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BATTLE GROUND — Adam Mathieson’s face bordered on bewilderment as the crowd trickled out of District Stadium on Thursday night, and former players lined up to congratulate the head coach.

“I don’t know how to feel,” Mathieson, the Mountain View head coach, said, smiling out of the corner of his mouth.

The final score said it all. Mountain View (5-1) beat Prairie (5-1) 23-22 on a back-and-forth 3A Greater St. Helens League matchup that at the same time showed just how far Prairie has come as a program, and just how immovable Mountain View seems to be as a presence in that league.

A.J. Dixson’s shovel pass to Kyle Lawhead pulled the Prairie within one. After a failed two-point conversion, the Falcons got the ball back with two minutes left and a chance to pull ahead.

But Thunder freshman Kyle Chen intercepted a deep ball at the one-yard line to seal the game for the Thunder.

“You play the Unions of the world early, so you’re hopefully ready in moments like this,” Mathieson said. “Anyone could have won that game. It’s called a draw from that standpoint.”

Here are five takeaways:

Matheison’s 90th career win proves a point

In many ways, Mountain View proved exactly what many coaches around the league said going into the season: until somebody knocks them off, it’s Mountain View’s league. 

Boy, did Prairie get close. 

Though the Thunder have now played just two league games, their grip on the league feels pronounced. In a few days, it will mark four years to the day since the Thunder lost its last league game — 35-17 to Camas, when they were in the 4A Greater St. Helens League.

Mathieson, who won his 90th game as a head coach on Thursday, has not necessarily trotted out rosters with consistent power-five Division I talent. But his teams have won consistently, peaking last year with a trip to the 3A state semifinals. Even after losing 31 seniors and 21 of 22 starters from last year, the Thunder were still able to knock off a Prairie team having its best start to the season since 1984.

Though Matheison exudes respect and humility (see his postgame tweet), his players’ experiences with discourse leading up to Thursday night left some of them feeling slighted. 

“This whole week there was a lot of noise and we do our best as a program to try and tune that out, but honestly, we felt disrespected,” McCarthy said. “I think sometimes people forget that Mountain View hasn’t gone anywhere.”

Thunder kicker Jude Mullette kept Mountain View in it

There’s a strong argument to be made that the most impactful player of the game wasn’t the either of the quarterbacks, nor was it the freshman who had the deciding interception. Instead, it was junior Jude Mullette, Mountain View’s place kicker. 

Mullette was 3 for 3 with field goals from 27, 30 and 33 yards, and also 2 for 2 on PATs. Those 11 points made all the difference.

“He’s good,” Mathieson said. “He’s really good. He’s a junior. I don’t know how you get publicity out to kickers, but he’s a really good kicker. He’s got a chance to play (at the next level).

“When you’re getting three (points), that’s not as good, but we felt like that would be the plan going in. Keep grinding, try to grind the clock and give Jude a chance to win the game.”

Prairie has turned a corner. Even this loss proved as much.

The Falcons opened 3A GSHL play with a convincing 38-22 win over Kelso in week five, marking its first 5-0 start since 1984.

And Prairie has been winning games with a high-scoring spread offense. In a league with multiple postseason bids, Prairie, having cleared the hurdle of Kelso, is in a favorable position heading into the back half of league play.

If there was ever a time for Prairie to win, it’s now. The Falcons brought back 14 starters from a 5-5 season last year and have a senior-laden roster.

“We’re fighters,” A.J. Dixson said. “That’s going to lead us into the playoffs. We’re just a fighting team. We’re dogs.”

Someone must fill Zeke Dixson’s shoes. His twin gave it a shot

Zeke Dixson stood antsy on the sidelines with a coat concealing a hard cast that went up his arm and bent 90 degrees at the elbow. 

Dixson, Prairie’s top target out wide (258 yards, two touchdowns, per The Columbian), broke his arm in the Falcons’ week five win over Kelso. So his twin brother, quarterback A.J. Dixson, also started at safety, his first defensive start in two years.

“Trying to fill his shoes was hard, because he’s one of the best defensive players in the league,” A.J. Dixson said. 

On offense, Nickolas Lawhead caught the last touchdown pass, a shovel from a rolling A.J. Dixson to pull Prairie within one (they went for two, but failed). But both teams scored unlikely touchdowns. Dustin Shelby had a 77-yard fumble return in the second quarter for Prairie, and Austin Lee caught a 34-yard prayer in the endzone from a rolling McCarthy as time expired for halftime. 

Zeke Dixson said he hopes to be back in the postseason, if the Falcons keep winning into November. 

Freshman Kyle Chen has an early career highlight

Freshman Kyle Chen was on the cover downfield, Prairie receiver Ian Davis was on a go-route down the right sideline and when Dixson tossed the ball high in the air for Davis to make the play, he appeared to come down with the ball. 

Somewhere between the catch, and him hitting the ground, Chen stripped it out for the game-sealing interception with 11 seconds left, pinning the Thunder at the one yard line and the lead with 11 seconds left. 

“Saw the ball go up, when that ball was in the air, it’s mine,” Chen said.

What’s more impressive? Chen’s versatility throughout the night. He started at free safety in place of injured starter Alec Cann (the team’s only returning starter), then moved back to corner in the second half, Mathieson notes, on the side he’d never played on. 

“Everyone’s going nuts and all I’m thinking is we’re going to lose the game on a safety trying to get us out of there,” Mathieson said. “Great team win.”

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Andy Buhler is a reporter for Scorebook Live Washington. Hear him weekly on the Scorebook Live Today podcast; Twitter: @AndyBuhler; email: andy@scorebooklive.com.