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VANCOUVER - There were several moments Friday night when it looked like Kelso would be unable to match Evergreen, that its dream of winning its first 3A Greater St. Helens League title since 2004 would die in the final game of the regular season.

The situation never looked more dire than with two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

Instead, Kelso’s senior-laden squad did what it did all night: keep fighting and find a way.

Despite never leading in regulation, the Hilanders would send the game into overtime and then pull out a 29-22 win.

“Our grit and our resiliency was unbelievable tonight,” Kelso coach Steve Amrine said, “and I think in the end, our physicality played out."

Evergreen, which had led for the majority of the de-facto league championship game, forced a Kelso punt to get the ball back with 2:09 to remaining in a tie game. On the Plainsmen’s first play, running back LaDaimien McCord got around the corner and sprinted up the right sideline for a gain of 29. A penalty flag for a late hit on a Kelso defender tacked on another 15 yards. Suddenly, Evergreen had first down and 10 from the Kelso 16-yard line.

At that point, a touchdown would have almost certainly won the game for Evergreen, as Kelso’s run-first offense isn’t built to cover ground in a hurry. But even getting a few more yards, burning the clock and sending reliable kicker Cristian Chavarria out for a short field goal seemed like a safe formula.

On Evergreen’s next snap after McCord’s long run, the Hilanders stuffed an inside handoff for a loss of three. The Plainsmen then drew a false start penalty after trying to hurriedly get a snap off before the play-clock expired. After another disjointed run went for a short gain, coach Christian Swain opted to play for the field goal.

Chavarria lined up from 43 yards on the final snap of regulation. A pair of Kelso players burst through the line of scrimmage and blocked the kick, forcing overtime.

An Evergreen team looking to clinch just its second playoff berth since 2007 with a win on Friday would come to rue that sequence.

“We had our chances,” Swain said after the game. “We took a 5-yard penalty. … We called a zone and the offensive line went the wrong way. I don’t know if we got the wrong call in. Third down, we were scrambling, took too long to get the play in because I had one timeout, and trying to hold it for the field goal. And yeah, we just didn’t execute that sequence very well.”

Making the fruitless red-zone possession at the end of regulation even more frustrating for the Plainsmen was the fact that the matchup probably never should have been that close.

Evergreen dominated the first 26 minutes of the game. Playing in front of a charged-up crowd at McKenzie Stadium, the Plainsmen forced a three-and-out on Kelso’s first possession. Then, on their first offensive snap, quarterback Khalil Osbin tossed a screen pass to Jonathan Landry, who got a couple nice blocks and raced 65 yards for a touchdown.

Kelso blocked the ensuing extra point, which would loom large later. But the score gave Evergreen a momentum boost that they built on by forcing another punt and padding their lead with a 30-yeard field goal by Chavarria.

Kelso would answer with a touchdown on its following drive, a two-yard run by Nevada-bound running back Conner Noah. Evergreen took its 9-7 lead into halftime.

The second half started almost identically to the first: Osbin to Landry, this time for a 64-yard touchdown on the Plainsmen’s second snap. Osbin faked a pitch and found Landry over the middle of the field, and Landry made two tacklers miss and raced to the end zone from there.

Evergreen tried a two-point conversion to make up for the blocked PAT earlier in the game and failed. Still, they kept the positive energy rolling by surprising Kelso with an onside kick, a 20-yard bloop that the Plainsmen recovered at the Kelso 39.

The Hilanders appeared to rally and get a stop, but then came the wackiest play of the night.

Evergreen punter Jayden Crace, who also rotated in with Osbin at quarterback, faked the punt and threw down the seam for Arthur Ban. His pass sailed a bit high and bounced off Ban’s fingertips. It then caromed off a Kelso defender and right back into Ban’s chest. He secured the ball and ran into the end zone for a 36-yard score, giving the Plainsmen a 22-7 lead.

At that point, it looked like an Evergreen win was simply meant to be. Even Amrine had his doubts that his team could come back.

“In your mind you’re like, I hope we’re not snake-bit or something,” he said. “You hope it’s not their night.”

But the Kelso sideline wasn’t rattled.

“First thought: Everything’s going wrong,” sophomore quarterback Tucker Amrine said. “But momentum, you saw it, it turns like that. So, I mean, it was pretty cool, we were like, we can just run it again. We got it.”

