The Mount Si Wildcat football team made its first state playoff appearance in nine years Saturday night, and it quickly turned historic.
A 36-point first half, personified by a kickoff return touchdown by Brandon Yakaboski and a fumble return for a touchdown by Mikel Ushler, propelled the Wildcats to a surprisingly easy 39-6 pasting of the Kelso Hilanders in front of a packed Mount Si stadium last Saturday, Nov. 4, and the win was historic in two ways.
With the victory, Mount Si, according to the coaches, clinched its first nine-win season in school history. According to the WIAA Web site, the victory was also the first state playoff win ever for the football team in school history. In previous appearances in 1982 and 1998, the Wildcats were bounced in the first round.
“We talk a lot about [the] legacy that you leave when you leave this program. Most of the time when we talk about legacy, we talk about work ethic and loyalty and commitment and things like that, but this team wanted to really have something tangible that people down the road can look at and say, ‘That 2006 team was the best team in school history.’ They wanted that nine win mark and the good thing with this group is, they’re not happy with nine wins. They’re ready to go,” said Wildcat coach Charlie Kinnune.
Going into the game, considering how long it’s been since Mount Si had been this far, one could have expected a few butterflies from the Valley’s boys. That didn’t happen.
It took just 12 seconds for the Wildcats to get on the board, thanks to a nearly 90-yard opening kickoff return for a touchdown by Yakaboski. “I just caught the ball and ran real hard. We got a lot of good blocks on that and then I took it to the house,” Yakaboski said. Just a few minutes after, Dan Reeves had a big touchdown run of his own, a 36-yard scamper into the end zone, and it quickly became 14-0 Mount Si.
Then, as Kelso was trying to find its way back into the game, Ushler struck. On a second and goal at the Wildcat 9 with the Hilanders threatening, Ushler recovered a fumble by Kelso and ran it all the way back 91 yards for a touchdown. The Wildcats attempted, and converted, a 2-point play and it was 22-0; still in the first quarter. “Mikel had the fumble return and that was outstanding. Mikel Ushler had a monster game on defense,” Kinnune said.
There was more. Marshall Griffin got in the act with 1:20 left in the frame by rolling in from 23 yards out for a touchdown and that extended the lead to 29-0. Yakaboski added another touchdown, also from 23 yards out, with 7:12 left in the second quarter and the score became 36-0. The defense then went to work and sealed it before halftime.
With a minute left in the period, Kelso started a drive deep in Mount Si territory and had two shots to get it in from the 1-yard line; but both times the Wildcat defense stood tall and kept the boys from Cowlitz County out of the end zone. Fans celebrated the stand and at that point it became pretty obvious who was moving on. “It was a total team effort. Everybody was flying off the ball; our defense was unstoppable,” said Griffin.
Kelso finally got on the scoreboard with a touchdown run by their top rusher, Josh Miller, in the third quarter, but by then it was too late. Gibson Bardsley kicked a 42-yard field goal for Mount Si to put the icing on the cake late in the final frame, and that was all. The reward: a long trip to Camas to face off against the Camas Papermakers of the Hilander league; the No. 1 seed out of the Greater St. Helens League who advanced with a 20-6 win over Evergreen (Burien) last Saturday.