STEVENSON—The ball soared past the outstretched arms of a receiver cutting across the middle, and as it skipped across the soggy grass, the Stevenson Bulldogs — players on the field, the sideline and fans who packed the grandstands — roared in celebration.
The Bulldogs had just stopped Columbia-White Salmon on 4th and 10. With 30 seconds left on the clock, and victory one kneel away, Isaac Hoidal faced the stands, pointing both index fingers in the air, signaling the number one.
In that moment, and the many slap-happy, soaking wet cheers of triumph that followed, the Bulldogs felt a culmination. For some, it was four years in the making. For others, many more.
Stevenson fended off a late comeback to beat Columbia-White Salmon in the third annual Gorge Bowl, 20-14, on Friday night at Stevenson High School to complete a sweep of the Trico League and secure its first outright league title since 1994 and an automatic berth to the state tournament.
“This is a dream come true,” Stevenson senior running back Lincoln Krog said. “This game was like something from a movie. It was spectacular.”
The Bulldogs were four yards shy of putting the game away with just under three minutes left in the fourth quarter, when they fumbled and it was pounced on by the Bruins.
“I’m devastated, I can’t believe we just did that,” coach Dave Waymire said. “Then I’m thinking we just gotta burn the clock.”
Next play, White Salmon quarterback Austin Charters hit Chandler Bucklin for a short pass, and he beat half the Stevenson defense down the left side for a 96-yard touchdown.
It was the first points of the half, and cut the Bulldog lead to six.
“Once they got the ball back it was, ‘get back on defense and do what we do,’ ” Krog said.
The Bulldogs returned the ensuing onside kick, but went three and out. The Bruins got the ball back near half field with 1:06 to play, but Stevenson shifted into a 4-3 defense and the Bruins’ four consecutive passes were all incomplete.
Stevenson’s initial lead was built through its ground game. Krog gained 188 yards on 24 carries, including two touchdowns. Trenton Howard totaled 81 yards on 21 carries for White Salmon.
Up six in the second quarter, Stevenson worked a long, slow drive into the red zone, but White Salmon held firm, putting them in a 4th and 13 situation. The Bulldogs went for it, but to no avail.
It appeared as though the Bruins had the momentum. Until four plays later when Isaac Hoidal stripped the ball from Chandler Bucklin at the 50 yard line, which Preston Lowery picked up and returned for a touchdown.
“Desmond (Phillips) popped that ball out, I saw it, picked it up, let them block for me, saw the hole and ran,” Lowery said.
Hoidal’s high snag on the two-point conversion put Stevenson up 20-7, a lead it held into halftime.
With the win, Stevenson is awarded a week 10 bye—one that, according to Waymire, they will take full advantage of. Waymire said him and his coaching staff hardly slept all week in anticipation.
“I was worrying about everything about this game,” he said. “Overthinking it like no other.”
La Center finished second in league with its win over Castle Rock, and Columbia-White Salmon gets third.
Before the game, the Bulldogs senior night ceremony included the public address announcer reading off each player’s favorite sports memory. All but two said it was the Bulldogs’ week 5 win over La Center, the program’s first since 2010.
But after Friday night’s landmark win?
“Definitely tops that,” Krog said. “Hopefully we can make another good moment (at state).”
STEVENSON 20, COLUMBIA-WHITE SALMON 14
White Salmon 0 7 0 7—14
Stevenson 6 14 0 0 —20
S—Lincoln Krog 12 run (kick failed)
S—Lincoln Krog 35 run (conversion failed)
WS—Austin Charters 5 run (Cesar Isordia kick)
S—Preston Lowery 50 fumble return (conversion good)
WS—Chandler Bucklin 96 pass from Charters (Isordia kick)
RUSHING — Columbia-White Salmon: Trenton Howard 21-81, Austin Charters 8-58, Chandler Bucklin 3-12, Cesar Isordia 2-(-4). Stevenson: Lincoln Krog 24-188, Preston Lowery 4-19, Brandon Connell 6-19, Isaac Hoidal 3-0, Desmond Phillips 2-(-4).
PASSING — Columbia-White Salmon: Austin Charters 3-12-0-110. Stevenson: Brandon Connell 6-9-1-49
RECEIVING — Columbia-White Salmon: Cesar Isordia 1-10, Chandler Bucklin 2-100. Stevenson: Isaac Hoidal 2-17, Lincoln Krog 3-35, Desmond Phillips 1-(-3).