It was three years ago that a miracle finish denied the Camas Papermakers a state championship and opened the door for a team from the Tri-Cities, the Chiawana Riverhawks, to win the big prize.
On Saturday night, back on that same Tacoma Dome turf, the Richland Bombers found themselves trailing Camas by a field goal late and needing another dramatic ending.
This time, it didn’t come.
Camas quarterback Jack Colletto saw to it that his team wouldn’t suffer the same fate, as he accounted for 272 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Papermakers to a 24-14 win over Richland in a battle of Class 4A unbeatens. His 34-yard scoring run with 2:39 left in the game — Richland down 17-14 and trying desperately to get the ball back while the Papermakers were milking the clock — was the final blow.
For a Bombers team that had rolled through the state playoffs and survived a grueling Mid-Columbia Conference schedule with an undefeated record, the loss was understandably hard to swallow.
“Heartbroken. My heart’s broke,” senior lineman Brigham Whitby said. “For not having the win, for ourselves, our team.
“I know a big part of it is for the people of Richland. Just wanting to bring a title back, I’m really heartbroken about that.”
Richland was playing in its first state championship game since 1999, and expectations were at an all-time high that the Bombers (13-1) could complete the first undefeated season in school history.
“Maybe we were a little too cocky, but they’re one hell of a team,” Richland quarterback Paxton Stevens said. “But I’m proud of our boys. We worked hard. They got the win, though.”
The Papermakers (14-0), who lost a 13-point lead in the final minute and the state title to Chiawana in 2013, got off to a quick start.
Colletto hit on all three of his passes on the game’s opening possession, including a 35-yard touchdown strike to Cooper McNatt, to lead Camas on a seven-play, 61-yard drive.
Richland’s defense held strong for the rest of the half, but Camas’ pass rush proved too intense for the Bombers to sustain any offense.
“We got a lot of pressure up front, coming in fast, and we weren’t expecting that off the get-go,” said Stevens, who was unable to complete a pass until midway through the second quarter. “That caught us off guard.”
It looked as though the Bombers would go into the half scoreless when they got the ball at their own 18-yard line with 2:36 to go until halftime, but two personal foul penalties against the Papermakers put Richland past midfield for the first time. Ben Stanfield took the ball off left tackle, made one cut toward the sideline and raced 41 yards untouched to tie the score.
But the Bombers would give back those free yards in the form of two personal foul penalties of their own. They keyed a lengthy Camas drive that ended with a 34-yard Michael Boyle field goal as time expired in the first half to give the Papermakers a 10-7 lead.
After some halftime inspiration, Richland quickly responded on the first drive of the second half. They went 81 yards in nine plays — led by Gaven Brasker’s three catches for 49 yards — to score on a play that saw Stanfield fumble just short of the end zone and Parker McCary recover it for a touchdown to put the Bombers up 14-10. It was their first and only lead of the game.
Whitby said it was a change in the team’s energy level that fueled that scoring drive, but the passion proved to be unsustainable.
“We came out firing, and then I don’t know why, but we just lost it,” Whitby said.
Camas wasted no time answering the challenge. The Papermakers took just 2:27 off the clock to drive 80 yards, capped by a Will Schultz 38-yard touchdown that gave Camas a 17-14 lead.
The Bombers still had a heartbeat with about four minutes to go, as they tried to stop the Camas offense and earn an extra possession down by three. But Colletto loaded up behind his burly offensive line, slipped a tackle at the line of scrimmage and dashed 34 yards for the score that gave Camas a 10-point advantage and put the game away.
“(Colletto) is just a tough, competitive kid — a big, strong kid,” Richland coach Mike Neidhold said. “He had his way there a little bit, and he’s got some big, fussy linemen. ... He’s just a good player.”
While it was tough to put fully in perspective a few minutes after the game, the ninth-year head coach and longtime Bomber was able to appreciate just how special the past 14 weeks have been for Richland.
“Everybody but one team in the state wanted to be us — those Camas guys. Everybody but Camas would trade places with us right now,” Neidhold said. “I have a great amount of gratitude for our student section, our parents. I’m grateful for our time together.
“And I’ll miss the seniors. I really will.”
C — Cooper McNatt 35 pass from Jack Colletto (Michael Boyle kick)
R — Ben Stanfield 41 run (Adam Weissenfels kick)
C — FG Boyle 34
R — Parker McCary 0 fumble recovery (Weissenfels kick)
C — Will Schultz 38 run (Boyle kick)
C — Colletto 34 run (Boyle kick)
RUSHING — C, Colletto 19-88; Schultz 2-51; Michael Matthews 11-18; Elias Bashir 2-6; Drake Owen 1-3. R, Stanfield 13-83; McCary 10-29; Paxton Stevens 5-26.
PASSING — C, Colletto 14-20-0—184. R, Stevens 15-25-2—175; Weissenfels 0-1-0—0.
RECEIVING — C, Owen 7-75; McNatt 4-66; Matthews 1-27; Christian Nghiem 1-11; Dylan Ingram 1-5. R, Gaven Brasker 4-55; Weissenfels 4-43; Stanfield 2-8; Cody Kjarmo 2-42; Ryan Piper 1-14; McCary 1-7; Alex Chapman 1-6.