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Wildcats running back Austin Popoff breaks through the middle for a nice gain in the first half of their 3-0 win over Sunnyside. 

After their nail-biting victories over Wenatchee and Sunnyside, this year’s Eastmont Wildcats became the only team in school history to beat the rival Panthers three-straight years and earn two consecutive Big 9 titles.

Their reward?

A five-hour trek down US-97 into Clark County for a Saturday afternoon game against the No. 2 ranked Camas Papermakers in the first round of the state tournament.

Travel is one thing, the matchup is another — and Eastmont’s defense is going to have its hands full against the Papermakers’ balanced attack.

Though Camas will be without its starting quarterback Jake Blair, who’s season ended prematurely with an injury, senior backup Blake Ascuitto has filled in nicely, throwing for 443 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions in two starts. Just last week, Ascuitto completed 15-of-25 passes for 307 yards and two touchdowns; led Camas to a 48-13 win over Olympia.

The Papermakers running back, Jacques Badolato-Birdsell finished third in the Greater St. Helens League (GSHL) in rushing with 907 yards and paced the league with 17 TDs. And their leading wide receiver, Jackson Clemmer, despite having just 29 receptions on the season, racked up 745 receiving yards and caught 12 TDs.

But all of those numbers could prove meaningless against the stout Wildcats defense, which has shown its teeth over the last couple of weeks.

Eastmont finished a close second behind Wenatchee in total defense, but overall the secondary shined this season and forced double-digit interceptions with Oscar Calvillo (4) and Chance Garcia (4) tied for the team lead. Senior corner Wesley McIlwaine, who was named Big 9 co-defensive MVP Thursday, has been every bit as good and will likely trail Camas’ Clemmer for a good portion of the game.

If McIlwaine, Calvillo, Garcia can contain Camas through the air and make the Papermakers one-dimensional they will have a chance — but it’s going to be a dogfight in the trenches.

Offensively, Eastmont needs to get Carson Tally, Austin Popoff, Corbin Keys (who combined for 2,533 rushing yards and 28 TDs in the regular season) going early and hope they can control the clock and keep Camas off the field as much as possible.

That drag-it-out, hard-nosed style of football plays right into Eastmont’s skill set, and it’s what’s going to have to happen for the Wildcats to pull out the upset over the undefeated Papermakers (10-0).

The winner will get either Puyallup or Eastlake in the quarterfinals.

Kickoff on Saturday is at 2 p.m. For Eastmont fans unable to make the trip, you can listen to the game on 105.9FM in Wenatchee or at korelp.com. The Wenatchee World will also have full coverage posted after the game online.