WOODLAND — Playoff football can be unforgiving, as La Center experienced Friday.
An early 14-point lead wasn’t enough for the Wildcats to overcome a physical opponent and too many mistakes. La Center fell to Cashmere 22-17 in a Class 1A first round game at Woodland High School.
Cashmere, the No. 11 seed, returned an interception for a touchdown and scored another after recovering a fumble at La Center’s 3-yard line.
The No. 6 seed Wildcats also had a critical false-start penalty on fourth and one while trying to extend their final drive near midfield.
“The margin for error is so small and we just made too many of them today,” La Center coach John Lambert said. “But give Cashmere credit. They really came to play.”
Cashmere used its physical play up front to limit La Center’s run game. The Wildcats were held to 196 yards of offense.
“They were aggressive but we weren’t as clean as we had to be,” Lambert said. “We didn’t execute the way we should have and that hurt us a little bit.”
While Cashmere (9-2) is headed to the quarterfinals, La Center’s season is over at 9-2. It didn’t appear that would be the Trico League champ’s fate in the first quarter, when La Center sprinted to a 14-0 lead.
After taking over near midfield following a Cashmere fake punt, Tru Feldman capped the Wildcats opening drive with a 12-yard quarterback keeper.
Houston Coyle then had his first of two first-half interceptions, giving La Center the ball at the Cashmere 16 after a 15-yard return. Four plays later, Feldman punched in his second touchdown from 2 yards.
Headed into a stiff wind from the east, Cashmere only managed 15 yards of offense in the first quarter. But when the teams switched directions at the start of the second quarter, so too did the Bulldogs’ fortunes change.
With the passing game now unhampered, Jack Croci hauled in a 42-yard pass to set up Cashmere’s first touchdown on the next play, a 13-yard run by Luke Jacobson.
La Center tried to pass into the wind, with poor results. A Feldman deep pass hung up, forcing La Center’s receiver to take an offensive pass interference penalty to prevent an interception.
Backed up by the penalty, La Center lost the lead two plays later on a 13-yard interception return by Josh Meros. Genaro Reyna then ran in a fake extra point to give Cashmere a 15-14 lead 2:16 before halftime.
“We didn’t throw the ball as well as we usually do, but that’s not an excuse,” Lambert said. “We still should have run the ball better than we did. But I thought the kids played really hard.”
Cashmere took advantage of a costly miscue in the third quarter. After a La Center fumble squirted backwards and was recovered at the Wildcats’ 3 yard line, the Bulldogs scored on the next play to lead 22-14 with 4:17 left in the third quarter.
La Center cut the lead to 22-17 on a 29-yard Ben Rembesz field goal in the final seconds of the third quarter.
Cashmere killed off half of the fourth quarter with a run-powered drive that got near La Center’s 40.
The Wildcats only had the ball for one drive in the fourth quarter. That ended when, after a false-start penalty forced the Wildcats into fourth and 6, a La Center receiver couldn’t handle a catchable ball.
That gave Cashmere the ball at La Center’s 38 with 3:12 to play. After a first-down conversion, the Bulldogs ran out the clock.
After their postgame huddle, Wildcats players and coaches shared long hugs.
“This group is resilient,” Lambert said. “They worked so hard to get to this point. They dedicated themselves and it’s going to be painful for them. But I couldn’t be prouder of their effort.
Lambert hopes returning players use Friday’s experience the next chance they have to play postseason football.
“Now they’ve had a taste of it,” Lambert said. “We had a great senior group, but the majority of our kids are underclassmen. This is their first experience of playing playoff football. Everything is a little more difficult. I’m excited for the group we’ve got coming back.”
CASHMERE 22, LA CENTER 17
Cashmere 0 15 7 0—22
La Center 14 0 3 0—17
LC — Tru Feldman 12 run (Ben Rembisz kick)
LC — Feldman 2 run (Rembisz kick)
C — Luke Jacobson 13 run (Genaro Reyna kick)
C — Josh Meros 13 interception return (Reyna run)
C — Tyler Peterson 3 run (Reyna kick)
LC — FG, Rembesz 29
RUSHING — Cashmere: Genaro Reyna 7-22, Jack Croci 7-24, Trenton Mason 3-26, Logan Collins 1-0, Aidan Theiss 1-8, Luke Jacobson 16-92, Tyler Peterson 2-3. La Center: Jalen Ward 20-114, Tru Feldman 11-28, Lane Roberts 6-18.
PASSING — Cashmere: Trenton Mason 2-7-1-41, Tyler Peterson 0-1-1-0, Jack Croci 0-1-0-0. La Center: Tru Feldman 6-9-1-54.
RECEIVING — Cashmere: Grady Zimmerman 1-(minus-1), Jack Croci 1-41. La Center: Austin Nixon 1-5, Houston Coyle 3-26, Levi Giles 1-13, Davari Grauer 1-10.