KALAMA — The Riverhawks had seen enough of the Chinooks, and their star quarterback, to know the prerequisites for an upset.
Slowing down Kalama’s explosive offense was a given. And failing that, making every offensive opportunity count was a must.
It didn’t take long for the importance of that second tenet to become apparent.
Toledo, trailing 8-0 midway through the first quarter, marched downfield on an 11-play drive that chewed up 6 ½ minutes — only to drop the ball on the backfield turf and watch Chinook linebacker Luke Davidson make a clean recovery and run 73 yards, untouched, to the end zone.
That quick change of direction put Kalama up 16-0 after a quarter and set the tone in Kalama’s 40-15 win, which kept the Chinooks undefeated and secured their state semifinal berth.
“You don’t get opportunities to score against this team, and when you don’t score when you get the opportunity, it’s going to come back and haunt you,” Toledo coach Mike Christensen said. “But when you get the double whammy when it’s returned, it’s tough.”
The top-seeded Chinooks — which had beaten Toledo 36-7 back on Oct. 22 — also weren’t perfect, but had more than enough big plays to maintain a comfortable lead throughout. Quarterback Jackson Esary, the SWW 2B Football League South’s Offensive MVP, saw to that himself, connecting on 12 of 20 passes for 192 yards and four touchdowns.
Toledo got the ball back to start the second quarter and ran 5 more minutes off the clock, only to come up short on a fourth-and-1. On the next play Esary found Jack Doerty in stride for a 61-yard touchdown — the duo’s second of the day — and the Riverhawks were in a 22-0 hole.
Getting out of that hole was a tough proposition, given the status of Toledo quarterback Wyatt Nef. The senior signal-caller had broken the pinky finger on his throwing hand in the first quarter of a win over Davenport a week earlier and played Saturday’s game with a glove covering the hand.
The Riverhawks were left largely one-dimensional in the quarterfinals, though Nef ran for a game-high 152 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries.
“It hurts. They hit hard,” he said afterwards. “They know the defense, and they’re just good. It’s a battle for every inch.”
Nef got Toledo on the board with a 9-yard run that trimmed the lead to 22-7 just before halftime, but Esary found Nate Meyer for a pair of touchdowns — 27 and 19 yards — in the third quarter to extend the Chinook lead to 34-7.
Nef broke free for a 33-yard run that set up his second score, a 1-yard plunge, early in the fourth quarter.
“For him to pull it together after breaking his finger last week, and to gut it out this week, that says something about his character,” Christensen said. “I couldn’t be more proud of him and the other seniors.”
Toledo finishes the season with an 11-3 record, with two of those losses coming to Kalama and the third coming against Onalaska — which knocked off undefeated Lind-Ritzville/Sprague in the quarterfinals Saturday afternoon. The Loggers will face Kalama in the state semifinals.
Despite the ending, Christensen was proud of the way his players grew into a football team over the course of the season.
“You look at us at camp, and we’re thinking, ‘It’s gonna be a rough year,’” he said, noting that his seniors hadn’t fully bought into football until this season. “The amount this hurts them shows to me how much this group cares, and that’s just something special they had.”
Nef elaborated on the sentiment.
“A lot of us were basketball players, wrestlers, track athletes, or baseball players, and I think we’ve changed that this year,” he said. “We’re football players and we’ll always be football players at heart. We did make it far, and we left it all on the field tonight.”
Toledo ran for 209 yards in the game, but had trouble breaking off big runs — particularly in the first half. Part of the credit for preventing those chunk plays goes to Esary, Christensen said. “He’s what every coach would want back there (at quarterback), but I don’t think he gets enough credit for what he does defensively for them,” he said. “We have multiple big runs if anyone else is playing safety or outside linebacker for them. … You see him make those plays and it’s frustrating. He turns a touchdown into a five-yard gain.” … Bradey O’Neil added eight carries for 41 yards for Kalama, including a 3-yard touchdown with 2:30 left in the game. … Geoffrey Glass ran 14 times for 57 yards for Toledo. … Toledo lost three fumbles in the game, while Kalama lost one. … Kalama (10-0) beat Onalaska 58-6 back on Oct. 16. The teams will meet in the state semifinals on Saturday at Tumwater District Stadium as part of a tripleheader that features Napavine vs. Okanogan at 1 p.m., Tumwater facing Squalicum in a 2A semifinal at 4 p.m., and Kalama vs. Onalaska at 7 p.m. … Kalama and Onalaska met in the 2019 state finals, with Onalaska winning 48-30. Okanogan beat Napavine in both the 2014 and 2015 state finals, and the four semifinalists have a combined 10 state finals appearances since 2014.