Friday night lights: Football is back in full swing

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High school football teams around Clark County are preparing for a full lineup of competitions, unlike last spring’s shortened five and six-game seasons.

Practices started on Aug. 18. Athletes, as well as contest spectators, will not be required to wear masks for outdoor sporting events.

As of Aug. 30, there are no expected capacity restrictions for Friday night football games. In addition, postseason district and state tournaments are slated to return once the regular season concludes at the end of October.

Continue reading to learn more about each local team, including the Prairie Falcons, La Center Wildcats, Ridgefield Spudders, Battle Ground Tigers, Woodland Beavers and Hockinson Hawks.

Battle Ground Tigers

Head coach: Mark Oliverio

Classification: 4A

League: Greater St. Helens League

2020 season stats: 0-5
(0-2 for league)

The Battle Ground Tigers are entering the 2021 football season with a new head coach. Mark Oliverio took over the program in May from the previous coach, Mike Kesler.

Oliverio led Hudson’s Bay football team in 2015 and 2016, then made the move to Cincinnati after receiving a promotion in 2017, he said. Because of the pandemic, Oliverio could work from home so he returned to the Battle Ground area.

“I love it. It’s good to be back,” Oliverio said about returning to the field after a break from coaching.

Throughout the summer, the team was often broken up into four groups as they were trying to score points. The Tigers competed in agility, strength and endurance contests to bond with their peers, Oliverio said.

“It’s just another way for guys to compete,” he said.

Owen Wann, senior fullback and linebacker, said the team hopes to improve on all aspects of the game.

“You’re looking to take a positive step forward every year,” Oliverio said. “We have to look at the situation as an opportunity to grow, we expect to get better and we expect to improve.”

Wann said he’s looking forward to facing Prairie, like every year, because of the natural rivalry between the two schools.

“I think the sky’s the limit. But the reality is we’re measuring success in very small increments,” Oliverio said.

La Center Wildcats

Head coach: John Lambert

Classification: 1A

League: Trico

2020 season stats: 4-1
(4-0 for league)

After last season’s undefeated league record, the La Center Wildcats led by head coach John Lambert will return to the field with the hopes of a league title, and maybe a state championship.

Lambert recognizes the team has no control over COVID-19 restrictions that might go into effect at any point of the season, but he trusts protocols put in place for practices and games will minimize the impact of the virus.

“My hope is that we get to play games,” he said. “We have a great group of guys that worked hard to be here.”

In total, the team has around 55 players with about eight seniors and a majority of juniors.

“The team fights for each other and works with each other,” Lambert said. “I think that’s something that isn’t really measurable and is really underrated.”

About four or five seniors graduated from the program in the spring, but Lambert expects the current team to step up to fill those spots.

“We’re in it for state. That’s all I need to say,” said David White, senior receiver and linebacker.

As the team completes its preseason practices this week, the Wildcats are preparing for some highly-anticipated match-ups against teams like Cascade Christian and Eatonville.

“We have some really difficult teams that we’re playing for non-league,” Lambert said. “We’re excited to test ourselves and see how we do against those guys.”

Ridgefield Spudders

Head coach: Scott Rice

Classification: 2A

League: GSHL

2020 Season stats: 4-1

For Scott Rice’s third season as head coach, he achieved a long-term goal of his: to grow the program in size each year he coached.

The Spudders have about 79 athletes on their roster this season compared to the 45 players from two years ago, Rice said.

“This year we have some guys who, because of COVID, want to play because they’ve seen how fragile sports can be,” he said. “It’s here today, gone tomorrow.”

Ty Snider, senior wide receiver and safety, said he couldn’t be more excited to be back on the field this season.

To prepare for the almost “normal” season, the team weight lifted together throughout the summer, Snider said.

The Spudders added a couple of younger, sophomore quarterbacks to their roster as well as players who transferred or moved into the program for the fall, he said.

“As a team structure, we have a bunch of athletes,” Snider said. “We have speed and agility but I think matchup-wise we can compete with anyone in the state when it comes to wide receivers and (defensive backs.)”

He said the team is aiming to take the league title and the state championship.

“We’re super excited for that week three game against Hockinson. They’re our football rivals,” he said.

Rice said the team is at a point where they’re not going to change their offense, defense or communication methods because they’ve found what works for the team.

“We’ve got good leadership. We’ve got an experienced group on the offensive (and) defensive line,” he said. “We’re not planning on being good for a year. We plan on being good for a while.”

Prairie Falcons

Head coach: Mike Peck

Classification: 3A

League: GSHL

2020 season stats: 0-6
(0-4 for league)

After reflecting on the challenges presented by the pandemic, head coach Mike Peck said the team gained a new appreciation for the sport.

In 2019, the Falcons claimed the league championship, which set an expectation for the program, Peck said.

The team set their goals using a “pyramid of success” and near the top is winning another league title, he said.

“We’ve had a great summer. The kids have been in the weight room,” he said. “It’s been the best summer I’ve had since I’ve been the head coach.”

The Falcons have 105 players in total with 45 players making the varsity team.

