KELSO — The Toledo football team may be glad Selection Sunday was a week ago, because the Riverhawks didn’t put many style points on the scoreboard in their Saturday matchup against Tri-Cities Prep at Schroeder Field.
But style points are for October, and a close, mistake-filled 21-12 win in the first round of the 2B state tournament will suit head coach Mike Christensen just fine.
“It was a good, hard-fought win,” Christensen said. “You don’t apologize for winning a State game.”
The Riverhawks looked about as good as they have all year out of the gate, forcing the Jaguars to go three-and-out and then taking their opening drive 64 yards on seven plays — only one of which went fewer than 5 yards — capped by a perfect 16-yard ball over the top from Eli Weeks to Trevin Gale.
But then, as mist turned into true rain in Cowlitz County, the Riverhawks lost their scoring touch. Following the touchdown, Toledo had six straight possessions reach TCP territory, without any ending in points.
Some were ruined by penalties, like one where Christensen rolled the dice on fourth-and-19 from his own 40 and picked it up with a completion from Weeks to Gale, only to have it be called back for a hold. One ended in a fumble going to the defense. Once, in the second quarter, the Riverhawks chugged all the way down to the TCP 1-yard line on a nine-play drive, only for Weeks to get stuffed on a sneak on fourth down.
“We just had way too many mistakes,” Christensen said.
The only reason all those mistakes turned into learning experiences instead of offseason regrets was because of a stand-up defensive effort, which shut out the Jaguars for over three quarters.
“The defense played great,” Christensen said. “Outstanding. We had a great gameplan going in. Monday and Tuesday, our guys weren’t executing very well and I was a little worried, but by Wednesday and Thursday we had it locked down, and it showed.”
The Toledo coach said his staff had prepared for a spread offense, but that TCP went even more wild than they expected, running most of the game out of four- and five-receiver sets and slinging the ball around. Midway through the second quarter, the Jaguars had to turn to backup quarterback Jarrett Garza, who presented more of a running threat, but the Riverhawks contained him as well.
Garza finished with 26 rushing yards, 18 of which came on his first carry of the game. The rest of the Jaguars combined for minus-15.
Meanwhile, the Riverhawks had five sacks, recovered a fumble, blocked a punt and — when the Jaguars finally got in the end zone midway through the fourth quarter — blocked an extra point.
“The defense really put us in a situation where the offense should have scored more and earlier,” Christsensen said. “And we just didn’t get it done offensively, which is something we’ve got to clean up.”
Spending the majority of the game up 7-0, Ethen Carver finally gave the designated hosts their insurance, breaking off a 72-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter to make it 14-0.
“That was exactly what we needed,” Christensen said. “That one was opened up up front, and he made a good run afterwards.”
The defense did its job once again, with Jake Nef recovering a fumble in TCP territory, and for once, the Riverhawks made the most of the field position with a four-play drive capped by a 6-yard Carver score.
Carver finished with 249 yards on 32 carries, outgaining the Jaguars by himself — with the help of his line — and averaging nearly 6 yards per carry.
Weeks added 45 rushing yards, including a 20-yard scamper on a read option to set up Toledo’s final touchdown.
Now, the Riverhawks will hit the road, heading east to take on No. 3 Northwest Christian (Colbert) next weekend.
“Sloppier than a State game should be, and we’ve got to play better,” Christensen said. “That’s all there is to it. But we got the win, and we get to play another week. So that’s what we’re focused on now.”