Two weeks ago Columbia High had one of the hottest football teams in the Trico Division of the SW Washington 2A League after back-to-back victories over Stevenson and La Center.
But the competitive fires that burned brightly in those winning efforts flickered only sporadically last Friday during CHS's 28-21 loss at Ridgefield.
Spudders junior tailback Jonny Peru ran right, left and up the middle for 221 yards and four touchdowns to lead Ridgefield to a homecoming night triumph.
Peru scored the game-winning touchdown on a third-and-goal dive play from CHS's 1-yard line to cap a 10-play, 75-yard drive with 50.6 seconds remaining in the game.
He secured the Spudders' second division win when he intercepted a pass by Bruins sophomore quarterback Jon Bryan at his own 34 with 20 seconds to play.
The victory lifted Ridgefield into a tie with Columbia for fourth place in the standings at 2-3, and eliminated CHS from playoff contention.
But with wins in its remaining two games, the Bruins (3-4 overall) can avoid CHS's first losing season since 1994.
"We haven't been in this position in a long time," Bruins Coach Larry McCutcheon said, "but we can still have a winning season if we go out and play the kind of football we're capable of these last two weeks."
First up for Columbia is a Halloween night date with Trico co-leader Woodland (4-1, 6-1), which defeated Castle Rock 21-7 last Friday.
And though they won't be going to the 2002 post-season party, the Bruins can spoil the Beavers' division title chances with an upset victory on Thursday.
"Woodland has been waiting for 364 days to play us again. They takes us very seriously," McCutcheon noted, adding, "We're capable of beating them, but our kids are going to have to come to play with the kind of focus and intensity they had two weeks ago."
That kind of focus and intensity was missing from CHS's performance against Ridgefield, even though the Bruins ran more plays (57 to 45), gained more yardage (303 to 273) and first downs (15 to 12), and had fewer penalty yards (20 to 25) than the Spudders.
"We didn't lose because of a lack of effort," McCutcheon said. "What got us beat was a lack of execution."
CHS's coach blamed miscellaneous errors and inconsistencies on both sides of scrimmage -- from missed blocks to missed tackles -- for the Bruins' failure to score more than three touchdowns.
While reviewing the game on film, he said he saw "a minimum of four plays that would've gone to the house had every player done what they were supposed to do."
In the first 4:38 of the game, the Bruins were clicking on both sides of the ball.
CHS's defense held Ridgefield without a first down on the game's opening series and forced it to punt.
The Bruins offense took over in good field position at the CHS 43 and needed six plays to complete a 57-yard scoring drive.
CHS's first touchdown came on a pass from Bryan to streaking senior slotback Mathew Carlock that covered 29 yards.
Ridgefield wasted little time, however, in getting even.
Peru breached the middle of the Bruins defense at the CHS 49 and took off like a shot as the Spudders tied it up at 7-7 with 6:24 gone in the first quarter.
"He's a good one," McCutcheon said of Peru. "He can beat you in a variety of ways because he's such a good athlete. He's the best back we're going to see all year."
It was deja vu all over again for the Bruins in the second quarter as Bryan threw to junior wideout Marcus Giovannoni for a 17-yard score that resulted in a 14-7 lead with 7:22 to go in the second quarter.
But back came the Spudders. Peru picked up 21 yards on their first play and the final three on their 10th: a second-and-goal run.
That concluded a 4-minute, 13-second march that began at Ridgefield's 39 and ended in a 14-14 tie going into halftime. The first half ended with CHS in possession of the ball at Ridgefield's 35.
The Bruins had it to open the second half, too, but punted it away after gaining 20 yards in six plays.
Ridgeifeld took over at its 24 and didn't give the ball back until less than two minutes remained in the third quarter.
The Spudders drove the ball 76 yards in 14 plays for their first lead of the night. It came on a 2-yard dive by Peru over a pile of black- and blue-clad bodies. Jordan Davis added the point-after to make it 21-14.
CHS's last scoring drive started at its 20 late in the third quarter and culminated with a 21-yard burst up the gut by senior Eric Crause (26-102) with 8:29 left in the game.