VANCOUVER — The final stretch of Kelso’s short 2021 winter season hit a couple bumps Friday, as the Hilanders lost to Evergreen 28-21.
Kelso jumped out to an early lead, but a few key injuries up front set the Hilanders back, and the Plainsmen slowly were able to turn momentum their way, securing a shutout in the second half and finishing with 14 unanswered points to win.
“We got really, really thin, really, really fast,” coach Steven Amrine said. “But a lot of young kids stepped up and played really hard for us and did a really good job. We had a couple tough breaks, and a couple things didn’t go our way tonight.”
The first Kelso casualty of the night was 270-pound guard Brady Phillips, who went down in the first quarter. Then, early in the third, center Clay Lindberg was hurt, setting the Hilanders back their two biggest presences on both sides of the line.
And with 40% of the starting offensive line out, Kelso had a hard time stringing together the productive run game that had put them on the front foot early.
The run set up the pass for Kelso’s first touchdown of the night, with junior Hunter Letteer finding senior Jaden Kay for a 34-yard score. Later in the first quarter, the Hilanders pieced together a grinding drive, working it all the way down the field to the 2-yard line, where Letteer punched it in himself for the score.
“We were able to control the inside and do a good job of running the football and mixing things up,” Amrine said. “When we lost Brady and Clay, those are two big guys. We lost two veteran guys inside, so we did not quite have the continuity that we’d had inside.”
Evergreen came back in the second quarter with a pair of touchdowns in quick succession, finding the end zone on a 68-yard touchdown, converting an onside kick, and taking it right back to the house on the ensuing possession.
Although already depleted, Kelso had one last strike left in the tank in the first half as Letteer hit Tegan Connors for a 12-yard score.
Letteer ended his night at 11-of-21 passing for 133 yards, and added 46 rushing yards.
“Hunter’s done a good job. He’s developed into a really good guy,” Amrine said.
Junior Colby Cooper caught five of those passes, finishing with 43 receiving yards to lead the Hilanders. On the ground, Conner Noah went for 91 yards on 17 carries.
But in the second half after Lindberg was forced to leave the game, Kelso had a tough time putting together its offense, and failed to find the end zone.
Meanwhile, the Plainsmen found the end zone in the third quarter, cutting a 21-14 halftime deficit to 21-20 after a failed extra point. Early in the fourth, Evergreen quarterback JJ Woodin threw his fourth passing touchdown of the night, and that was enough to put the Plainsmen ahead for good.
“They were really fast, and they made just a couple more plays than we did,” Amrine said. “That was about it. We gave up field position a couple times. We turned the ball over a couple times.”
With no crossover game on the schedule, the loss ends Kelso’s season with the Hilanders finishing the short slate at 2-4.
Despite not having as many games as normal, Amrine pointed out that the process for this season dated all the way back to last June, as his players and coaching staff had to navigate the ever-changing reality of pod practices, workouts, cancelations, postponements, and finally a completely unordinary season, ending over nine months after it began.
“A lot of young kids got experience, and our seniors got to play,” he said. “At the end of the day, that’s the bottom line. We appreciated the opportunity to play.”