Two local rivalries have added incentive: league championship

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

Published:

 

Hunter Huddleston was one of a handful of freshmen who played varsity for the Woodland football team in the fall of 2010.

The Beavers were about as far away as one of the best teams in the state as a squad could be that year.

When they finished the season 0-9, they probably never thought things would get so good, so soon. Oh wait, they did believe that. From the very beginning.

“It was frustrating,” Huddleston said. “But me and my buddies said we were going to turn this thing around.”

They accomplished that. A year ago, they finished second in the Trico League to La Center and made it to the first round of the Class 1A state playoffs.

It was Woodland’s first year back at Class 1A after a few seasons as a 2A school.

Now seniors, these Beavers have another opportunity to make it a special season.

Friday night, the Woodland Beavers will travel a few miles to La Center to take on the Wildcats for the Trico League title. The teams are a combined 16-0, both ranked in the top five among the 1A programs in the state.

And that is just one of the winner-take-all league titles games in the region. Mountain View and Columbia River will battle for the Class 3A Greater St. Helens League title at Kiggins Bowl. Up north, R.A. Long and Mark Morris will square off for the 2A GSHL title.

(We’ll let our friends at The Daily News in Longview concentrate on that 2A game. We will have some fun with the 1A and 3A games.)

Instead of a typical preview of these two big games, we asked some players what it would mean for each program to win the league title and to describe their dream scenario for achieving the victory.

Woodland (8-0, 7-0 Trico) at La Center (8-0, 7-0), 7 p.m. in La Center

For the Beavers, it is a shot at redemption. The Wildcats beat Woodland last year for the league title.

“It hurt all of us,” said Huddleston, Woodland’s quarterback. “It still hurts today. To win would be really big.”

He said he wants a close game, because his team has had a lot of blowouts this season.

His dream scenario would be to run the two-minute offense to get in position for the victory. Then kicker Dillan Beckwith would win it with a field goal.

La Center running back (and kicker, too) Connor Wonderly expects it to be close.

“A hard-fought game that comes down to the wire and we pull it out in the end with some grit and determination,” he said of his perfect scenario.

It is doubtful Wonderly would win it with a field goal. The Wildcats have not attempted a field goal this season.

“Kicking a winning field goal would be interesting,” he said. “I wouldn’t want it to come down to me to make a field goal. If it did, I could do it, though.”

The head coaches agree that it will be a special night. La Center plays its home games at the middle school. No track surrounding the field. Limited seating. That leads to standing room only around the field, with some fans just a few yards away from the action, behind the rope.

“An incredible atmosphere you don’t get anywhere else,” La Center coach John Lambert said.

Said Woodland coach Mark Greenleaf: “It’s everything that’s good about high school football.”

Mountain View (6-2, 4-0 3A GSHL) vs. Columbia River (7-1, 4-0), 5 p.m. at Kiggins Bowl

Two teams with two different philosophies.

At Columbia River, the Chieftains are looking for the program’s second consecutive title, but really, the first with this group. The Chieftains did not have a returning starter this season.

At Mountain View, it’s not about the league title. That is the Mountain View way. The first rule of potential Thunder championships is they don’t talk about potential Thunder championships.

“We’re not playing for a league title,” senior Eddie Richardson said. “We’re just playing a game. We’re just playing against River.”

Because of this, Richardson said he does not have a dream scenario.

“I just want it to be fun,” he said. “This is my last year playing football. I want everyone here to have a great game.”

The Chieftains have no problem talking about what is at stake.

“We want to go out in a blaze of glory, shut ‘em out and beat ‘em into the turf,” senior Jason Harmsen said.

This was not meant as any type of guarantee or trash talk — just the dream scenario. Harmsen added that just about any type of win would work.

“It would mean the world to us because nobody thought we could,” Harmsen said.

Columbia River coach John O’Rourke said more than bragging rights are on the line.

“The goal of all the teams is to win the league championship. The benefit to win this year is you have the opportunity to play several games at home,” he said.

Yes, the top seed from the 3A GSHL, if it keeps winning, would have several home playoff games.

We are just hours away from finding out who wins what, who fills out the playoff brackets. There are a lot of key games in Southwest Washington, at all classifications. None are bigger than the games for the league championships.