Gabe Evenson wanted one more touchdown before walking off the River Stadium field one last time.
The outcome of Friday’s game was no longer in doubt — Columbia River had long before salted away its eventual 43-14 3A Greater St. Helens win over Prairie —and the Chieftains senior quarterback hoped for one last memory to take with him into the locker room.
It wasn’t to be, though, and Evenson had to “settle” for a career-high five touchdown passes when his fourth-down attempt fell untouched in the end zone late in the third quarter.
“That was a bummer,” said Evenson, smiling nonetheless after finishing 22-of-33 passing for 316 yards. “I’m happy to get five touchdowns, for sure, and it was fun to be in the game for that long.
“But I’m happier that we got the win tonight and to know we have a playoff seed.”
Indeed, the win clinched a Week 10 crossover playoff spot for River (6-2, 2-0) and eliminated Prairie (2-6, 1-2) from the postseason.
“We knew Prairie had nothing to lose, because this was a playoff game for them,” Evenson said. “No way we could take them for granted.”
The Chieftains travel to Kelso next week, with the winner getting to host District 2’s No. 6 seed (the fourth-place finisher from the Metro League) the following week. If River wins, it would play at Kiggins Bowl.
Next week’s River-Kelso loser heads north to play the District 2 third seed, which in all likelihood means a date with O’Dea.
“Every single game from now on is a must-win for us,” Evenson said.
The Chieftains shrugged off the distraction of Senior Night — 26 seniors were honored before their final home game — and brushed off the steady drizzle that could have slowed down their fast-paced passing attack.
“Our thought process was we weren’t going to let the weather dictate the game to us,” Evenson said. “We wanted to show that just because the weather gets bad, our performance does not.”
After being forced to punt on their opening possession, River scored on each of its next four drives to lead 29-0 midway through the second quarter.
The Chieftains scored first on a safety when a bad snap forced Prairie quarterback Kevin Aguirre to just pick up the ball a second before Nic Briggs pushed him out of the back of the end zone.
Evenson then went to work, hitting on each of his next 10 passes, including three in a row that went for touchdowns — a 34-yarder to Nathan Hawthorne, a 7-yarder to Carson Bassett, and finally a 68-yard bomb to Holden Fielding.
Evenson got his fifth TD pass midway through the third on a 10-yard bullet to Jacob Bystry on fourth-and-goal.
By the time River got the ball back following a 15-yard touchdown pass from Aguirre to Lukas Daniel for Prairie, Evenson was the only offensive starter left in the game.
“It’s funny because when you’re watching the game, you’re not paying attention to the particulars of anyone’s stats,” said River coach John O’Rourke. “There was no one saying to get him a sixth touchdown. We didn’t even know he had five.
“But I’m sure he’s enjoying it now.”
COLUMBIA RIVER 43, PRAIRIE 14
Prairie 0 7 7 0—14
Col.River 15 14 7 7—43
CR — Safety, Kevin Aguirre tackled in end zone
CR — Nathan Hawthorne 19 pass from Gabe Evenson (kick failed)
CR — Hawthorne 34 pass from Evenson (Garrett McKee kick)
CR — Carson Bassett 7 pass from Evenson (McKee kick)
CR — Holden Fielding 68 pass from Evenson (McKee kick)
P — Jordan Marti 1 run (Kevin Sullivan kick)
CR — Jacob Bystry 10 pass from Evenson (McKee kick)
P — Lukas Daniel 15 pass from Aguirre (Sullivan kick)
CR — Vincent Daniels 2 run (McKee kick)
RUSHING — Prairie, Marti 19-55, Aguirre 10-20, Alec Gawley 3-3, Denzel Hamiel 2-4, Tyler Feeney 1-2, team 2-(minus 7). Columbia River, Evenson 9-14, Nic Briggs 7-23, Ryder Waite 8-41, Bassett 2-6, Hunter Pearson 2-7, V.Daniels 1-2, Hawthorne 1-0, McKee 1-(minus 5), team 1-(minus 9).
PASSING — Prairie, Aguirre 8-12-1-74. Columbia River, Evenson 22-33-1-316, McKee 4-5-0-58, Dalton Garrett 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING — Prairie, Koty Keyt 2-19, Marti 2-17, Hamiel 2-(minus 6), Daniel 1-15, Bryson Pena 1-29. Columbia River, Bassett 8-54, Bystry 4-42, Hawthorne 3-68, Codie Schoene 2-28, Fielding 2-77, Jacob Ringold 2-36, Chris Bingel 2-26, Blake Duhamel 1-30, Royce Cone 1-0, Russell Rose 1-11.