By Meg Wochnick
When the pain of Saturday’s Class 2A state semifinal loss subsides, senior quarterback Mitch Gueller and the rest of the Chehalis Bearcats know they can look back on the 2011 football season and see it as a success.
“It’s not how I wanted it to end,” Gueller said following the Bearcats’ 17-7 loss to top-ranked Lynden at the Tacoma Dome. “I’ll be able to look back on it someday, and think about it being one of the greatest moments of my life.”
The loss ends Chehalis’ season at 10-3, while Lynden (13-0) advances to the Class 2A state championship game and faces Archbishop Murphy at 10 a.m. next Saturday at the Tacoma Dome. It’s Lynden’s fourth trip to the state title game since 2006; the Lions have won three state titles during that span. Not many expected Chehalis to make it this far in the state playoffs given their third-place finish in the 2A Evergreen Conference, nor even keep with the Lions and their multiple offensive weapons, but the Bearcats exceeded both expectations.
Their defense held Lynden, which averaged 42 points in its 12 previous games, to a season-low 17 points and a margin of defeat by 10 points. Only North Thurston came closer; the Rams fell to Lynden, 29-26, in the first round of the state playoffs on Nov. 12.
Coach Bob Wollan called his defensive unit’s performance the best of the season and an overall “inspirational” effort. The Bearcats forced Lynden into two first-half turnovers, and punts on both of its third-quarter possessions.
“I cannot be more proud of the group,” Wollan said. “I know they’re heartbroken, because they felt they could win this game when nobody thought they could.”
Tied at 7-all going into the fourth quarter, Chehalis had a chance to take the lead with a 22-yard field goal attempt by Kyler Huang with 11 minutes, 2 seconds left in the game, but the ball did not reach the uprights.
Lynden took over at first-and-10 from its own 20, and only needed 1:18 go to 80 yards on five plays. Josh Kraght found Dak Shagren for a 46-yard touchdown pass to give Lynden a 14-7 lead with 9:46 remaining. On their next two possessions, however, the Bearcats’ momentum burst with two fumbles, one of which led to a Lynden field goal – a 22-yarder by Santiago Lopez.
Lynden quarterback Josh Kraght completed 11 of 22 passes for 183 yards and one touchdown and one interception. He also had 42 rushing yards on 12 carries.
“They’ve got so many weapons,” Wollan said. “Games like this come down to one or two big plays that we didn’t quite make and they (Lynden) did.”
Chehalis’ workhorse in these playoffs has been Gueller, who will play baseball next year at Washington State. He came into the game with 659 rushing yards in three playoff wins over Hockinson, Sequim and Lakewood. Lynden held the 6-foot-3, 205-pound senior to only 70 yards on 16 carries, but proved to be a playmaker in other areas. He was 7 of 15 through the air for 93 yards. The offense also got big production from Keylen Steen, who rushed for 56 yards on 12 carries, and Colton Watson, who scored the team’s lone touchdown in the opening minutes of the second quarter to grab a 7-0 lead.
“Everybody believed,” Gueller said. “There was nobody that was doubting ourselves. We gave it the best effort we could.”