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KALAMA — The Mountaineers, matched up against the two-time defending state champion Chinooks on their home turf, came up well short of a win here on Friday.

Despite the 46-14 loss, though, Rainier was able to tack on a few second-half highlights that should serve as keystones in the foundation the young squad has been building for the future.

Down 38-0 at halftime, the Mountaineers engineered a drive that saw senior Brody Klein power into the end zone from 5 yards out, and after a penalty on the Chinooks added their second touchdown when quarterback Mikey Green found freshman Jake Jeske in the far corner of the end zone.

The running clock at that point meant the scores were mostly academic, but the third-quarter production was a good sign for Rainier.

“We’re pretty happy with how the second half turned out,” first-year Mountaineer coach Andy Bartell said. “To come back out and score some points, and to play as hard as we did, it showed we never gave up.”

The Chinooks’ hot start, though, was too much to overcome. Kalama (8-2), the No. 3-seeded team in the State 2B playoffs, picked off a pass from Green on the first play of the game. The Chinooks scored four plays later when sophomore quarterback Jackson Esary scrambled backwards on fourth-and-11, darted back towards the line of scrimmage, and found running back Elijah Haynes in the back of the end zone.

They extended the lead on their next drive, when Esary hit Brennon Vance from 23 yards out on third-and-10, and caught a break when Rainier fumbled away the ball on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line.

“It just felt like we didn’t get all the way through the whistle, you know what I mean?” Bartell said. “Those little things happened to us. … We just had a couple things not go our way in the first half, or I think the ballgame could have went a lot different.”

Kalama, though, kept attacking through the air. Esary finished 14 of 20 passing for 229 yards and five touchdowns, and added a 7-yard rushing score in the second quarter. He also hit Vance for a 14-yard score in which Vance slipped on the turf between a pair of defenders and, while sliding, came up with the touchdown grab just eight seconds before halftime.

“The kid can throw the football,” Bartell said. “They put a couple balls in spots that I was very surprised (with). I think they’ve got a good shot to make a run at it, and they’ve got a good team.”

Still, the Mountaineers didn’t quit after the intermission.

“We were just talking about how, in the first half, obviously it wasn’t the best we could have played,” Green said. “I didn’t play the greatest. … We just had to come back and stay focused.”

Klein led the Mountaineers with 85 rushing yards on 14 carries, and Rainier managed 128 yards on the ground.

Vance, a senior, caught six passes for 125 yards to lead Kalama. Nate Anderson caught three passes for 50 yards with a 30-yard touchdown, and Jack Doerty caught four passes for 34 yards with a 14-yard third-quarter score.

Rainier finished the season with a 6-5 record, but those five losses came to Onalaska, Napavine, Adna and Kalama — four of the top five seeds in the State 2B playoff bracket. The additional loss was a 15-14 defeat at the hands of Toledo, the No. 10 seed in the bracket.

Rainier, the No. 4 team out of the SWW 2B League Mountain Division, beat Pe Ell-Willapa Valley in Menlo last Friday to reach the state playoffs.

Rainier has just five seniors on its roster and will return the bulk of its starting lineup next season, including Green, fullback Riffe Holmes, receiver Sean Mahaffey, and speedy freshmen Jeske and Jacob Uch.

“They’re a feisty group, and I don’t think they were too accustomed to winning and being in the playoffs all the time, so we’ve got to get that hungry in us a little bit, and this is a great start for them,” Bartell said. “I think we’re going to get there. With us being as young as we are, I think we’ve got a bright future.”

Green, the junior quarterback, agreed.

“For sure,” he said. “We’ll be back.”

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