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.”