. That causes people problems. If you make a mistake, whether it's a missed read or a missed tackle, it could turn a 5-yard gain into a 50-yard gain."

Camas beat Union 44-6 in Week 7, in a game that determined the 4A GSHL title. It was the only game in the regular season that Camas did not manage at least a 40-point lead against an opponent.

Piland said his team would have fared better against the Papermakers had they played a second time because his players would have already seen that speed up close. It almost happened, too. Union lost a close game to Eastlake in first round of state. Eastlake then hosted Camas in the quarterfinals.

For teams seeing Camas for the first time, well, Piland said, it is quite the challenge.

"It's hard to replicate the team speed," Piland said. "It's one thing to see a scout team coming at you (in practice) but another to see it with their guys coming at you."

Piland said he is rooting for Camas to win the title, to represent Southwest Washington. Piland won a state title coaching for Evergreen in 2004, the only big-school program from Clark County to capture a championship.

The Battle Ground coaching staff went into its Week 9 game preparing for a team with seemingly no weaknesses. The Tigers decided to throw the ball early and often. It worked, for a half. The Tigers scored 32 points in the first half before eventually losing 85-38.

Peck said the Tigers just looked to find some open holes and get the Papermakers into some man coverage.

"Our quarterback, Colston Vukanovich, he played his best game of the year," Peck said. "He made some great throws. Our receivers made some great plays against a great defense. It was cool our kids were able to step up and play with one of the best teams in the Northwest."

Peck said he is looking forward to watching the title game. He called Chiawana a "great" team but described Camas as the best 4A team in the state.

Kizer, who went to college with Graff and also has coached with him, said he was impressed with Chiawana's front seven on defense.

"Federal Way couldn't run the ball on them," Kizer said. "I think Camas is going to have to throw the ball. I think Chiawana could make Camas one-dimensional."

Of course, if that one dimension is Camas quarterback Reilly Hennessey throwing the ball, that still gives Camas quite an edge. Hennessey was named the Gatorade state player of the year this week.

"Don't ask me," Kizer said of how to beat Camas. "They killed us."

Camas topped the Storm, the third-place team out of the 4A GSHL, 47-12.

"They're just a really solid team. They don't have a weakness. When we played them, that's how we felt," Kizer said. "The kids know what they're doing, and they play so fast. And their quarterback, he can do everything."

Kizer was the last coach from Clark County to lead a team to a state title game. Skyview lost to Skyline in the 2011 4A championship.

"It was so cool for the school and for the kids," Kizer recalled. "Great memories for the kids. It was fun all the way until we played Skyline. It was fun until the game started."

Kizer knows either a good friend of his or a team from Southwest Washington will have the dreaded feeling, while the other will experience the thrill of winning a state title.

So far, no coaching staff from Washington nor Oregon has been able to figure out Camas this season.

Chiawana will get the last chance.

By Saturday night, Kizer will be happy and sad.

The Papermakers just want to stay perfect.