Peck said some standout players include senior H-back and linebacker Izzy Duncan, senior running back and defensive back Thor Stepina, and junior running back and linebacker Alex Ford.

Like other teams in Clark County, attendance dropped for the Falcons last season because of the shortened season. Peck said this meant the younger players had to relearn some of the fundamentals of the game.

“We’re trying to get better every day,” he said.

Woodland Beavers

Head coach: Mike Woodward

Classification: 2A

League: GSHL

2020 season stats: 2-3

Out of Mike Woodward’s 21 years as a head coach, last year’s season was a brand-new experience.

“We waited all year long to even see if we’d be able to play,” Woodward said. “It was one thing after another, but we were grateful we had the opportunity.”

The first day of practice last February ended up being virtual because of snowy weather, he said.

Woodward said the team and coaching staff are ecstatic to be back on the field this year, mask-free. About 65 players turned out for the team in total, with an even split amongst upper and underclassmen.

The Beavers want to work on depth this season. Woodward also said he hopes to build up strength in the team’s linemen.

“As linemen in the last few years have found other things to do other than playing football,  depth has become an issue for us,” he said.

Mark Morales, a senior wide receiver and defensive end, hopes to mentor the underclassmen this season as others did for him.

“Being back on the field feels like home,” Morales said. “It brings back the joy of my freshman year. … As a young kid, I was so riled up and happy to be out here.”

He said he thinks the crowd will be able to see the team’s “heart” and hard work this season.

Hockinson Hawks

Head Coach: Clint LeCount

Classification: 2A

League: GSHL

2020 season stats: 5-0

The Hockinson Hawks are ready to defend their undefeated status from last season.

This year’s team looks a little different with a large freshman class and an evenly split upperclassman group, said head coach Clint LeCount.

LeCount assisted with coaching for the Hawks for about 10 years before taking over as head coach for this season, after long-time coach Rick Steele stepped down.

“I’ve loved it ever since I got here,” he said. “It’s a lot of new responsibilities, but learning from Rick Steele has always been a great opportunity and I feel like he’s prepared me for this.”

Steele was known for turning Hockinson into a force to be reckoned with. In October 2019, he celebrated his 100th win since his start as head coach in 2004, according to previous reporting by The Reflector.

Another change for the team includes player turnout. Last season because of COVID-19 restrictions, about 45 players showed up compared to the 68 athletes returning to the field this fall, LeCount said.

Cody Wheeler, a senior running back and linebacker, said he’s excited to hear the pep band play music while his friends and family cheer for the team, which wasn’t allowed last season.

“It seems like no one thinks we’re going to do as good as we think we’re going to do,” Wheeler said. “I think we’ll surprise some people.”

The Hawks will face the Lynden High School Lions from Bellingham for their first game on Sept. 3. In 2019, Lynden made the state playoffs and advanced to the semi-finals, just like the Hawks.

“We got to the same point and we both fell short, so it’ll be a good matchup,” LeCount said.

Football Schedules

Ridgefield Spudders

7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 3 Heritage High School at home

7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 10 at Castle Rock High School

7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 17 at Hockinson High School

7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 24 Hudson’s Bay High School at home

7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 1 at Washougal High School

7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 7 Mark Morris High School at home

5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 15 at Columbia River High School

7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 22 RA Long High School at home

7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 29 Woodland High School at home

 

Battle Ground Tigers

5:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 27 Hudson’s Bay at home

5:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 3 Ingraham High School at home

7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 10 Skyview High School at home

7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 17 Prairie High School at home

7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 24 at Evergreen High School

7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 1 at Camas High School

7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 7 Union High School at home

7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 15 at Heritage

4:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 22 at Mountain View High School

7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 29 Kelso High School  at home

 

Hockinson Hawks

7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 3 at Lynden High School

7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 17 Ridgefield High School at home

7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 24 RA Long  at home

7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 1 at Woodland

7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 8 Columbia River at home

7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 15 at Mark Morris

5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 22 at Hudson’s Bay

7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 29 Washougal at home

 

La Center Wildcats

7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 4 at Cascade Christian School

7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 10 Woodland at home

7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 17 Kalama High School at home

7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 24 Eatonville High School at home

7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 1 at Montesano High School

7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 8 Fort Vancouver High School at home

7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 15 Columbia-White Salmon High School at home

7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 22 at Seton Catholic High School

7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 29 at Castle Rock

 

Woodland Beavers

7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 3 Kalama at home

7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 10 at La Center High School

7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 17 at Washougal

7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 24 at Columbia River

7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 1 Hockinson at home

7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 8 at R A Long

7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 15 Hudson’s Bay at home

7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 22 Mark Morris at home

7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 29 at Ridgefield

 

Prairie Falcons

7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 3 at Washougal

7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 10 at Hudson’s Bay

7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 27 at Battle Ground High School

7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 24 Kelso (at Battle Ground High School)

7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 1 Skyview (at Battle Ground High School)

7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 8 Black Hills High School (at Battle Ground High School)

7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 15 Mountain View (at Battle Ground High School)

7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 22 at Evergreen

7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 29 at Heritage

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