Winning the turnover battle and leaning on a powerful ground game are recipes for success on the road.
Kelso did both of those things Thursday in a key 3A Greater St. Helens League clash against Mountain View, but during a furious Thunder comeback, the Hilanders’ resolve was the thing that put them over the top.
Zeke Smith’s interception in the end zone with less than a minute remaining halted a promising Mountain View drive close to field goal range, allowing Kelso to kneel out the clock for a 28-26 win.
The Hilanders (5-2, 3-0 3A GSHL) stormed the field in front of a stunned McKenzie Stadium crowd, relishing a win that moves them one step closer to a 3A GSHL title while dropping Mountain View (3-4, 1-2), regarded as one of the league’s preseason favorites, further back in the standings.
“We knew it was going to be a tough battle. Our coaches were preaching it all week,” said Kelso’s Conner Noah, who rushed for 185 yards and three touchdowns. “Hats off to them, it was a good game. We just wanted it. We were ready. We knew it was going to be a grinder.
“Just believing in each other, because we knew there were going to be big plays, adversity, there’s always adversity in all these types of big games. Mountain View, every year it’s a big game with them.”
On the game-deciding drive, Mountain View marched inside of Kelso’s 20-yard line after quarterback Mitch Johnson connected with Akili Kamau for a first-down conversion.
But the Thunder were whistled for a dead-ball unsportsmanlike penalty after the play was over. That moved Mountain View back to first and long on the 32-yard line. Mountain View coach Adam Mathieson estimated the field goal range of kicker Owen Purvis was between 30 and 40 yards.
The next play, Smith read Johnson’s eyes as he threw deep and made a play on the ball. Smith pulled down the interception before sliding down for a touchback.
“They’ve gotten us the past couple years,” Smith said, “so it’s really nice to get them this year and (possibly) knock them out of the playoffs.”
Kelso controlled the clock for much of the second half by calling Noah’s number often and trusting its bruising offensive line to create holes.
The visitors took their largest lead, 28-19, on Noah’s 19-yard touchdown run with six minutes left in the fourth quarter.
“Their offenses forces you, instead of getting nine, 10, 11, 12 possessions, you get seven, so you got to make them count,” Mathieson said.
Mountain View responded with an efficient drive starting at its own 15, which moved into Kelso territory on a 57-yard screen pass hauled in by running back Porter Drake from Johnson, who later scored a 2-yard run to get the Thunder within two points.
Kelso had a chance to ice the game with less than four minutes remaining. Three straight runs went to Noah, but the Thunder stopped the workhorse back two yards short on third down.
A high snap over quarterback Tucker Amrine on fourth down gave the Thunder the ball at the Kelso 49-yard line with 2:30 left. Seven plays later and some 30 yards later, Kelso sealed the win on Smith’s interception.
“Our resolve was good,” Kelso coach Steve Amrine said. “At the end they had a chance. We made one more play than they did, and that’s what we needed tonight.”
Kelso had lost two straight games to Mountain View before Thursday. Its last win in 2019 also came at McKenzie Stadium and clinched a league title for the Hilanders.
This latest win doesn’t give Kelso the league title, but the path is much clearer. Following a non-league matchup against Othello next week, the Hilanders will return to Vancouver on Oct. 28 to face Evergreen, which currently sits in second place of the 3A GSHL standings.
KELSO 28, MOUNTAIN VIEW 26
Kelso 14 0 7 7—28
Mtn. View 6 6 7 7—26
MV — Mitch Johnson 1 run (kick blocked)
K — Tucker Amrine 1 run (Tate Meade kick)
K — Conner Noah 1 run (Meade kick)
MV — JJ Thompson 2 run (pass failed)
K — Noah 15 run (Meade kick)
MV — Porter Drake 45 run (Owen Purvis kick)
K — Noah 19 run (Arian Mendoza kick)
MV — Johnson 2 run (Purvis kick)
RUSHING — Kelso: Conner Noah 32-185, Amrine 8-12, Judah Calixte 3-23, Naiser Lukas 1-61, Zeke Smith 1-2. Mountain View: Johnson 15-98, Drake 7-51, JJ Thomspon 1-2.
PASSING — Kelso: Amrine 3-5-0-12. Mountain View: Johnson 18-32-2-228
RECEIVING — Kelso: Trey Hoover 2-7, Bannick Allen 1-5. Mountain View: Drake 4-85, Jacob Martin 4-58, Thompson 4-24, Kyle Chen 3-21, Akili Kamau 3-20.