What’s surprising about the Mark Morris High football team being 3-0 after three weeks of the 2022 season is that, well, it’s not so surprising to the Monarchs.
“Three-and-0 after three weeks sounds like what we predicted,” running back Deacon Dietz said after the Monarchs’ 33-31 victory Friday night over Columbia River. “We love to come out and give it our all, and we squeaked out a win.
“Sometimes that’s what it takes.”
And it took a heavy dose of Dietz, a reigning all-league player, who put on a show to highlight the Monarchs’ ground attack in the teams’ 2A Greater St. Helens League opener. The senior rushed for a game-high 241 yards on 30 carries and scored two touchdowns to get MM off to a win in league play.
The road victory also spoiled River’s first game back at its home stadium since the 2019 season. Ongoing construction and stadium upgrades forced River to play at Kiggins Bowl the past two seasons.
Friday also had an extra special meaning for the Rapids’ program and Columbia River community. The school officially dedicated its field after John O’Rourke, the program’s former longtime head coach who died in November at age 76, during a 25-minute pregame ceremony.
O’Rourke spent 43 years at Columbia River as a social studies teacher and also coached football, wrestling and track and field. He went 154-77 with 16 postseason appearances in 22 seasons as head football coach — and 16 years as a River assistant coach before that — until his retirement after the 2015 season.
The pregame field dedication ceremony included a number of former River greats as guest speakers: current head coach Brett Smedley, a 2003 River graduate, ex-NFL tight end Brett Pierce (1999), Darby Meade (1996), Dean Kirkland (1986) and former longtime coach Tom Boyle.
The Vancouver School Board voted in May to approve the field’s new name, and the facility has since hosted soccer games. But Friday was the first football game played at John O’Rourke Field.
And both teams put on a show, despite the scoreboard’s malfunction midway through the second quarter and no working clock for much of the game. Time was kept on the field by the officiating crew.
After scoring the game’s first touchdown by capitalizing off an early MM turnover, River (1-2, 0-1) played catch up the rest of the game. MM led by as many as 27-13 in the third, yet River came within two points twice in the fourth quarter.
Momentum looked to be in River’s favor early in the fourth. MM led 27-19 driving deep into River territory when a fumble at the 2-yard line was recovered by River. Six plays later, Adam Watts connected with Tommy Blau for a 14-yard touchdown strike — their second TD connection of the game — to make it a 27-25 game.
MM struck back with Dietz’s 51-yard touchdown run that made it an eight-point advantage, yet two plays later on River’s ensuing possession, Watts found Reece Mickel for a 53-yard touchdown.
As impressive as Dietz was on the ground for Mark Morris, not to be outdone for River was Watts, the Rapids’ senior dual-threat quarterback. He accounted for all five Rapids touchdowns — three passing, two rushing — and was the consistent offensive spark. He passed for 301 yards, rushed for 127 and also had a 45-yard reception. His longest run of the night was 58 yards.
Smedley, the Rapids’ head coach, was pleased with how well his offense executed all game. The Rapids were 0-for-2 on 2-point conversions in their final two scoring drives.
“I love what we did the whole game,” the coach said. “We should’ve been tied or up in that first half but we shot ourselves in the foot. We went in and talked about being disciplined at halftime, and came out and did a really good job of being disciplined in the second half, but it was a little too late.”
Dietz’s kickoff return to midfield on the Monarchs’ final offensive possession helped seal the Mark Morris victory. What message and tone did the Monarchs set Friday to open league play? It goes back to the team motto, Dietz said: passion, grit and family.
“And those are our three words that we say every single day before we go out to practice and those are the three things we ring to the table every time we step onto the field,” he said. “We come out here and take the victory and sing on the bus ride home.”
MARK MORRIS 33, COLUMBIA RIVER 31
MM 8 13 6 6 – 33
Col. River 7 6 6 12 – 31
CR – Tommy Blau 37 pass from Adam Watts (kick good)
MM – Justus McCann 1 run (run good)
MM – Deacon Dietz 41 run (kick good)
CR – Watts 4 run (kick failed)
MM – McCann 42 run (run failed)
MM – Kobe Parlin 16 pass from Kellen Desbiens (kick failed)
CR – Watts 14 run (kick failed)
CR – Blau 14 pass from Watts (run failed)
MM – Dietz 51 run (kick failed)
CR – Reece Mickel 53 pass from Watts (kick good)