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Friday Night Flashback: Hockinson, River found themselves stuck in the mud

2016 2A GSHL football showdown remembered for its fantastic finish and, oh, the mud

By , Columbian sports reporter
Published:
3 Photos
Columbia River and Hockinson play through muddy conditions late in the fourth quarter at Hockinson High School on Friday night, Oct. 14, 2016.
Columbia River and Hockinson play through muddy conditions late in the fourth quarter at Hockinson High School on Friday night, Oct. 14, 2016. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

The first thing that comes to mind about Friday night, Oct. 14, 2016 at Hockinson High is the mud.

A football game that decided the 2A Greater St. Helens League title featured two touchdowns in the final two minutes including a game-winning hook-and-ladder score.

But what stands out in Hockinson’s 14-13 victory over Columbia River is the mud.

“When you stepped on it in spots, you’d sink up to your ankles,” Hockinson coach Rick Steele said. “Every minute of the game that went on, it just got worse and worse.”

According to historical weather data, more than an inch of rain fell in a one-hour period. The field was a quagmire and despite an “army of kids” with towels, the quarterbacks were putting a shot not throwing a football.

Columbia River boasted an offensive line that averaged 270 pounds to pave the way for star running back Hunter Pearson. Hockinson was a spread-it-out, speed-oriented offense.

“I thought it gave us a better chance,” said former River coach Christian Swain, who now coaches Evergreen. “But it neutralized things a bit. When the field gets that bad, the big guys can’t get any traction and get off the ball.”

With both offenses literally stuck in the mud, scoring was near impossible. River’s Nathan Kunz caught a 75-yard touchdown pass from Jack Armstrong in the second quarter and Matt Henry scored on a 7-yard sweep in the third quarter.

With under 2 minutes remaining in the fourth, the game finally reached its chaotic climax. River’s Dalton Garrett intercepted a pass and returned it to the Hockinson 10-yard line, where Armstrong walked in on a naked bootleg with 1:08 remaining.

Not to be outdone, Hockinson had miracle response. With 30 seconds left, Canon Racanelli threw to Bailey Jones, who pitched to Matt Henry on a hook-and-ladder. Henry sprinted to the end zone to make it 13-12.

Original game story

Hockinson's Wyatt Jones (31) celebrates after a Columbia River field goal attempt is no good in the third quarter at Hockinson High School on Friday night, Oct. 14, 2016.
Hockinson hooks Columbia River in final seconds
Hawks win with hook-and-ladder play, plus 2-point conversion

“We were very proud of our trick plays at Hockinson,” Steele said. “When we called it, it wasn’t a play we pulled out of our rear ends. Our kids knew it.”

They also knew there was no doubt about going for the 2-point conversion. Steele can recall four times in his 16 years at Hockinson that his team has won on a 2-point conversion.

Racanelli slipped in the mud evading a River rusher before escaping to his right and finding Henry in the back corner of the end zone to give the Hawks the 14-13 lead and eventual win.

“It was a great call,” Swain said. “That’s why Coach Steele is a Hall of Famer.”

The Hawks won the 2A GSHL title but lost in a Week 10 crossover to Black Hills in 2016. River was the No. 2 seed out of the GSHL and lost 7-6 to W.F. West in Week 10.

The Week 7 game was perhaps a sign of things to come for Hockinson and Racanelli, who led his team to its first of two state titles the following year while winning 2A State Player of the Year.

“Nothing Canon Racanelli did ever surprised me,” Steele said. “The kid just made plays.”

For Swain, the game — while frustrating — was a good learning lesson in what was his first year with Columbia River.

“Any time you’re playing against a coach of that stature, you watch his mannerisms and everything he’s doing,” Swain said. “What I learned from Steele was don’t coach scared; be willing to make those kinds of calls because that’s what a great team does.”

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