RIDGEFIELD — La Center showed Friday night that it’s much more than just The Conner Fulton Show.
Oh, Fulton played his usual part in the Wildcats’ 54-28 victory over Elma in a 1A district playoff game at Ridgefield High School, but this time, the bruising senior shared center stage with a host of teammates.
Fulton was one of three backs to go over the century mark in rushing yards, and La Center (10-0) racked up 611 yards and 24 first downs in overcoming four turnovers to pull away in the second half from the Eagles (5-5).
“We just have multiple threats,” said senior quarterback Wyatt Aguirre, who threw for 161 yards and two touchdowns while running for 134 yards and a TD. “Our passing game just adds another dynamic to our offense.”
Fulton, the region’s third-leading rusher during the regular season, ran for 140 yards and three touchdowns, while Conner Wonderly added 133 yards and two touchdowns on the ground as the Wildcats beat Elma for the second straight year in the district playoffs.
“It’s important that we spread the ball around and be more than just Fulton on offense,” said Wildcats coach John Lambert. “They were set up to at least slow him down tonight, and we were able to get other players involved tonight.”
La Center will host the winner of tonight’s Northwest Tri-District playoff game between Charles Wright Academy and Meridian next weekend in the first round of the state playoffs. The game site is yet to be determined.
LC beat Meridian 29-14 in last year’s first round for its first state win since 2004.
“It doesn’t matter to me who we play,” Aguirre said. “We’re just ready for whoever’s next.”
Unlike last year’s 48-14 romp over the Eagles, this time the three-time Trico champions had to work for most of the 48 minutes to get through the district round and get to state for the fourth time in five years.
Elma’s spread attack rolled up 324 yards in the first half, and the Eagles trailed just 28-21 late in the half after Steven Persell’s 16-yard TD run, followed by an onside kick recovery.
But Matt Braaten made a fourth-down stop at the Wildcats 6-yard line with 1:10 left before halftime, and LC overcame two penalties on a six-play drive capped by Aguirre’s 44-yard quarterback draw for a score on the final play of the half.
“That was big to get that stop,” Lambert said. “And Wyatt made some tremendous plays. We wanted to utilize him as a runner tonight, and you could see why. He’s a talented runner.”
The Wildcats defense stiffened in the second half, allowing Elma just 108 yards and only a late touchdown against the second-stringers.
“We know we weren’t as intense in practice as we should have been this week, and it showed in the first half,” said senior linebacker Trevor Roberson, who had a team-high 12 tackles (11/2 for loss). “But we knew this was make or break tonight. We needed to wrap up on tackles, get in our zones, and we made those adjustments and did what we needed to do.”
LA CENTER 54, ELMA 28
Elma 7 14 0 7–28
La Center 14 20 13 7–54
LC — Conner Wonderly 16 run (Wonderly kick)
LC — Conner Fulton 42 run (Wonderly kick)
E — Ryan Collin 1 run (Steven Persell kick)
LC — Max Hiller 34 pass from Wyatt Aguirre (Wonderly kick)
E — Todd Swinhart 1 run (Persell kick)
LC — Hiller 5 pass from Aguirre (Wonderly kick)
E — Persell 16 run (Persell kick)
LC — Aguirre 44 run (kick failed)
LC — Fulton 7 run (run failed)
LC — Wonderly 14 run (Wonderly kick)
LC — Fulton 6 run (Wonderly kick)
E — Persell 6 run (Persell kick)
RUSHING — Elma, Persell 30-202, Collin 15-37, Swinhart 8-2, Justin Spencer 1-1, team 1-(minus 1). La Center, Fulton 12-140, Aguirre 8-134, Wonderly 5-133, Dalton Morgan 3-22, Brett Judd 3-19, Hiller 2-18, Zach Galster 1-(minus 6), team 2-(minus 10).
PASSING — Elma, Collin 21-35-2-191. La Center, Aguirre 7-9-0-161.
RECEIVING — Elma, Kevin Farr 7-69, Swinhart 4-23, Rashad Lorton 4-45, Rio Ortega 3-27, Spencer 2-19, Persell 1-8. La Center, Hiller 3-59, Wonderly 2-55, Matt Braaten 2-47.