RIDGEFIELD — Consider that a statement made.
Well, consider it a couple statements made, to be honest.
Loading up its non-league slate with state contenders, the W.F. West football team faced a ranked challenge right out of the gate Week 1, on the road at Ridgefield, the defending 2A GSHL champs.
Four quarters and a 38-28 win later, the Bearcats had made some sound opening arguments. For a half, they proved they can put points up there with the best of them. Coming out of the break, they showed that they can hold state-level offenses in check.
And along the way, they showed that outside elements — cold, wind, even the odd power outage — won’t do much to blow them off course.
“It was tough,” head coach Dan Hill said. “It was playoff-like football, and our boys earned their victory tonight.”
In front of a rowdy crowd overlooking Mount St. Helens, the Bearcats watched the Spudders take a screen pass 76 yards on the first play of the game, and rumble the rest of the way in for an early touchdown. Then they fumbled away their first possession, and for a brief moment, looked like their night’s hopes could end before they got off the ground.
Then the flurry began.
It started with a three-and-out forced by the defense. A bad punt set W.F. West up with good field position, and senior quarterback Gavin Fugate needed just one play to hit the sideline and go 46 yards for a touchdown.
Ridgefield fumbled the ensuing kickoff, Hunter Niemi dove on it at the 12, and one play later, it was Tucker Land running it home.
Three plays, 14 points, and the Bearcats would never give back the lead.
“Like we told the team all week long, special teams, turnovers, and missed tackles are all what Game 1 is about,” Hill said. “Us getting that fumble recovery on special teams and being able to score, those are big game-changes, and our guys were able to execute and take advantage.”
After forcing another punt, W.F. West faced fourth-and-3 just on the right side of midfield. Immediately, the play went wrong; Fugate found himself strung out to the right and hit in the backfield. But like the beginning of the game itself, he didn’t let the rough start dictate the play.
“I don’t even know (what happened), I just tried to make a play,” he said. “It wasn’t that way, so I just tried to get somewhere else. It was survival mode.”
Survival mode saw Fugate bounce off the hit, completely reverse fields, and rumble 34 yards into the red zone. On the very next play, he hit Gage Brumfield for his first passing touchdown of the night, and the Bearcats led by multiple possessions.
Fugate finished his night 13 for 23 for 196 yards through the air, with the one touchdown. He also led Chehalis with 123 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns on 14 carries.
“He’s a senior quarterback, and he’s one of the leaders of this team,” Hill said. “He’s a good football player, and I’m proud of the way he played tonight.”
Brumfield and Cameron Amoroso each finished with five receptions, the latter led the way with 99 yards, while the former added a 51-yard touchdown run in the second quarter on third-and-11 to put the guests ahead by three possessions and make the home crowd truly uncomfortable for the first time.
Land, making his first varsity start, went for 48 yards on 13 carries and found the end zone twice.
Defensively, the Bearcats never found the true antidote for Ridgefield’s pro-style attack, but were able to do keep the Spudders from capitalizing on a few big players, and got off the field on third down when they could early.
In the second half, the clamps went down more. Ridgefield cut the deficit to one possession midway through the third, but W.F. West responded with a long drive and an easy field goal. The Spudders got into WFW territory on both of their fourth-quarter possessions, but got nothing out of it thanks to a Ross Kelley interception and a turnover on downs in the dying moments.
“That was our big thing at halftime, we made a bit of a defensive adjustment with some coverage,” Hill said. “We played very well defensively in the second half.”
With their first test solidly passed, the Bearcats now ratchet up the challenge even more, with Lynden — the defending 2A state champs — set to come south to Chehalis next week.
Hill said he would give his Bearcats one night to enjoy their victory before attention turned to the cream of the 2A crop. His team might not even take that long.
“I’ve been thinking about Lynden for months,” Fugate said. “They’re the main goal right now.”