CAMAS – The Kelso football team has come so close to some big wins this year, only to leave disappointed.
So the Hilanders were not going to let that happen again on Monday.
Kelso came up with big plays on defense to beat Prairie 14-7 then Evergreen 3-0 to win a three-team 3A Greater St. Helens League tiebreaker Monday at Doc Harris Stadium to capture a Week 10 playoff berth.
“Honestly, I think we were the best team in the league,” senior lineman Payton Stewart said. “Close games, you know. Three points, one point. But this shows we still have a chance. We’ll go on to fight.”
Stewart was talking about the 36-33 loss to Prairie on a last-second field goal, and then a 35-34 overtime loss to Mountain View on a failed two-point conversion earlier this season.
In the first tiebreaker Monday against Prairie, Kelso put itself in position to clinch a win early as Aden Mintonye rushed for a seven-yard touchdown on the Hilanders first possession, then the defense recovered a Prairie fumble.
But a potential clinching 25-yard field goal hit the left upright to give Prairie a second chance.
The Falcons seized on that chance, converting a fourth-and-19 with a 31-yard pass from Deven Vigue to Preston Hill. Two plays later, Vigue ran in from 8 yards out to tie it up 7-7.
Mintonye scored his second rushing touchdown to put Kelso up 14-7. Then Easton Marshall broke up a fourth-down pass in the end zone to end Prairie’s final possession and send the Hilanders to face Evergreen for a berth to the playoffs.
On Evergreen’s first possession, Kelso’s defense forced another fumble that the Hilanders recovered.
“We’ve been talking all last week about Evergreen and how they’re super explosive,” Mintonye said. “We had to bottle up the big plays. And that’s what we did last Friday (in the league finale in Kelso), and that’s what we did today.”
When Evergreen stopped Kelso’s first offensive possession at the 3-yard line, Kelso coach Steve Amrine had no qualms about calling on Tate Meade to attempt another field goal. The junior delivered on a 20-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.
“In a thing like this, you need to have somebody (who can kick it),” Amrine said. “At the 3A level, you’d better have a guy who can kick, or you’re in trouble, because teams will stop you and points are huge. … Tate did a good job.”
And that left Kelso a defensive stop away from going to the playoffs, and the Hilanders did not let Evergreen get a first down on its next possession.
“Credit to our D,” Amrine said. “A couple of big plays there.”
Now, Kelso (3-6) is headed back to the playoffs for an 11th consecutive season. The Hilanders will face Garfield of Seattle (5-3) at 3 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Seattle.
“It feels great,” Mintonye said. “It’s the goal we set in June. We’ve battled adversity all year, lost some big games. But when it came down to it, when it mattered most, we pulled through. Now, we’re going to the playoffs, so it’s great.”