So many things can go wrong in football’s kicking game — and that’s just in practice. Put 11 opponents on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage and the odds of success decrease exponentially — at any level of play.
Stevenson blocked a fourth-quarter field goal attempt and returned it for a touchdown Friday, dashing visiting Columbia High’s hopes of a Gorge Bowl win. Perhaps, not surprisingly, the ensuing conversion attempt failed, and the Bulldogs won, 6-0.
“We established a really great running game — the whole game,” Columbia Coach Shawn Friese said, recalling the game’s deciding moment. “We’re moving the ball down the field with about four minutes left. We threw a pass on third down in the end zone and it was incomplete. We lined up for a field goal and they blew through the left side and blocked it.”
The ball bounced around momentarily — as only a football can — before Stevenson senior Gavin Gantner scooped it up and raced 75 yards for the winning score. Gantner was a sophomore the last time these schools played football, Nov. 1, 2019, and his TD romp probably helped wash away any remnants he had of Columbia’s 50-7 dismantling of the Bulldogs that season.
Of the block, fortuitous Stevenson bounce and subsequent score, Friese said: “Finally, one of their guys picks it up at about the 25. The blocked ball went back toward Stevenson’s goal.”
On the ensuing possession, the Bruins were marching for what looked to be a tying score, but Jace Greenwood’s third-down pass toward the end zone was intercepted. “We got the ball back after that (blocked kick touchdown) and got a couple of first downs. We just kind of ran out of time.”
Friese said the Bruins (0-2) had many positives to take away from the game, especially when compared to their Sept. 3 opener, when Goldendale shocked Columbia with early scores en route to a 52-20 win.
“I think, across the board, we talked about not giving up the big plays that hurt us so much in the Goldendale game. We never did give up a big play defensively. Offensively we had a lot of improvement. I was just so proud of ‘em. It’s tough to have a loss like that — a big rivalry game.”
The neighboring schools, 20 to 30 minutes apart — depending on truck traffic on State Route 14 — have now split the past 10 matchups. Stevenson has won three of the past four games after Columbia had won three in a row from 2014 to 2016.
Columbia’s second-to-last drive Friday, which resulted in the field goal attempt, as well as a number of the Bruin possessions, were interspersed with a new twist: Undersized fullback Austin MacCormack. The 160-pound junior was new to the position when the coaching staff inserted him into the starting spot in practice earlier in the week. McCormick responded with 46 rushing yards on 13 carries.
“He pounded the whole game,” Friese said. “He was pretty consistent on getting four or five yards every time. He’s really good at keeping his legs moving. He can really help us.”
Greenwood led the Bruins on the ground with 58 yards on 10 carries. A few of those came when Columbia moved the ball into position for the potential game-winning kick with more than four minutes remaining in the scoreless game.
“Our line did a great job,” Friese said. “They were the reason we were able to move the ball.”
Greenwood, the holder, took the snap from center and placed the ball for kicker Bodi Hill, but the Stevenson line surge proved too much for the Bruins to delay for Hills’ attempt to get beyond the line of scrimmage.
“It’s hard to describe,” Friese said. “It’s just one of those things. Both teams had opportunities to score — both teams had miscues on offense.”
Columbia has a home game Thursday, a 7 p.m. home game against Montesano (1-0). The Bulldogs won their season opener 43-0 last week against Cascade Christian.