KELSO — Two high-level, perennial 4A/3A GSHL contenders took to the artificial turf at Schroeder Field on Friday night, as Kelso welcomed Mountain View in the season opener for both sides after more than 15 months off.
And the result? Well, at times it did indeed look like two squads playing their first real game since November 2019. Miscommunication, penalties, and fumbles plagued both sides, but in the end it was the Thunder that proved better at overcoming their miscues in a 37-21 win.
“I think all lot of it is just it being February,” Mountain View coach Adam Mathieson said after the game. “I don’t mean from a weather standpoint, because it was a beautiful night. It smells different, but it feels like November. I just think there’s a lot of anxiety. Rust isn’t the right word, but we got the green light two weeks ago. When you start talking about shotgun snaps, throwing the ball around, and fielding kickoffs, we haven’t done a lot of that.”
While Mathieson may have exaggerated a bit on the weather — it was an evening that started chilly and only got colder, with plenty of rain throughout the four quarters — his point stands. The Thunder and Hilanders combined for three interceptions, five bad snaps, 10 fumbles, and 11 penalties. But as the night went on, it ended up being Mountain View that was able to overcome little errors faster than Kelso could.
Still, for both coaches, just getting out on the field again after such a long off was a victory itself.
“I’m super proud of the guys,” Kelso coach Steve Amrine said. “What a big step, just for life. The guys got to play, the smile. All of the camaraderie, the hollering and screaming, all the guys playing, all that stuff. I’m proud of how hard we played.”
The first couple of drives gave a good feel for two teams starting the season after a rushed training camp. Three Kelso runs — behind an offensive line with three sophomores — couldn’t get much push, as the Hilanders turned it over on downs in their own territory.
Mountain View started its first drive wanting to throw the ball, but had even less success. Riley McCarthy’s throw on the Thunder’s first offensive was close to being intercepted, and his second was picked off by Colby Cooper, who took it all the way back to the Mountain View 40-yard line, before getting another 15 yards tacked onto the return on a personal foul flag at the end of the play.
Given a short field, Kelso still struggled to get in an offensive groove, going four-and-out again. The Thunder got the ball back, and immediately went backwards with back-to-back false starts. Two plays later, they had another man jump early, then got called for an illegal substitution, forcing them to punt on fourth-and-18 after going three-and-out — despite gaining 11 yards on the possession.
“Anything that could go wrong went wrong early,” Mathieson said.
Soon, though, the jitters started to go away. Junior Hunter Letteer — making his first start at quarterback for the Hilanders — got the scoring started late in the first quarter with a 9-yard touchdown toss to Colby Cooper. Mountain View answered back immediately, starting to turn to the run game and ripping off a seven-play, 59-yard scoring drive to even the score up at 7-7.
Still, the first-game issues were there. On the ensuing kickoff, the ball got popped out of Conner Noah’s hands, giving it right back to the Thunder, who took advantage, with Riley McCarthy notching his second touchdown pass in less than three minutes to put Mountain View ahead.
There were flashes of brilliance though, too. One play into the next Kelso drive, Letteer rolled right from his own 19-yard line, and unloaded downfield just as a Mountain View rusher slammed into his ribs. Nick Miller out-jumped his defender at the 50, and from there it was an easy run to the house for the 81-yard touchdown.
Letteer finished 16-for-28 for 244 with a pair of touchdowns, also scoring Kelso’s third score on a 1-yard sneak in the third quarter.
“Very composed, did a very good job,” Amrine said. “Had a couple of tough throws, but if you’re coming in and playing your first game against Mountain View, they’re a well-disciplined team.”
Going into the fourth quarter tied, the errors started to come back for the Hilanders.
“We always talk about how it comes down to four or five plays, and you don’t know which ones they are,” Amrine said. “That happened.”.
Kelso’s defense, which had its hands full containing Mountain View’s rushing attack, started to give up some big plays through the air, with Thunder receivers getting open behind the Hilanders’ secondary in the middle of the field.
Mountain View took the lead on one such pass, with McCarthy hitting Kevin Chen in the end zone. On their next drive — after Letteer threw his second interception of the day, into triple coverage in the end zone — the Thunder did it again, with McCarthy finding Nick Johnson wide open over the middle on third-and-long for a 61-yard score.
“They got us a couple times, we lost our man,” Amrine said. “We had our guy flat-footed. One time, a guy was playing one coverage and we were in a different coverage. First-game communication stuff. When you play a good team, they can expose you, and they did.”
McCarthy finished with 186 yards on 9-of-17 passing, while going for 121 yards on the ground. As a team, the Thunder outrushed the Hilanders 229-39.
Suddenly in a big hole, the Hilanders ran into a bout of bad snaps. On second down from their own 19, the snap went over Letteer’s head, and he had to fall on it for a loss of 13. The next snap was low and rolled past Letteer and through the back of the end zone for a safety, sealing the Mountain View win.
“We’ve got to get better there,” Amrine said. “It kills drives. We’ve got work to do there, and we’ll start to work on that Monday”
After the season-opening, though, Amrine had plenty of positives to focus on, specifically up front with his offensive line, featuring three sophomores.
“We hit with them up front, and we’re really young up front,” he said.
Cooper led the Hilanders with eight receptions. Miller led the way for Kelso with 110 receiving yards, playing in his final game at Schroeder Field before exchanging his shoulder pads for shoulder surgery to get him ready for a baseball career at LCC.
“He’s been a super Hilander,” Amrine said.
Kelso (0-1) is scheduled to stay at home next week, hosting Battle Ground on Friday.
MOUNTAIN VIEW 37, KELSO 21
Mt. View 0 14 7 16–37
Kelso 7 7 7 0–21
K — Colby Cooper 9 pass from Hunter Letteer (Mason Smith kick)
MV — Zack Gable 11 run (Jude Mullette kick)
MV — Kevin Chen 18 pass from Ryan McCarthy (Mullette kick)
K — Nick Miller 81 pass from Letteer (Smith kick)
MV — Davis Delmage 55 pass from McCarthy (Mullette kick)
K — Letteer 1 run (Smith kick)
MV — Kevin Chen 10 pass from McCarthy (Mullette kick)
MV — Nick Johnson 61 pass from McCarthy (Mullette kick)
MV — Safety, snap goes through end zone
RUSHING — Mountain View: Riley McCarthy 15-121, Gable 9-79, Chen 4-25, Valike Tamakloe 3-9, Porter Drake 3-9. Team 1-(-9). Kelso: Letteer 9-33, Conner Noah 13-15, Spaulding 1-6, Cooper 2-6, Lonner 1-0. Team 1-(-21).
PASSING — Mountain View: McCarthy 9-17-1-186. Kelso: Letteer 16-28-2-244.
RECEIVING — Mountain View: Johnson 3-75, Delmage 2-66, Chen 2-28, Jacob Martin 2-17. Kelso: Nick Miller 5-110, Cooper 8-91, Jaden Kay 2-32, Teagan Connors 1-11.