The Union High School football team took a quick trip down to Corvallis earlier this week to prepare for another upcoming trip — a Saturday morning ride to the Tacoma Dome, where the top-seeded Titans will play for their first Class 4A title in program history.
While practicing at Oregon State University’s indoor facility, the Titans ran into an old rival.
“We went to Corvallis for a day, and got inside, and Jack Colletto was there,” Union coach Rory Rosenbach said.
Colletto, who has played in eight games for the Beavers this season, is the former Camas quarterback that led the Papermakers to a 4A state title in 2016, and was named The News Tribune’s state player of the year.
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Camas beat Union in four consecutive seasons during Colletto’s high school days. But, when the Titans came to visit, none of those Camas-Union meetings mattered. Rosenbach said Colletto told the Titans take care of business in the Tacoma Dome.
“He just said, ‘Hey man, go represent Clark County,’ ” Rosenbach said. “It was great. Any time one of the teams from down here is making a run, we all support each other.”
Rosenbach, in his third season at Union, is still relatively new in Clark County. He spent eight years coaching at Glacier Peak High School in Snohomish before making the move to Vancouver.
But, Rosenbach is already aware of what high school football means to the community.
“This part of the state kind of gets left out sometimes with its geography, but it’s really good football down here, great coaches and talented kids,” Rosenbach said. “I know that this community as a whole really rallies together when we get to (the state playoffs).”
For the first time in history, two football programs from Clark County will play for state titles in the Tacoma Dome in the same year.
Hockinson (12-0), the top-seeded team in the 2A game, will meet third-seeded Lynden (12-0) at 1 p.m. Saturday. Later, Union (13-0) will play third-seeded Lake Stevens (13-0) in the 4A game at 7:30 p.m.
The Hawks are the defending 2A state champions, and won their first-ever state title with a win over traditional powerhouse Tumwater in 2017. Union has been to the championship game once before, but lost to Bellevue in the 3A title game in 2008.
A third Clark County team, Mountain View, made the 3A semifinals before losing to O’Dea, giving the county representation in the final four in each of the state’s three biggest classifications.
“Two Clark County teams in the Tacoma Dome? We’ll take it,” Hockinson coach Rick Steele said. “I think it just shows the caliber of football we have down here. For a lot of years, people didn’t look at southwest Washington. All of the state champs came from up north or over in the east somewhere.
“But, now, I think we’ve shown that southwest Washington plays good football. Even with Mountain View making it to the semis, that’s pretty good for all three of those classifications.”
Six high schools in Clark County — Camas, Evergreen of Vancouver, Hockinson, Ridgefield, Skyview and Union — have advanced to a state championship game in their histories. Only Hockinson (2017), Camas (2016), Evergreen of Vancouver (2004), and Ridgefield (1995) have won.
But, Steele, who is in his 14th season with the Hawks, says football in the county has been on the rise in recent years.
“I think there’s definitely more investment,” Steele said. “I think the coaching is good, and I think the players are good. I think we’re seeing the results of that.”
Steele said Hockinson caught Union’s fourth-quarter comeback against Puyallup in the semifinals last week at McKenzie Stadium, while the Hawks were waiting to warmup for their game against Liberty of Issaquah.
“We watched the whole fourth quarter,” he said. “That was pretty exciting to watch. I’m excited for Union.”
Rosenbach said he spoke to Steele — whose Hawks haven’t lost since 2016 — about the atmosphere in the Tacoma Dome earlier this week. He called Camas coach Jon Eagle for tips. And he spoke with some other local coaches, too.
There seems to be a collective mindset that Clark County teams have been overlooked in the past, and each will root for their rivals to bring the biggest trophies back to southwest Washington.
“It’s crazy having two teams from Clark County,” Hockinson wide receiver Sawyer Racanelli said. “It shows that southwest Washington is not to be messed with, and we’re coming for it — both teams.”
NEW CHAMPION FOR 1A
Royal will not be crowned champion of the 1A state tournament for the first time since 2014 — Colville made sure of that last week.
The fifth-seeded Indians (10-2) pulled off one of the biggest upsets in state tournament history in the semifinals, knocking Royal off of its throne — the Knights were three-time defending state champions — and ending a nationally recognized winning streak.
Before the semifinals, Royal was tied for the longest active streak in the nation at 53 games. The winning streak dated back to Nov. 22, 2014 when the Knights lost in the 1A quarterfinals to ... Colville.
DEFENSE IN EIGHT-MAN? YES
It is not uncommon for the 1B state championship game to feature the state’s top-scoring offense — which top-seeded Odessa (13-0) is, averaging 71.7 points per game.
But, to have this game feature one of the state’s best defenses? That’s pretty rare, especially considering there are six less players on the field, and a lot more space to run.
But, the Tigers boast the third-best defense in the state this season by points allowed average. Odessa is allowing 7.2 points per game, have allowed two touchdowns or less in 11 games and have shut out three teams.
Only 1A programs Zillah (3.1 points per game) and Royal (4.9) have allowed less points per game this season than the Tigers.
Odessa’s opponent in Saturday afternoon’s 1B state championship game, second-seeded Almira-Coulee Hartline (12-1), is the only team that has put up three touchdowns on the Tigers this season. But, Odessa still won that 1B Northeast League contest, 56-22, back in October.