Winlock State-Bound After Win Over Evergreen Lutheran


Every week this season, Nolan Swofford has taped up his wrist before Winlock’s game, and every week his coach, Ernie Samples, writes a quick note on the white slate for his senior tailback to wear into battle. Friday night, it was one word, scrawled out in all-caps: STATE.

Swofford — like just about every player on the Winlock roster — wasn’t alive the last time the Cardinals made the state tournament. But that’s exactly where they’re going now after a 38-18 win over Evergreen Lutheran.

It started out as a rout, it ended as a grind, but Winlock will be back at State for just the second time since the turn of the century.

“It means a lot,” Samples said. “These guys have been working hard. This is going to a rough group to say good-bye to, or ‘See you later.’”

This whole season, Winlock’s calling card has been long, explosive plays, blowing games away before they even get fully underway. As the competition ramps up, that’s giving way to a bruising, slow-and-steady approach, and Friday, the Cardinals proved they can win that way too.

“The whole gameplan was 4 yards on every play,” Swofford said. “They throw a lot, so take away as much clock as we can and shorten it up."

All four of Winlock’s scoring drives in the first half took at least five plays to work down the field. Then when the game hit the third quarter, the strategy had to ramp up even further.

Evergreen Lutheran took the opening kickoff to start the second half to the house to cut the lead to 34-18, then recovered an onside kick to get the ball right back. Winlock’s defense held, but on the first play of the ensuing possession, Payton Sickles was sent hard into the running track on a late hit out of bounds and would spend the rest of the game on the sidelines with a leg injury. With quarterback Neal Patching — usually the lightning to Swofford’s thunder — already working on an injury of his own, it fell to the senior tailback even more, and Swofford stepped up and shouldered the load.

The Cardinals took over with 6:03 left in the third quarter and ripped off an 11-play, 73-yard drive that salted the clock into the fourth. Eight of those plays were Swofford runs — along with a 73-yard touchdown that was wiped away with a holding call — culminating with a game-long 31-yard scoring run.

“I think that was one of the nails, slowly pounded in that coffin,” Samples said. “It was nice to score there. I feel like we shouldn’t have been in that situation, but our guys didn’t lay down.”

Winlock immediately got the ball back on an onside kick, and after going four-and-out, forced a fumble on Evergreen Lutheran’s first play from scrimmage. The Cardinals then ripped off another 11-play drive that didn’t end in points but salted another seven minutes off the clock and only gave the Eagles the ball back with 2:10 remaining.

Those two drives helped Winlock limit Evergreen to just 11 plays in the second half.

Swofford took 36 carries for 294 hard-earned yards — pretty much all of which came after contact — and three touchdowns, added 32 receiving yards, and played nearly every snap on defense.

“I don’t think I’m gonna be able to move tomorrow,” he said. “I can already feel it setting in from being on my knee for a second.”

Patching added 107 yards on 16 carries and scored twice.

On defense, the Cardinals held the Eagles to just 23 rushing yards and 195 passing yards, 112 of which came on three long passes from Jack Pittenger to Brock Stock.

In the second half, though, Samples moved outside linebacker Collin Regalado out to the slot to shadow Stock wherever he lined up, and the senior limited him to barely anything as the clock wound down.

“I think his length and height helped us with that,” Samples said.

Pittinger finished a measly 6-for-22 passing, and Chase Scofield ended his night with a game-sealing interception on the line established drive the Eagles managed in the second half.

“Our run defense all year has been phenomenal, so I feel like they became one-dimensional,” Swofford said.

Now, Winlock will rest up and wait to learn its coming fate; for the first time in nearly two decades and in just their second season playing 8-man football, the Cardinals go into Selection Sunday waiting to hear their name called.

“I feel honored, in a sense,” Swofford said. “I’ve got to thank all the people who helped us get here. Especially the Class of 2020. I started with those guys, and I ran with them, and I feel like they put me in the spot to be able to do this for Winlock.”