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The Rainier Columbians talked a lot about returning to the OSAA 3A State semifinals last November. They had just fallen to Santiam Christian and were already champing at the bit to get back.

Few outside of the Rainier locker room believed they would. Too many pieces graduated or transferred, people would claim, for the Columbians to be as dominant as last season.

Well, they were wrong.

Behind another stellar performance from Joey Tripp, the Columbians bullied their way to an 18-7 win over rival Clatskanie on Friday night in the 3A State quarterfinals at Chris Corl Memorial Field. It puts the Columbians back in the state semifinals for a second straight year. Clatskanie’s season ends at 7-4.

“We knew we had to ride on our line, and Joey Tripp would take us to the promise land,” Rainier junior lineman Easton Crape said. “I didn’t doubt it a bit. I’ve heard a lot of talk from a lot of people saying they doubted us. But this team — we knew we were going to make it back here.”

After the Tigers took their first drive of the game 77 yards in five plays, Kees Tjaarda splitting the defense for a 28-yard catch from Cooper Blodgett and a 7-0 lead, the Columbians imposed their will.

Up front, they were dominant. Logan Keizur and Crape were the usual suspects. Austin “Bubbles” Cantrell was a huge weapon too — “he played exceptional,” Rainier coach Mike King said.

“We talked about heart and sacrifice before the game,” King said. “These guys are selfless. They’re more worried about the guy next to them before themselves. It’s pretty rare you get a team like that.”

And of course, they had a little help from No. 3. Tripp ran 40 times for 258 yards and touchdown runs of 3, 4 and 3 yards. Give the ball to the senior and reigning TDN All-Area Player of the Year, and let him do his thing. It was no secret that was Rainier’s gameplan.

“There’s no tomorrow. He would have been upset with me if I didn’t give him all those carries and we weren’t able to win the game,” King said. “He’s earned that. He’s earned every ounce of respect I have.”

The Tigers did their best to limit the Columbians, who still tallied 350 yards, including 66 from David Katon. But Tripp was just too much, and the Tigers couldn’t do enough on offense to keep up.

After the opening score, Clatskanie’s next six drives went three-and-out or ended in an interception. Katon ripped one away in the second quarter, Kenney Tripp caught a Hail Mary at the end of the first half, and Joey Tripp outjumped Jacob Bruce in the end zone on Clatskanie’s opening drive of the second half.

“We shot ourselves in the foot, had some penalties that were frustrating and it cost us some spots and put us in predictable situations,” Clatskanie coach Tim Warren said. “We gave them everything we had. I didn’t see anyone leave anything out on the field. … I’m real proud of my kids.’”

Hunter Boulch sealed the game with a red-zone interception in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter.

Cedrix Heath ran for 94 yards on 12 carries, Blodgett had 55 yards on 11 carries and Tjaarda had 63 yards on two catches for Clatksanie. While the Tigers season began with high hopes to start 2018, and several people around the state pegged them as a potential title contender, injuries ravaged Clatskanie.

Still, the Tigers ended with seven wins and their first state win in nine years, an accomplished season by any metric.

“You always would have liked to have been healthy in every game you play,” Warren said. “But that’s part of the game. I thought the kids that stepped up stepped up, and we don’t win without those kids. I’m proud of the coaching staff for adjusting to the injuries and things that happened. It’s part of the game. They did a good job and the kids responded to it.”

But Rainier is the team marching on. At 11-0, the Columbians look unstoppable. The winner of Vale and Burns on Saturday will get the chance to try.

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Sports Editor

Joshua is the sports editor for The Daily News. He joined the staff in January 2016 after working at The Bellingham Herald. He is a Western Washington University graduate and native of the Puget Sound region.

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