The Camas Papermakers knew they would have to play mistake-free football to have any kind of chance at knocking off top-ranked Skyline in the Class 4A state semifinals.
And staked to an early 14-0 lead Saturday afternoon at the Tacoma Dome, it looked like the fourth-ranked Papermakers were on their way to pulling off the upset.
But the veteran Spartans and prized USC recruit Max Browne couldn’t be rattled, and rallied to claim a 51-28 victory and a spot in next Saturday’s championship game against Bellarmine Prep or Auburn.
Browne was his usual superstar self, completing 29 of 32 passes for 387 yards and four touchdowns, while the Spartan defense forced five turnovers.
“We knew this was going to be a tough test for us,” Browne said.
Camas (12-1) jumped on Skyline right out of the gate, scoring on its opening drive as Nate Beasley ran it from 24-yards out. The Papermakers got the ball back four minutes later and quarterback Reilly Hennessey hit Zach Eagle with a 94-yard touchdown pass, pushing the lead to 14-0 with 5 minutes, 3 seconds left in the first quarter.
“(It was) definitely a wake-up call that we had to start going,” Browne said of the early deficit. “But it’s a situation we’ve been in before. It’s a testament to our senior leadership and getting our guys back in a groove and trusting our stuff.”
Skyline immediately answered, getting a touchdown on Matt Sinatro’s 7-yard halfback pass to Nic Sblendorio with 1:35 left in the quarter.
But faced with a chance to take back control, Camas couldn’t. Trevor Barney picked off Hennessey at the Skyline 42-yard line to end the ensuing drive. Camas got the ball back after a Skyline turnover in the red zone, but Peter Stromgren picked off Hennessey and returned it 20 yards to the Camas 38. Brown took advantage, eventually tossing a 14-yard touchdown pass to Austin Bui to tie the game at 14.
“It was still really early,” Skyline coach Mat Taylor said. “We had confidence that we could come back. We just needed to get some stops.”
By then, Skyline (13-0) found its stride. Browne hit Sblendorio perfectly in stride with a 34-yard touchdown pass to push the score to 21-14 with 3:59 left in the half. Blake Young picked off Hennessey again, this time again at the Camas 1-yard line with under a minute left in the half. The Spartans ended up getting a 47-yard field goal from Sean McDonald right before halftime to push the lead to 24-14.
“They came out, didn’t make mistakes and capitalized when we did,” Hennessey. “We usually pride ourselves on playing a mistake-free game. That’s where it’s really disappointing, when you know you didn’t play your best.”
Browne shredded the Papermaker defense in the first half, completing 20 of 22 passes for 279 yards and two touchdowns.