As he held an assistant coach in a tight embrace, it wasn’t just blue Gatorade running down the cheeks of Fort Vancouver head football coach Doug Bilodeau.
There were also tears.
That Gatorade bath had been a long time coming for Bilodeau and the Trappers. Friday’s 29-27 win over Stevenson was Fort’s first victory since Week 8 of the 2019 season.
“These kids, I’m so damn proud of them,” said Bilodeau, who has coached Fort since the 2021 spring season. “I’m happy to be here. I don’t want to be anywhere else. I love Fort Vancouver and I’m here to battle.”
Evan Mendez had eight catches for 199 yards and three touchdowns, including a 24-yard pass from Kaeleb Cvitkovich that put the Trappers ahead with 35 second left.
“I was telling my coaches, this is going to be so unbelievable,” Mendez said. “We’ve been dreaming about this for what, three years now?”
It wasn’t just that Fort won Friday at Kiggins Bowl. For a few moments, it looked as if the Trappers might suffer as agonizing of a loss as any in the 18 games since their last victory.
Stevenson scored two touchdowns within a two-minute span late in the fourth quarter. Kacen Bach’s 1-yard run, which came five plays after the Bulldogs recovered an onside kick, put Stevenson ahead 27-23 with 1:12 to play.
But Fort would not accept defeat, a fate that had been all too common.
After Fort’s kickoff return to near midfield, Cvitkovich found Anton Hill for a catch to moved the Trappers to Stevenson’s 28.
From there, Cvitkovich zeroed in on Mendez, his favorite target. After a 4-yard completion where Mendez barely got out of bounds, Cvitkovich lofted a high pass toward the end zone.
Mendez was not going to let either of two Stevenson defenders beat him to the ball.
“I’m getting that ball,” Mendez said. “But what I liked better was getting out of bounds the play before to give us some more time.”
Mendez made a leaping catch, then crossed the goal line to put Fort ahead 29-27 with 35 seconds to play. Of Cvitkovich’s 14 completions, eight went to Mendez including touchdowns of 30 and 12 yards in the first half.
“Sometimes coach tells me I look his way too much, but I don’t feel that” Cvitkovich said. “Me and him, we go out for countless hours to the field, working on timing throws, stick throws, back-shoulder fades. We came out on top because of it.”
After Stevenson’s final drive ran out of time near midfield, the Fort sideline rejoiced. But few were as emotional as Bilodeau.
“I know he’s had some ups and downs with this team,” Cvitkovich said. “He’s not used to a lot of losing seasons. It feels good to get him this win because emotionally, we’re all pumped up. We’re going to be lit at practice.”
Now, having a taste of victory, the Trappers (1-2) are looking for multiple wins for the first time since 2015.
“We’re coming,” Cvitkovich said. “We’re not backing down.”
Clutch on fourth – Fort Vancouver opened the scoring when Cvitkovich found Mendez for a 30-yard touchdown on fourth and 12. The quarterback threw a lofted pass, which his favorite target won over two Bulldogs defenders.
Rapid response – Stevenson had just cut Fort’s lead to 12-7 on Bach’s 13-yard QB keeper with 3:52 left in the half. But Cvitkovich had a quick answer, running 65 yards for a touchdown on the second play of the next drive.
Pick four – Anton Hill intercepted Stevenson in the end zone in the final minute of the first half. It was Fort’s fourth interception of the half, the second in the end zone and Hill’s second of the game. Aiden Curtis also had two first-half interceptions.
FORT VANCOUVER 29, STEVENSON 27
Stevenson 0 7 7 13—27
Fort Vancouver 6 14 0 9—29
FV – Evan Mendez 30 pass from Kaeleb Cvitkovich (pass failed).
FV – Mendez 12 pass from Cvitkovich (pass failed)
S – Kacen Bach 13 run (Bach kick)
FV – Cvitkovich 65 run (Brayden Vilendre pass from Cvitkovich)
S – Bach 4 run (Bach kick)
FV – FG, Cvitkovich 27
S – Frank Jenkins 15 pass from Bach (kick failed)
S – Bach 1 run (Bach kick)
FV – Mendez 24 pass from Cvitkovich (run failed)
RUSHING – Stevenson: Kacen Bach 10-70, Joseph Jenkins 4-20, Sean O,Neil 1-(minus-3), Gavin Gantner 2-2, Frank Jenkins 2-(minus-6). Fort Vancouver: Jordan Oldfield 5-(minus-4), Kaeleb Cvitkovich 10-85, Jamo Hicks 2-4.
PASSING – Stevenson: Kacen Bach 23-38-4-297. Fort Vancouver: Kaeleb Cvitkovich 14-26-1-205.
RECEIVING – Stevenson: Nate Kick 2-55, Jordan Waymire 2-20, Joseph Jenkins 8-116, Sean O’Neal 1-1, Frank Jenkins 7-81, Sam Ledesma 2-29. Fort Vancouver: Evan Mendez 8-199, Jamo Hicks 1-(minus-10), Jordan Oldfield 2-18, Brayden Vilendre 1-2, Anton Hill 2-30.