WASHOUGAL — A broken-down bus and clogged highways prevented Shelton from coming to Washougal Friday for its scheduled matchup, postponing the game until Saturday night.
Once in Washougal, the Highclimbers were hard to stop.
“You’re probably going me to ask the same question my wife just asked,” Washougal head coach Dave Hajek said after ending a post-game phone conversation. “ ’Why couldn’t you guys stop them?’ ”
After giving up nearly 500 yards of offense to Shelton, the Washougal defense came up with their biggest play of the night, forcing a fumble with 2:54 to play to help seal a 38-34 win over the Highclimbers in a 2A district playoff Saturday night at Fishback Stadium.
“The first half, we didn’t rally to the ball very well,” Hajek said. “We let them come at us more. I think in the second half, we got to the ball a lot faster.”
From the start, it looked like it would be one of those last-team-to-score-win type of game.
Shelton put together drives of 83 yards, 80 yards and 66 yards to score touchdowns on its first three possessions of the game.
After each of those, Washougal answered with touchdowns of its own.
A blocked punt right before halftime helped Shelton take a 27-20 lead into the intermission.
Despite the deficit, Washougal quarterback Holden Bea wasn’t too concerned at halftime.
“We were just putting our trust in our defense,” Bea said. “We knew that they could find out and stop what (Shelton) was doing. We were just trying to do our thing on offense.”
Liam Atkin’s 49-yard run set up a 24-yard touchdown pass from Bea to Sam Evers, cutting the deficit to 27-26. Another TD pass to Evers – the third Bea-to-Evers TD connection — early in the fourth quarter gave Washougal its first lead of the night at 32-27.
“You can’t be a competitive playoff team if you can’t run the ball,” said Atkin, who finished with 152 yards rushing and one touchdown running and one receiving. “And we are a very diverse team, very diverse offense. We can do whatever we want. They shut down the pass, we’ve got great blockers so we can run it.”
When Shelton went back ahead 34-32 on Bradley Eleton’s fifth touchdown of the night with 8:14, the Panthers returned to the pass.
Bea completed four consecutive passes for 65 yards to get the Panthers to the Shelton 18, where Atkin ran in for a 38-34 lead with 5:36 left.
Bea finished with 281 yards passing on 20-of-29 passing and three touchdowns. He also ran for a score.
“As you can tell, he’s good,” Hajek said of Bea. “He’s the best in the area. … I’m biased, but I’ll say that.”
Shelton appeared ready to embark on another yard-munching drive when the Highclimbers moved from their own 20 to the Washougal 44 on five plays.
But then the Panthers forced and recovered a fumble, Shelton’s lone turnover of the night. Then Washougal converted a couple of third downs to seal the win.
In district crossover playoffs, matchups of No. 1 seeds, like Washougal, against No. 4 seeds, like Shelton (5-5), aren’t usually this competitive. But Hajek will take the victory.
The ninth straight win for the Panthers (9-1) sends them to the 2A state tournament. Washougal will learn its first-round opponent when seeding is announced Sunday at 1 p.m.
“Like I told the kids, Washougal was a No. 1 seed in 1999 and went to the playoffs and lost” its first playoff game, Hajek said. “And we were the No. 1 seed in 1994 and lost here (Fishback Stadium). The last time Washougal was a league champion and won its first playoff game, you’d have to go back probably to 1974. So that’s another thing the kids can be proud of.”
WASHOUGAL 38, SHELTON 34
Shelton 14 13 0 7—34
Washougal 6 14 6 12—38
S — Bradley Eleton 6 run (Dante Trikoff kick)
W — Sam Evers 10 pass from Holden Bea (kick blocked)
S — Eleton 14 pass from Mason Goos (Trikoff kick)
W — Liam Atkin 4 pass from Bea (Owen Edwards pass from Bea)
S — Eleton 11 run (Trikoff kick)
W — Bea 4 run (kick blocked)
S — Eleton 7 run (kick blocked)
W — Evers 24 pass from Bea (pass failed)
W — Evers 19 pass from Bea (pass failed)
S — Eleton 19 run (Trikoff kick)
W — Atkin 18 run (run failed)
RUSHING — Shelton: Bradley Eleton 22-168, Jayden Fuller 10-59, Connor Gilman 11-27, Mason Goos 2-0. Washougal: Liam Atkin 16-152, Holden Bea 9-34.
PASSING — Shelton: Mason Goos 22-30-0-237. Washougal: Holden Bea 20-29-0-281.
RECEIVING — Shelton: Gabe Menefee 5-76, Dante Trikoff 7-64, Jayden Fuller 6-47, Bradley Eleton 1-4, Bradley Tiller 2-25, Weetly Cordova 1-11. Washougal: Jayson Graham 5-67, John Costa 4-56, Sam Evers 7-87, Talon Connelly 1-23, Liam Atkin 3-48.