Big fourth-quarter plays on both side of the football last Friday secured an important 20-18 SWW 1A League Trico Division victory for Columbia High over La Center.
The key plays occurred in a roughly 4-minute span.
Leading 13-12 and facing a 4th-and-9 from the La Center 30-yard line, the Bruins scored on a halfback pass from Taylor Champion to Kent Shelley--a play proposed by quarterback Andy Pate during a timeout--with 11:52 remaining in the contest. Felix Torres added the point-after kick for an 8-point lead.
Then, with 7:58 to go, the Bruins executed their defensive scheme to perfection, filling the gaps and stopping the Wildcats' try for the tying 2-point conversion that followed an 11-play, 70-yard scoring drive.
Another defensive stand after La Center recovered the ensuing onside kick turned the ball over to Columbia with 5:17 to play, and the Bruins were able to run the clock out for their first win against the Wildcats since 2002.
"This game was another step on which to build our program," Bruins Coach Matt Whitmire said. "Since the loss to Rochester, we've learned how to close a game out. Our kids were determined to make sure this one went their way."
The Bruins did just that by making the big plays when they needed them.
Trailing 12-7 with just over 7 minutes left in the third quarter, Columbia put together a six-play, 69-yard scoring drive that Taylor Champion capped with a 3-yard run.
Champion also ran for the 2-point conversion--twice--only to have the first attempt nullified by a holding penalty on CHS and the second by an inadvertent whistle from an official who was almost the width of the field away from the play.
On his third try for 2 points, Champion came up short. But the loss of those points--the second time to a circumstance beyond their control--seemed to galvanize the Bruins.
"There was definitely an emotional swing there," Whitmire said, recalling how an inadvertent whistle late in the Rochester game had cost CHS a victory. "Instead of letting it get them down, the kids just went out and kept playing good football."
In fairness, both teams played good football. La Center out-gained Columbia in total yardage (329 to 250) and first downs (17 to 11), and each team turned the ball over once.
Moreover, every time one team scored, the other had an answer.
Late in the first quarter, La Center went 61 yards in six plays for a 6-0 lead. But Columbia countered with a 15-play, 62-yard scoring drive that lasted more than 7 minutes, featured three third-down conversions and ended with Devin Dean's 1-yard dive.
Whitmire credited Columbia's success in the running game to the blocking of linemen Jarin Ladiges, Bo Ward, Kyle Yeager, Erick Viramontes and Carlos Mendoza.
"The last four weeks, those guys have been healthy and given us a chance to compete, regardless of who we've played," Whitmire said.
Last Friday, Champion had his streak of 300-yard games snapped at three, but was still productive with a game-high 136 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries, and a TD pass. Dean complemented Champion's effort with 78 yards on 23 attempts.
"We moved the ball and scored when we had to, and we made the defensive stops when we had to against a pretty good football team," Whitmire said. "As a coach, that's all you can ask of your players."
For tomorrow night's homecoming game, Columbia High hosts Tenino. The non-league contest kicks off at 7 p.m.
Tenino, which plays in the SWW 1A League's Evergreen Division, comes in at 5-2 after a 36-0 rout of Rainier last Friday.
"Tenino is about three touchdowns away from being in first place up north," Whitmire said. "They run five plays really well and have a quarterback who can throw the ball."
The keys for the Bruins, he added, will be to play at the same level they have the last four weeks and to use their speed to run away from the bigger, more physical Beavers.