TACOMA — As the victory celebration swirled around him, Michael Boyle lay on his back at midfield.
He gazed up, where the apex of the Tacoma Dome roof resembled an eye staring down.
His mind’s eye flashed back to three years ago. Then, as a freshman, Boyle and his Camas teammates were also sprawled on the Tacoma Dome turf.
Gutted by a loss in the 2013 state championship game that saw Camas surrender a 13-point lead in the final 70 seconds, Boyle only remembered glaring disappointment.
For Boyle and his senior classmates, that’s what made Saturday’s 24-14 victory over Richland in the 4A state championship game even sweeter.
“It’s total redemption,” Boyle said. “I’ve never been happier.”
Through 2014, 2015 and this unbeaten 2016 season, that improbable state-championship collapse has bugged the Camas football program like a persistent itch.
Saturday, the Papermakers did more than scratch out a win. They ripped off a cloak that has shrouded the program for three years.
“We’re kind of the hard luck story,” coach Jon Eagle said. “Finally we can put that story to bed.”
Boyle had been harder on himself than most. As a freshman, the placekicker combined with another kicker to miss two field goals and three extra points in that 27-26 championship loss to Chiawana.
Saturday, Boyle was perfect. On the last play of the first half, he nailed a 34-yard field goal that saw him keep his poise despite a bobbled snap.
“Three years ago was a disaster,” he said. “I couldn’t have been happier just to be out here and prove myself. I’ve been waiting for this moment for three years.”
Boyle wasn’t the only one who was waiting. Most of 29 seniors on this year’s team were freshmen in the Camas program when the 2013 state title slipped away.
That game was a baptism of sorts, their high school careers christened with the knowledge that state championships don’t come easily.
“It definitely raised the stakes of this game,” senior linebacker David Aarhus said of his memories of three years ago. “It makes this even more special. If we would have lost, it would have made it even more terrible. But we got the win, so it’s all good.”
Not everyone on that 2013 Camas team could be on the field Saturday to hoist the program’s first state championship trophy.
But that didn’t mean they didn’t feel a sense of redemption. Reilly Hennessey, the senior quarterback of the 2013 team, voiced his pride on Twitter.
“Proud to be a Papermaker,” the Eastern Washington QB wrote. “Love that place and could not be more happy for those guys.”
Michael Matthews, a senior linebacker and running back, said many former players have been in touch this week.
“Those seniors have all been texting me and calling me and telling me just do it for them,” Matthews said. “Do it for the whole community.”
For three years, Boyle had his eye on this day. Every practice — he kicks year-round — he envisioned redemption on the Tacoma Dome turf.
And when he and the other Camas seniors left that dome for the last time as players on Saturday, they looked back with pride.
Micah Rice is The Columbian’s Sports Editor. Reach him at 360-735-4548, email@example.com or via Twitter @col_mrice.