Not only did the Hilanders maintain belief that they could erase the deficit, they did so without panicking and abandoning their run-heavy game plan. After a good kickoff return gave them the ball around midfield, Kelso dialed up several consecutive handoffs to Noah. He broke a 31-yarder to get down to the one, then plunged into the end zone on the following play. He scored a two-point conversion, as well, to cut the Evergreen lead to seven.

Kelso proceeded to get a defensive stop, then go right back to its ground game. Once again, the Hilanders marched down the field without attempting a pass, and once again, Noah capped the drive with a short touchdown run, his third score of the night. Just seven minutes after they had trailed by 15 points, Kelso had tied the game at 22.

Noah deferred the credit for his big rushing performance to his offensive line.

“We just all believed in each other and the holes started opening up and linemen were moving people, and I was hitting the holes,” he said. “Our linemen were making holes for me, so that makes it easier for me.”

The tie would persist through the fourth quarter, despite Evergreen’s opportunity at the end of regulation. By that point, the Plainsmen made it clear that Noah wouldn’t beat them on the ground. Steve Amrine said the Evergreen defensive line started “submarining” Kelso’s blockers.

So, facing a third down and 10 from the Evergreen 13-yard line on the first possession of overtime, Evergreen went to the air.

Tucker Amrine hadn’t completed a downfield pass all game. Yet he delivered a strike that zipped between two defenders and hit wide receiver Zeke Smith in stride in the end zone to give the Hilanders their first lead of the game.

“I said, ‘God, take over,’” Tucker Amrine said of the throw. “And Zeke’s like, ‘throw it up to me.’ So I was like, alright, I’m going to catch it, and I’m going to throw it up. But then I see a little gap between the corner and the safety because they’re playing Cover Two, and I’m like, just squeeze it in there. So I squeezed it in.”

A penalty once again put Evergreen’s overtime possession behind the chains. Still, on second down and 13 from the 28, Ban managed to get behind a defender and Osbin hit him for what would have been a touchdown — but the pass bounced off Ban’s hands and onto the turf. Kelso then broke up consecutive throws to Landry to secure the league title.

The ensuing scene was a study in contrast. Landry laid face-down on the turf for about a minute after the final play. Following the post-game handshake line, the Evergreen players barely made a sound, some holding their heads in their hands, others quietly trying to console one another.

Kelso, meanwhile, chanted “league champs” as they broke out of their postgame huddle. As the players meandered to the sideline to meet the visiting fans who had made the trip, Queen’s “We are the Champions” blared from a portable speaker.

All year, Tucker Amrine said, Kelso’s goal had been to win the 3A GSHL title, ever since it finished second to Mountain View last season. And Amrine himself, who wasn’t born yet the last time the Hilanders won their league, has been waiting a lot longer than that.

“I’ve been a little ball boy, so I’ve seen it all, and we’ve never took first,” Amrine said. “It kind of gets annoying to be the little brother, so it’s finally nice to be the big brother.”

The win over Evergreen will likely position Kelso for a home game in “Week Ten,” the first week of the postseason, during which the Class 3A qualifiers are seeded 1-32 and matched up accordingly. That would be welcome, as the Hilanders’ Oct. 22 game, which was scheduled to be Homecoming and Senior Night, was canceled due to a shooting scare at the school.

More importantly, the Kelso players believe Friday’s win provided a valuable experience that they can draw on as they look to make a deep run into the postseason.

“That was a big win,” Noah said. “Adversity, we overcame it, which just shows that we can dig deep and get it done as long as we believe in each other and not give up.”

On the other sideline, Evergreen, which was just 16 yards away from punching its ticket to the playoffs, will now have to put Friday’s heartbreak behind it and return to the field in three days to secure its spot.

The Plainsmen will play a three-way tiebreaker with Prairie and Mountain View on Monday afternoon after all three schools finished 2-2 in league play. Prairie and Mountain View will face off first, with each team getting a possession from the 40-yard line and playing until one team outscores the other — essentially overtime, but with more ground to cover. Evergreen will then play the winner in the same format.

As hard as Friday’s loss was for his players to stomach, Swain isn’t worried about their ability to rally by Monday.

After all, this is an Evergreen team that has clinched a winning season for the first time since 2008. They had bigger goals than that, too, and they’re not ready for the ride to end yet.

“I think they’ll show up,” Swain said. “They played hard tonight. It wasn’t definitely for a lack of effort or anything like that. So I’m sure we’ll show up and play hard.”