It was more than just a Week 2 league victory against an overmatched opponent.
It was a milestone for the La Center football program.
Wyatt Aguirre threw three touchdown passes and ran for a touchdown, Connor Wonderly caught three passes for 164 yards and scored three times, and Connor Fulton rushed five times for 101 yards as La Center stuffed Stevenson 49-6 at home Friday night for coach John Lambert’s 100th win.
Before 1999, 100 wins for a La Center football coach would be crazy talk.
This was a program that one day made national headlines for its losing. The second most wins for a La Center coach in its 80-plus years of existence is 17.
Now, with postseason appearances in 11 of the past 12 seasons, La Center is perennial small-school power in Southwest Washington.
“Just a lot of memories. A lot of great memories and great relationships,” Lambert said. “That’s what is special to me.”
Lambert, 42 and a graduate of Hudson’s Bay in Vancouver, tried to deflect the credit for all these wins.
The program was destined to turn around because of the support from the school and the community, he said.
He notes that he has been fortunate to have quality assistants with him for years. Randy Martinez has been on Lambert’s staff from the first season, in 1999. Chaka Lee has been with the program since 2002.
“I think if there were other (head) coaches here, they would have been successful, too,” Lambert said.
Fortunately for today’s players, no one will ever know.
Matt Braaten has lived in La Center his whole life. Alex Meza’s family moved to La Center when he was in elementary school. Two of the team’s four captains this season, they grew up with Lambert in charge of the biggest team in town.
“I would always to go high school games and say, ‘One day, I want to play for this team,'” Meza said Thursday at practice. “Knowing Coach Lambert is still here makes it even better. We’ve created quite a bond.”
Braaten said he always looked up to the team. Now he is grateful to be a big part of the program. He said all of the players are excited about being the team that reached the milestone.
“We know the work he puts in for us,” Braaten said Thursday. “It feels good to give back to him.”
Lambert said things starting looking up for La Center when Hugh Wyatt won 12 games in three seasons from 1996 to 1998. Lambert was an assistant in 1997 and 1998.
“He brought discipline to the program,” Lambert said. “He really laid the foundation for expectations for player behavior and a physical mindset on the field. Those two things were absent prior to my time.”
Lambert took over in 1999 and the Wildcats made their first postseason appearance in 2001, “the breakthrough,” Lambert described. By 2003, La Center was in the state semifinals. Lambert’s teams have made two other trips to the quarterfinals.
All that winning, and he remains at La Center. That is by design.
“I like my job here. I like teaching here. I like the community. It’s a good place to be,” Lambert said.
He noted a book written by Frosty Westering, who coached at Pacific Lutheran University for 32 seasons and holds the record for most wins in the NAIA: “Make the Big Time Where You Are.”
“There have been other opportunities,” Lambert said. “I don’t want to get to a big school just to get to a big school. I’m very happy where I’m at.”
So is just about anyone associated with La Center football.
The program is a winner, and the coach has 100 victories to prove it.
LA CENTER 49, STEVENSON 6
Stevenson 0 0 0 6– 6
La Center 21 21 7 0–49
LC — Max Hiller 46 run (Jonathan Griffee kick)
LC — Matt Braaten 10 pass from Wyatt Aguirre (Sergio Sandoval kick)
LC — Connor Wonderly 45 pass from Aguirre (Sandoval kick)
LC — Wonderly 90 pass from Aguirre (Sandoval kick)
LC — Aguiree 26 run (Griffee kick)
LC — Hiller 21 run (Sandoval kick)
LC — Wonderly 35 punt return (Griffee kick)
S — Bryan Griffith 94 fumble recovery (run failed)
RUSHING — La Center: Connor Fulton 5-101, Hiller 3-99, Aguirre 5-47. Stevenson: Griffith 6-18, Colton Van Pelt 9-(minus 4), Josh Anderson 15-49.
PASSING — La Center: Aguirre 4-8-0-174. Stevenson: Van Pelt 3-6-3-22.
RECEIVING — La Center: Wonderly 3-164, Braaton 1-10. Stevenson: Brandon Campbell 1-5, Griffith 1-6, Anderson 1-11.