MONTESANO — You could see in the biting cold the breaths of the collective coaching staff of the No. 3 Pe Ell-Willapa Valley football team exhale at the final horn of its 34-13 win over No. 6 Raymond-South Bend Friday night at Rottle Field.
Tasked with taking on their biggest rival in just their second game since defeating the Ravens in mid-October in the 2B state quarterfinals, it didn’t matter that the game was well-in-hand midway through the fourth. That PWV staff wasn’t going to let out its relief through the visible air until that clock struck zero.
“I’ll be able to sleep tonight,” Titans coach Josh Fluke said. “I’ll actually be able to get some sleep tonight.”
For the second time this season, and when the stakes mattered the most, the Titans relied on a heavy ground game and a dominant game up front and on special teams to defeat the Ravens and earn their first trip to the state semifinals since 2015.
It’s been a long time coming for a senior group that struggled as underclassmen, and played through the ups-and-downs of a shortened COVID season two seasons ago.
“It’s awesome, I was thinking today about what I would say to the boys if we win, and what I would say if we lose,” Fluke said. “I don’t even want to think about what I would say if we lost. Going back to the semis with this group of kids is awesome. I’m ecstatic.”
Like in the previous game, the Titans got off to a hot start, putting together a long drive to open the game with a 32-yard field goal from ace kicker Garrett Keeton. Then after forcing an RSB three-and-out, Cody Strozyk blocked a punt, picked it up, and gave the Titans a 10-0 lead in one fell swoop.
The Ravens would bounce back with a touchdown drive, but after another field goal from Keeton — this time from 38 yards — another late swing to end the first half would go the Titans way.
Forcing a Raymond-South Bend fumble with 28 seconds to go, Titan quarterback Kolten Fluke connected with receiver Tyson Portmann twice, including a 19-yard touchdown with seconds remaining to give PWV a 19-6 lead heading into the halftime break.
Then in the second half, it was all about the ground game. Though RSB opened the half with a touchdown, thanks to Ty Reidinger’s hard running, the Titans would respond with another touchdown off a RSB fumble, and a long touchdown drive to cap it with minutes remaining in the fourth.
Though Reidinger finished with 99 rushing yards, 56 of those came on three run plays on one drive, as the Titans managed to contain the Raven run game mostly throughout the game.
On the other end, after Wil Clements rushed in a touchdown to give the Titans a 27-13 lead, PWV forced a turnover on downs, and ran a Blake Howard-led 14-play, six and a half minute drive to ice it.
Howard finished with a game-high 118 rushing yards, and Clements added 32 yards and a score. Strozyk also had 40 yards on the ground.
Kolten Fluke was efficient, throwing for 72 yards and a touchdown on 4 of 5 passing.
“The last couple of games Blake didn’t get a lot of yards because they were keying on him,” Josh Fluke said. “But we figured if we got off tackle a few times, we’d let him eat. And we let him eat.”
The win sets up a date next weekend in the state semifinals against the winner of No. 10 Onalaska and No. 2 Okanogan. If the Loggers were to spring the upset, PWV would host the semis close to home. If the Bulldogs win, they would likely host the game at the Apple Bowl in Wenatchee.