TOLEDO — Mike Christensen had been waiting for the rain with anticipation, and it came at the perfect time.
Wet and marshy conditions on the grass at Ted Hippi Field, that’s perfect weather for the Toledo football team’s ground attack. A cold, rainy night was just what was in order to hamper Kalama’s pass-heavy offense.
And after the Riverhawks put the finishing touches on their 35-0 win over the defending state champs, wrapping up the 2B SWW South league title in the process, the slick and slippery ground was perfect to turn into a slip-n-slide, as Christensen and his staff dove headfirst into their postgame huddle.
“They’ve wanted me to do it every game, but I said if we win something, then I’ll do it,” he said. “Winning the championship earned the head-first slide.”
The crown is the Riverhawks’ first since 2016, when they went undefeated in the regular season and made it as far as the 2B state semifinals. And it came from yet another unheralded Toledo side, that began its season once again replacing nearly all of its pieces and has since turned itself into a true threat in the state.
“We started nine new guys on offense and defense, and you don’t know what it’s going to look like,” Christensen said. “You think you have the potential to do it, but you get the guys to believe, and our guys believe, and they’ve been working hard. It’s just that day-to-day grind, and they love that grind, because they want to be champions and they worked hard for it.”
For yet another week, things started with the Riverhawks’ defense, which wrapped up its four-game league stretch having only allowed three touchdowns.
Toledo pitched its second straight shutout, having last allowed a point two weeks ago when Wahkiakum took the kickoff to begin the second half back for a touchdown. Since then, it’s been nine straight zeroes put up on the box score, with a unit building speed as it goes.
The Riverhawks — with an assist from the conditions — held Kalama quarterback Aiden Brown to an ugly 4-for-22 line, with two interceptions. Kalama got the ball in the red zone three times at the end of the first half, but Toledo held strong to turn the Chinooks over on downs all three times.
“We trusted in our gameplan, and we executed, and when we execute we played really well,” Christensen said. “I think that’s it. We have a mentality where we don’t give up anything, and you concede nothing. It doesn’t matter if they’re on the 1-yard line or they have 99 yards to go, we concede nothing, we don’t give us anything. That’s our mentality, and that’s what we did tonight.”
On offense, the Riverhawks didn’t try to throw through the rain once, instead letting their ground game lean on their guests all night long. Most of the game went without any huge, explosive plays — barring Ethen Carver’s 52-yard touchdown in the second quarter — but Toledo picked up just enough yardage to keep the chains moving and the clock ticking every time.
“I love a big play, obviously, but it’s one of those things where our guys know what we do, they know why we do it, and they know why it works for us,” Christensen said. “Because they believe in the system, they’re okay with that. They’re okay with getting 3 yards at a time. You just can’t have penalties or turn the ball over. Unfortunately, we turned the ball over too many times tonight, we’ve got to clean that up. But if you can win and learn a lesson, then that’s better than losing and learning a lesson.”
Carver led Toledo with 127 yards. Geoffrey Glass led the team in carries with 20, going for 103 yards. Zane Ranney added 90 yards on 12 carries, while Austin Norris ran it 36 yards himself. All four rushers found the end zone, with Glass scoring twice.
As the clock ran out, the Riverhawks on the sideline hit their coach with the water bath; Christensen was already sopping wet, and the water in the jug was a good deal warmer than the stuff that’d been falling from the sky, so he had no complaints.
Now Toledo will wrap up its regular season with a non-league matchup against Stevenson, before taking the South’s top seed into the crossover round, with its first league crown in hand.
“Our seniors have taken the leadership role they needed to to have a championship caliber team,” Christensen said. “Our underclassmen, our young guys have stepped up and put the work in. They believed in the system, and it’s working real well for them.”