Experience, grit key for La Center surviving triple OT

Wildcats draw Meridian in semifinals Saturday

By Meg Wochnick, Columbian staff writer



John Lambert is no artist, but what La Center’s head football coach does know is what grit looks like in a painting.

“That experience,” he said of his team’s 41-35 triple-overtime state quarterfinal victory late Saturday night, “that’s grit. You combine toughness and will power and heart and dedication — everything you put into it — and you keep preserving.

“It was like a 15-round heavyweight battle.”

And the Wildcats delivered the knockout punch to advance to the Class 1A football state semifinals when a trio of Wildcats were in on the play to stop Cascade Christian’s Madden Tobeck at the half-yard line on a would-be touchdown run to tie the game at 41-all in triple overtime.

Tanner Dreyer, Evan Honore and Jackson Leslie stopped Tobeck short of the goal line on fourth-and-goal from the 5, leading to La Center’s celebration of the hard-fought win, all while simultaneously, players from both sides collapsed in exhaustion and emotion from 3 hours, 10 minutes of football and nine of 11 touchdowns scored in a frenzy of a pace.

Sunday, the WIAA announced times, dates and stadium locations for all state semifinal games next weekend. La Center (10-2) faces Meridian (12-0) at 4 p.m. Saturday at Bellingham’s Civic Stadium as the second game of a doubleheader at the stadium; Lummi and Almira-Coulee-Hartline play in a 1B semifinal at 1 p.m.

In Class 2A, Hockinson (12-0) travels to Spokane to take on West Valley (Spokane), also 12-0. The game is scheduled for noon Saturday at Gonzaga Prep High School.

The Wildcats ran nearly 200 offensive plays Saturday night at Puyallup’s Sparks Stadium, Lambert said, in a game that featured nine combined touchdowns inside the final 5 minutes of regulation and three overtimes after a 7-all fourth-quarter tie. Wyatt Dodson, who finished with a game-high 197 yards on 36 carries and scored three touchdowns, gave La Center its first lead with 4:48 to play in regulation at 14-7.

The next two came on identical scoring drives from each team — two plays, 54 yards and 50-yard touchdown receptions from Jackson Leslie (La Center) and Tyquan Coleman (Cascade Christian) in a 48-second span. Leslie finished with a season-best 136 yards on six catches.

Adam Whitaker’s only catch of the game for the Cougars was his 16-yard touchdown reception with 2:08 left in regulation, and following the successful 2-point conversion, tied the game at 21-all.

With each team getting a possession starting overtime at the 25-yard line, Dodson’s 25-yard rushing touchdown on the opening play was matched by Tobeck’s 2-yard run. La Center’s first chance to win the game came in double overtime after quarterback Hayden Williamson hit Evan Honore for a 12-yard touchdown, but Sean Fox’s point-after try was blocked. The game went into triple overtime knotted at 35-all.

In the third extra session with each possession beginning at the 10, Williamson scored his eventual game-winner — a 5-yard touchdown run on third-and-5 — before the defense’s biggest play of the night: stopping Tobeck’s third overtime touchdown attempt.

The resiliency and determination shown by his players — and Cascade Christian, Lambert noted — also showed La Center’s 19-year coach something else. The bigger statement on today’s society and the future generation.

“If there’s ever a question or doubt of youth in our society,” Lambert said, “watch that game.”