Centralia made just enough big plays in the first half to overcome their own turnovers.
Against Columbia River, however — the No. 8-ranked 3A football squad in the state — that gridiron karma couldn’t last after the midgame break.
Centralia lost three fumbles and tossed two interceptions, shooting itself in the foot a few too many times against a more imposing opponent in a 36-20 non-league loss Friday night at Tiger Stadium.
The Tigers fumbled away the ball with just over 7 minutes to play and a 10-point deficit, only to watch Columbia River rumble 51 yards and cap the 2-minute drive with a 3-yard touchdown run from Nic Briggs that finally put the game out of reach.
“On the downslope of things, you have to take a look at the fundamental and physical errors — what we can’t do if we want to be able to compete against a top-notch team like that,” Centralia coach Matt Whitmire said.
That said, there was plenty to appreciate in the loss for Centralia.
“We just took on the No. 8-ranked team in the 3As,” Whitmire said. “And in the first half, there’s no question we were right there with them.”
That first half, which ended in a 20-20 tie, was entertaining from start to finish.
The Chieftains forced a fumble on the Tigers’ first play after the kickoff, and used their own first play to score when quarterback Gabe Evenson hit Holden Fielding on a 21-yard fade route in the end zone.
Columbia River’s Jacob Ringold then picked off a pass three plays into Centralia’s ensuing possession, but the Chieftains fumbled the ball right back two plays later to set up Centralia’s first drive — which rolled 74 yards and ended with a 17-yard Joey Aliff touchdown pass to Nolan Wasson.
The Chieftains responded, with Nathan Hawthorne snaring an Everson pass and zipping into the end zone for a 13-6 lead.
The teams swapped quick turnovers again, this time with the Tigers fumbling and then Gavin Kerner picking off a pass three plays later and running it back 30 yards to the Chieftains’ 30-yard line as the first quarter ended. The first play of the second quarter was another Aliff-to-Wasson touchdown pass, this time of the 30-yard variety to pull things to 13-12.
Kerner picked off another pass to end CR’s next drive, but the offense stalled and Centralia booted away its first punt of the year. Hawthorne found the end zone again on an 18-yard pass, but Centralia answered with a long drive and a 1-yard touchdown plunge from Riley Christensen. Aliff hit Wasson for the conversion to tie it up at 20-20 with less than a minute until the intermission, ending a first half that featured as many turnovers (six) as touchdowns.
Columbia River abandoned the pass on the first drive of the second half, running the ball six straight times on a 2-minute drive that ended with a 1-yard plunge into the end zone by Nic Briggs.
“We couldn’t block the perimeter, and, bottom line, we knew what they were going to do, and our guys weren’t good enough to whip their guys,” Whitmire said. “That’s what it came down to tonight.”
The Tigers punted away their next possession, took it back when Angel Verduzco picked off the Chieftains’ first pass, punted again, forced a punt, and lost possession when Rory Menagat picked off a pass and the Chieftains parlayed it into a 31-yard field goal from Garrett McKee.
COLUMBIA RIVER 36, CENTRALIA 20
Col. River 13 7 10 6—36
Centralia 6 14 0 0—20
CR — Holden Fielding 21 pass from Gabe Evenson (Garrett McKee kick)
CEN — Joey Aliff 17 pass to Nolan Wasson; (kick failed)
CR — Nathan Hawthorne 16 pass from Evenson (run failed)
CEN — Aliff 30 pass to Wasson (kick failed)
CR — Hawthorne 18 pass from Evenson (McKee kick)
CEN — Riley Christensen 1 run (Wasson pass from Aliff)
CR — Nic Briggs 1 run (McKee kick)
CR — McKee 31 FG
CR — Briggs 3 run (kick failed)
RUSHING — Columbia River: Vincent Daniels 7-72, Evenson 8-64, Travon Santiago 11-42, Briggs 10-45; Centralia — Javon Brager 9-61, Jacob Monohon 5-35.
PASSING — Columbia River: Evenson 15-26-0-150; Centralia: Aliff 7-17-0-116.
RECEIVING — Columbia River: Hawthorne 7-75, Fielding 2-28, Jacob Bystry 3-29, Carson Bassett 3-18; Centralia: Wasson 2-48, Gavin Kerner 3-37.