The Camas Papermakers knew they would have to play mistake-free football to have any kind of chance at knocking off top-ranked Skyline in the Class 4A state semifinals.
And staked to an early 14-point lead Saturday afternoon at the Tacoma Dome, it looked as if the fourth-ranked Papermakers were on their way to pulling off the upset.
But the veteran Spartans and prized USC quarterback recruit Max Browne couldn’t be rattled and rallied to claim a 51-28 victory and a spot in the championship game against Bellarmine Prep at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Brown was his usual superstar self, going 29-for- 32 passing for 387 yards and four touchdowns, while the Spartans’ defense forced five turnovers.
“We knew this was going to be a tough test for us,” Browne said.
Camas (12-1) jumped on Skyline right out of the gate, scoring on its opening drive as Nate Beasley broke off a 24-yard touchdown run. The Papermakers got the ball back four minutes later, and quarterback Reilly Hennessey hit Zach Eagle with a 94-yard touchdown pass to push the lead to 14-0 with 5 minutes, 3 seconds left in the first quarter.
“(It was) definitely a wake-up call that we had to start going,” Browne said of the early deficit. “But it’s a situation we’ve been in before. It’s a testament to our senior leadership and getting our guys back in a groove and trusting our stuff.”
Skyline immediately answered, getting a touchdown on Matt Sinatro’s 7-yard halfback pass to Nic Sblendorio with 1:35 left in the quarter.
But faced with a chance to take back control, Camas couldn’t. Trevor Barney picked off Hennessey at the Skyline 42-yard line to end the ensuing drive. Camas got the ball back after a Skyline turnover in the red zone, but Peter Stromgren picked off Hennessey and returned it 20 yards to the Camas 38. Brown took advantage, eventually tossing a 14-yard touchdown pass to Austin Bui to tie the game at 14.
“It was still really early,” Skyline coach Mat Taylor said. “We had confidence that we could come back. We just needed to get some stops.”
By then, Skyline (13-0) found its stride. Browne hit Sblendorio in stride with a 34-yard touchdown pass to make the score 21-14 with 3:59 left before halftime.
Hennessey suffered another interception, this one by Blake Young, with under a minute left in the half. The Spartans ended up getting a 47-yard field goal from Sean McDonald right before halftime to push the lead to 24-14.
“They came out, didn’t make mistakes and capitalized when we did,” Hennessey said. “We usually pride ourselves on playing a mistake-free game. That’s where it’s really disappointing, when you know you didn’t play your best.”
Browne shredded the Papermakers’ defense in the first half, going 20-for-22 passing for 279 yards and two touchdowns.
“I’ve played a few games in here,” Browne said. “I know the atmosphere can get pretty crazy. But (there was) no panic. I have the utmost confidence in my guys, my defense, my coaches.”
Skyline hit on another trick play on the opening drive of the second half as Sblendorio hit Sinatro with a 49-yard touchdown pass. Sblendorio finished with eight catches for 192 yards and three touchdowns.
The Skyline defense extended the lead on Andrew Giese’s 23-yard interception return midway through the third as the Spartans led after three quarters, 44-21.