The La Center football team hoped its journey would end next weekend in the Tacoma Dome.
It ended one week earlier than the Wildcats hoped. Saturday, La Center fell to Connell 24-7 in the Class 1A state semifinals at McKenzie Stadium.
As the rain fell, hugs were exchanged among La Center’s players.
The conversations weren’t so much about at game that Connell (12-1) controlled with an elusive quarterback and stout defense.
Rather, the Wildcats (11-2) reflected on a season that included 11 consecutive wins and a Trico League title.
“I’ve been playing with these guys since fifth grade,” senior quarterback Jeremy Scott said. “We’ve been dreaming about playing on this stage. We knew we could go this far. It’s just sad to see it over.”
La Center couldn’t rein in Connell quarterback Brian Hawkins. The senior rushed for 220 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. He added 105 yards passing.
“We have a really good quarterback, but I don’t think there was anyone on the field who could move like their quarterback,” La Center coach John Lambert said.
La Center had scored no fewer than 25 points in any game this season, surpassing 40 points five times.
But the Wildcats’ Wing-T offense couldn’t find a rhythm against a Connell defense that allowed just 202 yards.
“They were just flying all over the place,” Scott said of Connell’s defense. “They kept the edges tight, making sure I didn’t leak free.”
Connell took Saturday’s game by the reins with two first-quarter touchdowns. Hawkins capped the Eagles’ first drive with a 43-yard touchdown run.
That would become a familiar sight. the Connell quarterback had five carries that went for 20 yards or more.
“When I looking downfield for my receivers, I saw their linebackers dropping back,” Hawkins said. “I just took off and trusted my legs.”
La Center pulled within 14-7 when Scott scored from 1-yard out on the first play of the second quarter.
The Wildcats then caught a break when Hawkins fumbled while diving toward the goal line on Connell’s next drive.
But Connell took a 21-7 lead on its next drive, capped by a 1-yard Hawkins run.
Three second-half turnovers hurt La Center, including an interception in Connell territory and a fumble that Connell recovered at its own 11.
That left the Wildcats looking back at a memorable season instead of ahead to a state championship game in Tacoma.
“On and off the field, it’s one of the best groups I’ve ever had,” Lambert said. “The work, the dedication, all the things you need to have to get this far. It’s neat to see.”
CONNELL 24, LA CENTER 7
Connell 14 7 0 3 — 24
La Center 0 7 0 0 — 7
C — Brian Hawkins 43 run (Luis Ramos kick)
C — Steven Kroontje 9 pass from Hawkins (Ramos kick)
LC — Jeremy Scott 1 run (Sean Fox kick)
C — Hawkins 1 run (Ramos kick)
C — Ramos 24 FG
Rushing — Connell: Brian Hawkins 20-220, Jaxs Whitby 11-18, Jarrod Tuttle 1-4. La Center: Jeffrey Mayolo 14-81, Thomas Dreyer 8-21, Evan Honore 6-32, Colton Dolezal 5-27; Jeremy Scott 8-7.
Passing — Connell: Brian Hawkins 10-16-105. La Center: Jeremy Scott 4-9-34.
Receiving — Connell: Tristan Garland 2-16, Steven Kroontje 3-28, Jaxs Whitby 2-30, Caleb Price 3-31. La Center: Clint Smith 1-14, Colton Dolezal 1-8, Jake Wise 2-12.