CASTLE ROCK — The cheerleaders were probably happy Castle Rock tradition doesn’t require them to do push-ups after every touchdown. That would have been a tough arm workout in the Rockets’ 48-0 demolition of Columbia-White Salmon.
Probably about as tough as it was for Jonah McGary’s teammates — six of them in total — to lift the 275-pound lineman as Castle Rock’s underclassmen carried their six seniors off the field following the final home game of their high school football careers.
“I’ll be honest, it was kind of terrifying the entire time,” McGary said. “I feared for my life.”
That was how the day ended for the Rockets, with laughter after a job well done. It started in the morning with intensity, coming from junior Landon Gardner, who just received the news earlier in the week that his eligibility review had come back in his favor, meaning he could make his season debut against the Bruins and in front of the home fans.
“He texted us today, and goes, ‘Yep, I’m ready boys. Let’s go out there and get them,’” senior Austin McQuilliams said. “With Landon coming back, I’m pretty sure everyone else on the sideline, those underclassmen looking up to him, they got their hopes up. Everyone was playing as a team.”
So for the first time this season, Castle Rock had its full squad active for a game. And there wasn’t much White Salmon could do to stop them.
Wyatt Partridge finished with three rushing touchdowns and 177 yards on 16 carries. McQuilliams added 59 yards and a pair of touchdowns. As a team, the Rockets averaged nearly 11 yards per carry, pounding the Bruins over and over for 271 yards on the ground.
But it was Gardner — who did not record a single offensive statistic — who may have had the biggest impact for the Rockets.
The junior didn’t have any rushes. He had one ball thrown his way in the end zone in the first quarter and got called for an offensive pass interference after he threw the cornerback covering him to the ground. That play set the tone for his game the rest of the way.
Because Landon Gardner wanted to hit people, and it didn’t matter which side of the ball he was on.
“Landon definitely was ready to come out there,” McQuilliams said.
In the second quarter with the Rockets just inside the 50-yard line, Partridge to the handoff and got loose down the left side. The Columbia secondary started to corner him around the 15, until Gardner flew in and pancaked a pursuer, clearing the way for a 43-yard touchdown.
On the very next possession, the same thing happened. Partridge took the handoff and waited patiently for the hole to develop, then burst down the left side, where Gardner was waiting to spring him again with a massive block.
“He’s been waiting, he’s been going against Jonah every single day in practice,” coach Aaron Gehring said. “He got his opportunity today. He was pretty excited, and we’re glad to have him back.”
In the third quarter, Gardner one-upped himself, taking out not one but three defenders on a 72-yard Partridge touchdown — hitting the first man 40 yards downfield, then blocking the second into the third 10 yards beyond that.
On defense, Gardner registered a pair of sacks, and spent most of the night in the Columbia backfield. Then again, most of the Castle Rock defense did that. The Bruins went into halftime on exactly 0 total yards — 4 rushing yards, minus-4 passing yards — and finished the night on just 81.
A large — literally — part of that had to do with McGary, who said he was given very simple instructions going into the game.
“Coach just told me, ‘Blow up the middle. Do what you want, but whatever it is, mess things up,’” McGary said. “I did my best, and it worked out.”
In the third, Columbia started to find a hint of success throwing the ball — until defensive lineman David Garcia dropped back from the line to read a slant pattern and dove backwards for what he said was his first career interception.
“I was surprised. I just saw the ball coming, and I was like, ‘I’ve got to grab this,” he said.”
The next play, Gardner was organizing Partridge’s third touchdown, which started the running clock less than four minutes into the second half.
That was the cycle that took hold, really starting in the second quarter and running the rest of the way. The Rockets delivered punishing hit after punishing hit on defense, then ran the ball down the Bruins’ throats when they got the ball back.
“We just kept reiterating to the guys, ‘All gas, keep it rolling,’” Gehring said. “They were out there having fun, making plays, playing for one another. That’s the thing we love as coaches to see.”
By the end of the blowout, Gehring and the Castle Rock staff had one more surprise for the seniors.
On first down, they handed it off to McGary, who got to do his best William “Refrigerator” Perry imitation and rumbled for 4 yards.
“Coach just came up to me and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to give you the ball,’ and I was astonished,” McGary said. “But you know what? I’ve been waiting for that chance for like seven years. It was awesome to get to have the ball for just a second.”
On second down, Emmet Falter took the handoff. On third down, offensive lineman Grant Kincaid gained three. On fourth down, Isaac Trigsted got the carry.
So in their final home game, all six Castle Rock seniors — including McQuilliams and Partridge — got to run the ball.
“It was a good add-on at the end for the seniors,” Gehring said. “Two home games with COVID and everything, we just wanted to have some fun and have those guys remember their final game in the stadium.”
Castle Rock (3-0) is scheduled to travel to play Fort Vancouver next Saturday.
CASTLE ROCK 48, COLUMBIA-WHITE SALMON 0
CWS 0 0 0 0—0
CRock 8 24 8 8—48
CR — Austin McQuilliams 1-yard run, Two-point conversion (Chance Naugle run)
CR — Wyatt Partridge 43 run, Two-point conversion (Naugle run)
CR — Partridge 28 run, Two-point conversion (Chase Rusher from Naugle)
CR— Naugle 13 pass to Partridge, Two-point conversion (Naugle run)
CR — Partridge 73 run, Two-point conversion (Rusher run)
CR — McQuilliams 18 run, Two-point conversion (Partridge run)
RUSHING — Castle Rock: Wyatt Partridge 16-177, Austin McQuilliams 4-59, Chance Naugle 3-17, Lane Partridge 1-14, Chase Rusher 1-4, Jonah McGary 1-4, Isaac Trigsted 1-7, Grant Kincaid 1-3, Emmet Falter 1-1; Columbia: Austin Charters 14-26, Moses Henning 4-13, Garrett Hogberg 3-4, Cody Campbell 2-5
PASSING — Castle Rock: Naugle 6-10-0-98; Columbia — Hogberg 4-13-0-51.
RECEIVING — Castle Rock: McQuilliams 3-48, Falter 1-25, W. Partridge 1-13, Rusher 1-12; Columbia: Angel Sanchez 1-35, Isaac Wang 1-14, Charters 1-6, Campbell 1-(-4).