RIDGEFIELD — A go-ahead pick-six Friday will be the play Washougal remembers when looking back on one of the football program’s most important wins in recent memory.
That, and a late defensive stand to stun Ridgefield, the reigning 2A Greater St. Helens League champion, on its home turf.
In a tie game with less than a minute remaining, Washougal’s Jayson Graham got the jump on a Ridgefield pass, secured it and ran untouched to the end zone. It gave Washougal a 34-27 lead, and ultimately, a win to catapult the Panthers to the top of the 2A GSHL.
“We’ve been training all offseason for this,” Graham said. “This is what we wanted. This is what we came here for.”
Ridgefield had just 37 seconds left to drive from its own 21-yard line. But after three completions from quarterback Logan DeBeaumont to receiver Isaiah Cowley, plus two Washougal pass interference penalties, the Spudders were suddenly on Washougal’s 11-yard line
Three seconds left on the clock left Ridgefield one final play — a pass over the middle that fell incomplete as time expired. Washougal (4-1, 3-0 2A GSHL) now has the inside track on in the race for a league title.
“It boosts our (morale),” senior linebacker Garrett Mansfield said. “We came into the season wanting to win the league championship and go to state, and we’re proving that right now.”
Graham’s interception, which earned him one of Washougal’s signature turnover belts for the first time this season, came after the Panthers tied the game early in the fourth quarter on Sam Evers’ 11-yard touchdown catch from quarterback Holden Bea.
The stalemate between the two teams remained through the next three drives, all ending in punts — one for Washougal and two for Ridgefield.
Washougal took over at its own 28-yard line with 2:28 left, then turned the ball over on downs when it failed to convert a fourth and 1, gifting Ridgefield favorable field position.
Knowing the team they were playing, Washougal coach Dave Hajek thought going for it was worth the chance. After the Panthers were stuffed on a quarterback keep, the coach second guessed the decision. Thankfully, he didn’t have to think about it much longer, because two plays later, Graham made the game-changing play to put the Panthers ahead.
“I don’t know if Jayson bailed me out or not on that call,” Hajek said.
“Unfortunately we got a bad snap and I’m sitting there going, ‘Oh, we just lost the game.’ Then Jayson picked it off and ran it back. … Against a team like Ridgefield you have to take chances.”
Ridgefield (2-3, 2-1) led 21-14 at halftime behind a pair of touchdown catches from Cowley and a rushing score from Rocco Wright. Cowley finished with 10 catches for 168 yards, also grabbing an interception and blocking a Washougal point-after attempt.
Washougal now sits alone in first place in the 2A GSHL standings. But, as Hajek told the team in the post-game huddle, their newfound position comes with a caveat: the Panthers have gone from the hunters to the team everyone will be hunting.
“Probably one of the bigger wins we’ve had at Washougal in a long time,” Hajek said.
“They’re young kids. It’s going to be our jobs as coaches to keep them going. … They’re hungry, they want the league title, they want state playoffs, they want all the right things. It’s just keeping them focused. We have a great nucleus of kids, probably one of the better groups I’ve ever had. They did an amazing job tonight. They battled all game long.”
After all, this spot is exactly where the Panthers wanted to be.
“We’re going to keep working harder and harder every week,” Mansfield said. “Get in the weight room, get recovered and just work our butts off at practice.”
Washougal 34, Ridgefield 27
Washougal 14 0 6 14—34
Ridgefield 7 14 6 0—27
R — Rocco Wright 11 run (Brandon Rogers kick)
W — Sam Evers 8 pass from Holden Bea (Koby Johnson kick)
W — Jayson Graham 34 pass from Bea (Johnson kick)
R — Isaiah Cowley 34 pass from Logan DeBeaumont (Rogers kick)
R — Cowley 29 pass from DeBeaumont (Rogers kick)
W — Bea 2 run (kick blocked)
R — Wright 4 run (kick failed)
W — Evers 7 pass from Bea (Johnson kick)
W — Graham 72 interception return (Johnson kick)
RUSHING — Washougal: Bea 19-48, Liam Atkin 4-9. Ridgefield: Wright 22-112, Cly Stephens 14-81.
PASSING — Washougal: Bea 21-37-1-231. Ridgefield: DeBeaumont 15-33-1-209.
RECEIVING — Washougal: Evers 7-87, Atkin 4-42, John Costa 3-29, Graham 2-36, William Cooper 2-11, Thad MacDonald 2-10, Talon Connelly 1-12. Ridgefield: Cowley 10-168, Carter Ferber 2-29, Brayden Malella 1-8, Noah Stromberg 1-3, Wright 1-1.