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Battle Ground passes biggest test yet — a 48-30 win over Union to open 4A GSHL slate

Tigers improve to 7-0, top the Titans for first time since 2016

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
12 Photos
Jacob Champine of Battle Ground runs the ball against Union in a game at McKenzie Stadium on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023.
Jacob Champine of Battle Ground runs the ball against Union in a game at McKenzie Stadium on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023. (Tim Martinez/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Nobody believes in the Battle Ground Tigers more than the Battle Ground Tigers.

And now, in the aftermath of a seismic moment for the football program, the Tigers have reaffirmed that feeling.

Battle Ground beat Union 48-30 in Thursday’s 4A Greater St. Helens League opener, but the Tigers’ post-game celebration resembled a bigger occasion, like winning a league title or state playoff game.

That’s because the Tigers hadn’t defeated Union since 2016, nor any of the 4A GSHL’s other powers, Skyview and Camas. Even after a 6-0 start to the season, the Tigers’ best in three decades, Thursday’s game at McKenzie Stadium was their biggest test yet.

“Our kids are pretty resilient,” Battle Ground coach Mike Woodward said. “We needed to be tested, quite frankly. This was our first time where they got a little scare in us, but a good scare. These kids, they hold each other accountable.”

Just how motivated by past history were they?

“Pretty damn motivated,” Battle Ground senior Jacob Champine said. “We were fired up last week about this game. During the week. Right before the game. The whole time, we were just fired up and ready to play.”

From the opening kickoff, Battle Ground’s physical play set the tone. The defense, which had allowed just 14 points through six games combined, forced five turnovers, including interceptions by Artem Bahnyuk, Thomas Avery, Saveliy Tkachenko and Angel Lopez, plus a fumble forced by Bahnyuk.

“We played hard every play,” Champine said.

Then, there was a big defensive stand before halftime, which allowed the Tigers (7-0, 1-0 4A GSHL) to preserve a 27-17 lead at the break.

Union senior quarterback Mitch Ratigan, who returned this week after suffering a knee injury Week 1 against O’Dea, completed passes to receivers Ben Hallead and Chase Lofton to get the Titans (2-5, 0-1) inside the Tigers’ 5-yard line.

Ratigan completed his next pass to a receiver near the goal line, but Tkachenko was there to make the tackle just inches short of breaking the plane as the clock expired. The Tigers headed to the locker room with major momentum on their side.

“Coach was talking in the locker room how big that was,” Tkachenko said. “They’re in the locker room with their heads down knowing they just got stopped on the goal line. Yeah, that was huge.”

“Saveliy is just a phenomenal football player,” Woodward said. “As far as energy, he’s as energetic as they come. He just lights our team on fire. That was a huge play momentum-wise. We needed that. We knew we were getting the ball back (to start) the second half.”

The Tigers strung together two more scoring drives in the second half to take their largest lead, 41-17.

First, quarterback Ethan Adams led a methodical, 11-play drive ending with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Grayson Gambee. The sophomore signal-caller shined with 182 passing yards and two touchdowns, both to Gambee, who posted 11 catches for 121 yards.

Champine added his second rushing touchdown midway through the fourth quarter and finished with 157 yards on 35 carries. He also threw a 42-yard touchdown pass to Tkachenko on a trick play as part of a 20-point second quarter for the Tigers.

“That was one of our best offensive performances all year,” Champine said. “The blocking was incredible. Pass blocking, run blocking, all of it, it was was amazing. … The O-line really stepped up this game.”

“We had a good balance of everything,” Tkachenko added.

After the game, Woodward was somewhat at a loss for words trying to describe the feeling of what the Tigers had just accomplished.

Woodward took the head coaching job at his alma mater prior to the 2022 season with his work cut out for him, trying to rebuild a program that had suffered a string of losing seasons and playing in the same league as three state powerhouse programs — Union, Skyview and Camas — which Woodward refers to as ‘USC.’

Just last season, they lost those three games by an average margin of 33 points.

“When you’re getting throttled by these teams, that hurts,” Woodward said. “Those feelings for coaches and players, those don’t go away.”

This offseason, Woodward and his coaching staff sensed a growing confidence within the program led by its class of 22 seniors, starting with spring practices and continuing through summer team camp at Geroge Fox University. The Tigers’ success through six weeks supported the head coach’s intuition. But after a win over the 4A GSHL foe Titans, it’s further validation the Tigers have built something special.

“I know there were a lot of people that thought I was nuts when I came back home and took this job a couple years ago,” Woodward said. “I believe in these kids. I’m one of them. … We’ve got an excellent staff. We’ve pounded that weight room all offseason, and it’s paid off. These kids, I keep telling everybody, when we did our spring ball and went to summer camp, there was a special feeling. And it’s just carried over throughout the season.”

Next Friday comes a meeting against Skyview, followed by a Week 9 regular-season finale against Camas.

“We’re at the highest (confidence level) we’ve ever been,” Tkachenko said, “but we can’t end here; we gotta keep going.”

BATTLE GROUND 48, UNION 30

B.G. 7 20 7 14—48

Union 3 14 0 13—30

First quarter

BG — Jacob Champine 2 run (Bryland Fick kick)

U — Canaan Moore 36 field goal

Second quarter

BG — Jordan Young 17 run (Fick kick)

U — Alex Olson 30 run (Moore kick)

BG — Grayson Gambee 16 pass from Ethan Adams (kick blocked)

U — Ben Hallead 33 pass from Mitch Ratigan (Moore kick)

BG — Saveliy Tkachenko 42 pass from Champine (Fick kick)

Third quarter

BG — Gambee 8 pass from Adams (Fick kick)

Fourth quarter

BG — Champine 5 run (Fick kick)

BG — Angel Lopez 82 interception return (Fick kick)

U — Jordan Warren 39 pass from Ratigan (Moore kick)

U — Warren 7 pass from Ratigan (two-point conversion pass failed)

Individual statistics

RUSHING — Battle Ground: Jacob Champine 35-157, Jordan Young 6-40, Ethan Adams 4-(minus 1), Artem Bahnyuk 3-12; Union: Alex Olson 12-55, Chase Lofton 1-8, Ben Hallead 1-(minus 5), Hunter Gibson 1-11, Mitch Ratigan 1-19.

PASSING — Battle Ground: Adams 17-23-1-182, Champine 1-1-0-42; Union: Ratigan 16-32-4-239.

RECEIVING — Battle Ground: Grayson Gambee 11-121, Angel Lopez 2-21, Noah Currie 1-15, Champine 1-21, Bahnyuk 2-13, Saveliy Tkachenko 2-54; Union: Hallead 6-111, Lofton 4-40; Jordan Warren 4-55; Alex Olson 2-23.

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