CASTLE ROCK – Castle Rock’s defense dominated early. La Center’s defense dominated late.
But the biggest defensive play was turned in by the La Center offense.
Early in fourth quarter with La Center protecting a seven-point lead, Castle Rock came up with what looked like a pivotal interception for the Rockets.
But on the return, La Center’s Andrew Kysar stripped the ball away and it popped right into the arms of David White, who returned it 46 yards for a touchdown.
From there, La Center sealed away a 31-14 win, giving the Wildcats their third straight Trico League championship.
“That was all Andrew Kysar,” White said. “It just popped perfectly into my hands. That’s all hustle on Andrew’s part.”
La Center coach John Lambert said Kysar’s play was emblematic of how the Wildcats fought back Friday from a 14-0 deficit.
“He had a critical fumble against Connell in our playoff game as a sophomore two years ago,” Lambert said of Kysar. “Someone did that same thing to him. He understood the importance of that moment. So it was great to have a senior who has been through that and thought ‘Oh, I’m going to get this back. I’ve been on the other end of this thing.’ ”
La Center quarterback Darren Cepeda saw his first two pass completions result in turnovers, one on a fumble and one on an interception. Castle Rock was able to take advantage of those turnovers to take a 14-0 lead on two touchdown runs by Chance Naugle.
“I thought they prepared well for us,” Cepeda said. “It was tough at the start.”
La Center responded with a touchdown drive of its own with Cepeda hitting Colby Hylton on a 19-yard touchdown pass on fourth down.
“We just knew we had to step on the gas pedal, go score another touchdown before half,” Cepeda said. “We just stayed composed as a team. And that’s something we’ve been building on all season.”
After the defense got La Center the ball back, Cepeda got that second touchdown on a 24-yard run. His two-point run tied the game at 14-14 with 44 seconds left in the second quarter.
“Darren’s been tremendous this year, being able to run the ball or throw the ball,” Lambert said. “He had a rough first quarter, but after that, I thought he was just money.”
The Wildcats went into the intermission with confidence.
“We were pretty much saying ‘we’re the better team. We got this,’ ” White said.
On La Center’s first drive of the second half, the Wildcats went 94 yards on 12 plays over six minutes with Cepeda hitting Hylton again for 9-yard touchdown pass.
“That’s just all the guys,” Cepeda said. “That’s just them wanting to win this, them wanting it for the seniors, league champions to repeat. They did a great job of staying focus and just wanting it more.”
Then White’s play helped seal it for La Center. The Wildcats (6-2) will face Montesano next week in the district playoffs. Castle Rock will travel to play Tenino.
LA CENTER 31, CASTLE ROCK 14
La Center 0 14 7 10—31
C. Rock 7 7 0 0—14
CR — Chance Naugle 2 run (Parker Orth kick)
CR — Naugle 42 run (Orth kick)
LC — Colby Hylton 19 pass from Darren Cepeda (kick failed)
LC — Cepeda 24 run (Cepeda run)
LC — Hylton 9 pass from Cepeda (Ben Rembiz kick)
LC — David White 46 fumble return (Rembiz kick)
LC — Rembiz FG 18
RUSHING — La Center: Cepeda 13-49, Jalen Ward 10-46, Andrew Kysar 2-2, Levi Giles 2-5, team 2-(-14). Castle Rock: Chase Rusher 7-16, Naugle 17-83, Stephen Ibsen 1-(-1), team 2-(-17).
PASSING — La Center: Cepeda 14-27-2-180. Castle Rock: Naugle 7-16-1-42.
RECEIVING — La Center: Giles 4-54, Kysar 5-39, Davari Grauer 1-41, Hylton 2-28, White 2-18. Castle Rock: Gardner 1-22, Lane Partridge 4-20, Hayden Curtiss 2-0.