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1A/2B Football Preview: La Center is tackling challenges ahead

Veteran returners will help Wildcats in abbreviated season

By Tim Martinez, Columbian Assistant Sports Editor
Published: February 18, 2021, 6:30pm
4 Photos
La Center quarterback Tom Lambert (6) passed for 1,252 yards and 12 touchdowns and also rushed 808 yards and 15 TDs for the Wildcats in 2019.
La Center quarterback Tom Lambert (6) passed for 1,252 yards and 12 touchdowns and also rushed 808 yards and 15 TDs for the Wildcats in 2019. (The Columbian files) Photo Gallery

La Center coach John Lambert is trying to approach the abbreviated 2020-21 football season as business as normal as possible.

And it has not been easy.

From requiring players to wear masks to holding practices in gyms or on the track because “our practice field is pretty much a swamp right now,” this season will be anything but normal.

“Obviously, there are things that are different,” Lambert said on Tuesday. “We haven’t even tackled yet. We’re going to play a game on Saturday and we haven’t even tackled yet. We were planning on doing that (on Monday), but then the snowpocalypse came.”

That means Lambert will be depending even more on his veteran returnees. And that starts with his son, senior quarterback/linebacker Tom Lambert, the 2019 Trico League MVP.

Tom Lambert passed for 1,252 yards and 12 touchdowns — quiet a feat in his dad’s preferred run-heavy attack — and rushed 808 yards and 15 TDs. Also back is junior running back Bryten Schmitz (1,126 rushing yards, 16 TDs).

However, the Wildcats will be breaking in four new starters up front.

“But it might be our smartest offensive line,” John Lambert said. “And we’ve had some pretty sharp kids over the years. But these guys ask a lot of questions, and they really have a thirst for knowledge about what they’re supposed to do and how they’re supposed to do it. So that bodes really well for that group.”

The Wildcats will get to warm up with games against Fort Vancouver and 2B Goldendale before the schedule heats up with Montesano, Columbia-White Salmon and Castle Rock.

And then the season ends abruptly.

“I think at the end of the season is when it’s going to hit,” Lambert said. “It will be like ‘oh, we’re done now.’ We’ve got Castle Rock and White Salmon to finish the season. So we’ll have the league championship on the line. But I know for the seniors in particular it will be tougher. ‘OK, now we’re done, darn it. We’d love to keep playing and have more challenges ahead of us.’ So I think when we get to that point, then that will feel a lot different for the guys who have been through this before.”

Rest of the Trico League

• Castle Rock is coming off a 7-3 season that included a 42-39 loss to La Center. The Rockets return several key starters led by all-state running back Wyatt Partridge, who rushed for 2,089 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2019.

• Columbia-White Salmon brings back a wealth of experience with 16 seniors, 14 of which of at least two years of varsity experience. With nine returning starters on offense and eight on defense, the Bruins hope to challenge for league supremacy.

• Dennis Herling will make his debut as head coach for Seton Catholic, nearly a year after being hired for the job. The Cougars will be led by their running backs, all-leaguer Elijah Volk and CJ Hamblin, a standout wrestler for the Cougars who returns to the football field after missing last season with an injury.

• Goldendale makes the transition as a temporary member of the Trico League. The Timberwolves went 3-6 in the 2B Eastern Washington Athletic Conference in 2019 under coach Aaron Cochran, including wins in their final two games.

• Fort Vancouver is trying to rebuild its program under first-year coach Doug Bilodeau. The Trappers will play a Trico schedule this year after going 1-8 as a 3A independent last year.

Class 2B

• Kalama remains one of the top programs in the state after three consecutive trips to the 2B state championship game, including back-to-back state titles in 2017-18. The Chinooks started seven sophomores on last year’s squad, bringing back a ton of experience led by junior quarterback Jackson Esary.

• Stevenson could be moving from the frying pan into the fire in football. The Bulldogs, who have opted up to play in the 1A Trico League in past years, now will play as a 2B school. In football, the Southwest 2B League is the powerhouse of the state. One year after winning the Trico League, the Bulldogs went 2-7 last season.

Players to watch

Carter Bennett, sr., RB/LB, Stevenson

Austin Charters, sr., QB/FS, Columbia-White Salmon

Jack Doerty, jr., WR/DB, Kalama

Jackson Esary, jr., QB, Kalama

Landon Gardner, jr., TE/DL, Castle Rock

Jeremy Humphrey, sr., LB/WR, La Center

Tom Lambert, sr., QB/LB, La Center

Chance Naugle, jr., QB/DB, Castle Rock

Wyatt Partridge, sr., RB/LB, Castle Rock

Bryten Schmitz, jr., RB/LB, La Center

Elijah Volk, sr., RB/DB, Seton Catholic

Trico/Class 2B schedule

(Subject to change)

Fri., Feb. 19

Stevenson at Ilwaco, 7 p.m.

Sat., Feb. 20

Castle Rock vs. Goldendale, 11 a.m. at Seton Catholic

La Center vs. Fort Vancouver, 1 p.m. at Kiggins Bowl

Columbia-White Salmon at Seton Catholic, 2 p.m.

Napavine at Kalama, 5 p.m.

Ridgefield vs. Hudson’s Bay, 7 p.m. at Kiggins Bowl

Fri., Feb. 26

Seton Catholic at Castle Rock, 7 p.m.

Fort Vancouver at Columbia-White Salmon, 7 p.m.

Goldendale at La Center, 7 p.m.

Toutle Lake at Stevenson, 7 p.m.

Sat., Feb. 27

Woodland at Hockinson, 1 p.m.

Kalama vs. Adna, 1 p.m. at Montesano

Fri., March 5

Columbia-White Salmon at Castle Rock, 7 p.m.

Fort Vancouver at Goldendale, 7 p.m.

Montesano at La Center, 7 p.m.

Stevenson at Wahkiakum, 7 p.m.

Toledo at Kalama, 7 p.m.

Fri., March 12

Castle Rock vs. Fort Vancouver, 7 p.m. at Kiggins Bowl

Goldendale at Seton Catholic, 7 p.m.

La Center at Columbia-White Salmon, 7 p.m.

Chief Leschi at Stevenson, 7 p.m.

Kalama at Onalaska, 7 p.m.

Fri., March 19

Castle Rock at La Center, 7 p.m.

Seton Catholic vs. Fort Vancouver, 7 p.m. at Kiggins Bowl

Goldendale at Columbia-White Salmon, 7 p.m.

Stevenson at Toutle Lake, 7 p.m.

Kalama vs TBD