BATTLE GROUND — The road may have been a little longer and bumpier than Washougal would have liked.
But here the Panthers are, set to host a district playoff football game and feeling good about their postseason prospects.
Washougal emerged triumphant in a three-team tiebreaker Monday to decide the second through fourth seeds in the Class 2A Greater St. Helens League.
With a first-round bye thanks to a coin flip, Washougal beat Hudson’s Bay 8-7 in the final tiebreaker to clinch the No. 2 seed.
That means the Panthers (7-2) will host Aberdeen, the Evergreen Conference No. 3 seed, in a district playoff game at 5 p.m. Saturday.
Hudson’s Bay (7-2) is the No. 3 seed and will travel to Chehalis to face W.F. West on Saturday.
Ridgefield (6-3) fell Hudson’s Bay 7-6 in the opening round. The Spudders are the No. 4 seed and will travel to face undefeated EvCo champ Tumwater on Saturday.
A popular pick to repeat as league champion, Washougal has played with its back to the wall since starting the 2A GSHL season 1-2 with losses to Woodland and Ridgefield.
Since then, the Panthers have won four straight, outscoring opponents by an average of 55-14.
“I’d say we’re a completely different team from those first weeks against Woodland and Ridgefield,” senior receiver Sam Evers said. “We made mistakes. But we’ve improved on every side of the ball.”
After Hudson’s Bay scored a touchdown on the opening possession, Washougal needed at least seven points. On the second play, Holden Bea found Evers on a post route for a 24-yard touchdown pass.
Instead of kicking an extra point to force a second round, Washougal went for the win with a two-point conversion. After rushing for four touchdowns in the regular-season finale Friday against Hockinson, Bea kept the ball and dove across the goal line to end the tiebreaker.
Washougal coach Dave Hajek said there was no doubt he would try to win the tiebreaker instead of extending it.
“The worst thing that can happen in this setting is somebody gets hurt,” Hajek said. “No matter what, we knew we’re the third seed at worst. We’re going to gamble. If we make it, great.”
Despite leading Washougal with 821 receiving yards and 11 touchdown catches, Evers wasn’t the primary receiver in Monday’s gameplan because of a hand injury.
But when Bea saw his longtime friend break open, he had to take a shot.
“I saw him beat the safety and I just put my trust in him,” Bea said. “He ended up getting the catch and the touchdown. I’m super proud of him for that.”
“My hand is probably going to hurt tomorrow morning but it’s all worth it,” Evers added. “We get a home playoff game as seniors. It should be great.”
Hudson’s Bay entered the final tiebreaker energized after beating Ridgefield in the opening round.
The Eagles needed just four plays to score on the opening possession with Rafael Bauman finding the end zone on a 15-yard run.
Ridgefield faced fourth and 10 on its possession, but the Spudders stayed alive thanks to a 14-yard catch by Landon DeBeaumont. The next play, Cly Stephens scored on an 8-yard run.
But Ridgefield’s extra-point attempt clanked off the left upright to give Hudson’s Bay the 7-6 win.
Hudson’s Bay maintained its high energy against Washougal. Again, the Eagles needed just four plays to score, this time on a 4-yard Bauman run.
“Bay brought the energy,” Hajek said. “They have a lot of that. But Holden and the guys, they came through on that last play.”
That leaves the Panthers right where they hoped to be at the season’s beginning — starting the postseason and home with the confidence they can make a run in the 2A state playoffs.
“I knew as soon as our defense caught up we’d be playing better,” Hajek said. “I think that’s what is going to make us a team to be worried about.”