The stage is set; the time has arrived.
A combined 68 state playoff games have come and gone for Rainier and Clatskanie — many long before the rivalry ever got its nickname — but not once did the rivals meet on this stage.
That changes Friday night, when the Highway 30 Hootenanny meets the OSAA 3A State Playoffs for the first time.
“I would say that it will be electric,” Clatskanie coach Tim Warren said. “I wouldn’t think it’d be anything less than that. The kids are excited. The aunts and uncles, everybody is talking about it.”
The state quarterfinal contest, slated for 7 p.m. at Chris Corl Memorial Field, pits No. 1-ranked and undefeated Rainier against the No. 9-ranked Tigers (6-3).
And for as bitter as this rivalry has been at times in its history, it has, more recently, been a game of mutual respect.
The coaches speak highly of one another and — even amid several transfers between the two schools the past few years — the players, too, talk of their adversaries’ skill and talent. It’s a sharp contrast to the rivalry in not-too-distant memory, when animosity reached fever pitch a decade ago.
“Tim is a really good coach,” Rainier head man Mike King said. “And he’s a really good guy. Just because we’re rivals doesn’t mean we have to hate each other. I have a ton of respect for him and his coaching staff.”
Warren echoed the sentiment. “Mike’s a really good guy. He does a great job. His teams are always ready to play, and you have to respect that.”
But the stakes have never been higher. Frequently in this rivalry, the teams have competed for a league title. Never has a team faced elimination over the outcome.
It’s given both teams a renewed energy and focus at practice this week. Rainier knows its 36-20 win over the Tigers in Week 5 means little now, particularly with an innovative coach like Warren at the helm.
Clatskanie is eager for redemption. The Tigers felt like the Week 5 game got away from them. They left points on the board.
Neither coach would say it’s an advantage or disadvantage playing each other for a second time in 43 days.
“They’ve seen us before, but it’s no big secret what we do,” King said. “We do what we do, and see what happens.”
Both teams entered the year dreaming of big things. Clatskanie had a state title on its mind, and was a popular pick to take home the crown.
Rainier had lesser expectations from outside the squad. Within the locker room, though, the Columbians knew they had the potential for a magical season.
On Friday night, something has to give.
Here’s how things could shake out:
CLATSKANIE’S PATH TO VICTORY: Really, it comes down to stopping Joey Tripp. Rainier’s senior quarterback scored five times and accounted for 299 yards in the Week 5 win. It’s no easy task for the Tigers, but slowing the Rainier offense comes down to limiting Tripp. … On offense, look for Clatskanie to try some different things. They weren’t able to get into the Rainier secondary too often in Week 5, and if you had to pick a weak point of the Columbians’ defense, it’d be on the back side. It will take getting creative to get past a dominant Rainier front-seven, but finding ways to get their skill guys in space is the Tigers’ best chance of keeping pace with a tough-to-stop Rainier squad. … Look for Jacob Bruce to be one of those guys that can break things open. The Rainier transfer is limited in the return game because teams who know him well — and Rainier knows him best — won’t kick to him. But bubble screens and reverses could get him some space to break one loose. Kees Tjaarda and Cedrix Heath also have the potential to break loose Friday night.
RAINIER’S PATH TO VICTORY: Let the Diesel take you home. The classic Rainier formation was unstoppable in Week 5, and when run correctly — and with no holding penalties — there’s no team in the 3A ranks that can stop it. There will be plenty of looks out of a run-dominant spread, as it gives Joey Tripp some space to work with, but when Rainier needs a score, it’ll turn to the Diesel. … David Katon also needs to have a big night. Tripp can do a lot of things, but what makes him even more potent is a sidekick. Katon was stellar the first time these teams met. He had 171 total yards and two touchdowns. If he’s running well, watch out. … On defense, the Columbians need penetration. There’s a lot of skill guys in Clatskanie and given enough time, Cooper Blodgett will find one of them. If Easton Crape and Logan Keizur can wreak havoc in the backfield, it’s going to be a long night for the Tigers. … The Columbians also need to avoid the turnover. The Tigers forced a half-dozen fumbles and had two interceptions last week against Santiam Christian. Rainier is by no means turnover-prone, but these Tigers, particularly standout freshman Andre Combs, have a nose for the ball. A turnover could be the difference in this one, so hold on tight.