The Gulls’ side of the football field is a sea of red; Astoria’s purple colors are more sparsely seen at the south end.
The high school band jams a sizzling medley of pregame tunes — bass drums pounding, snares tat-tatting and brass shouting.
Nearby lines form for snacks and for the single port-a-potty on the path to Broadway School.
But on this Friday night in September, the press box is the place to be.
The three-story structure is almost hidden, tucked between the bleachers, disguised by a storage area on the main floor.
Once you find the secret entrance and convince yourself it’s OK to stride the stairs, you arrive at a sportswriter’s hallowed ground.
A group of regulars scarcely looks up as a steady procession of visitors comes and goes — and through the course of the game, there are many, from former superintendent Doug Dougherty to assistant principal Jason Boyd. Outside, as the wind picks up and the skies open, others come for shelter or a run up to the third floor for a birds-eye view of the game.
Chairs are at a premium.
Upstairs are Tim Wunderlich — “Wundy” — and his Radio Clatsop broadcast partner John “Chappy” Chapman.
Each huddles over a large-print scorecard listing the players’ vital statistics. On the plywood counter is enough candy and cakes to make a Trick-or-Treater consider it a good night: Franz fruit pies, Hostess chocolate cupcakes, Peppermint Patties and more.
“They just don’t make Hostess cupcakes like they used to,” Chappy says. “There’s not enough frosting.”
“No Ding-Dongs?” Wundy gripes, scanning the hillocks of sweets.
Seaside High School math teacher Jim Poetsch — also the high school golf coach — operates the scoreboard and history teacher Mike Hawes the public address system.
At the end of the line is The Daily Astorian’s Gary Henley, so silent that I don’t see him at first, wearing an Oregon Ducks cap and diligently writing notes for Monday’s paper.
The Clatsop Clash is bigger than any trophy or award.
The battle of the Astoria Fishermen and the Seaside Seagulls represents a century of gridiron competition, pitting the two largest cities in a county where there is no pro or college ball. For the denizens of Clatsop, the greatest thrill is to watch young athletes brave the elements while cheerleaders implore the crowd to even greater heights of fervor, undeterred by lashing torrents of rain that would deter most mere mortals.
On the field this Friday night, it is all Gulls from the opening kickoff.
A series of Seaside stars — No. 3, Brayden Johnson, at wide receiver and defensive back; No. 25, Gio Ramirez, running back and linebacker; No. 2, Alexander Teubner, running back and safety; No. 6, Payton Westerholm, quarterback and defensive back; No. 8, Duncan Thompson, running back and linebacker — smother the Astoria offense and take the offensive stage with run after run, racking up 10, 15 and 20 yards and more.
Athletes play both offense and defense, a challenge that would quickly exhaust anyone older than 18.
Just when one weapon is utilized, another piece of the Gulls artillery enters, with backs batting away passes, tacklers stopping runners cold and ballhandlers dragging opponents for hard-earned extra yardage.
Gulls’ kicker Kaleb Bartel is so accurate he hits seven points-after kicks, and at one point prepares to kick a 40-yard field goal, although the attempt is whistled dead after a penalty sends them back.
And penalties may be the weak spot of the Gulls this night, as a few sparkling runs are negated by holding calls behind the line of scrimmage; a face mask nullifies another play.
If the Gulls hadn’t drawn so many whistles, who knows, the score might have been even more lopsided.
Seaside players ignore the elements until the rain starts to hurt and the ball spills out of players’ hands like a squirming pig.
In the stands, plastic tarpaulins and rain slickers blanket the crowd.
Signal photographer Jeff Ter Har roams the sidelines with an umbrella the size of a pup tent, pitching a tripod in the mud; the Astorian’s Colin Murphey confronts pelting rain and fogged lenses streaked by windswept pellets.
Before the game is done, the “mercy rule” is invoked, a recent addition to the Oregon State Athletic Association handbook, in which games of 45 points or more difference are either called or allowed to play without timeouts between plays.
The clock stops only after injury, heat or “unusual circumstances, such as a dog on field, etc.” For the Fisherman, the fourth quarter would have been the time to unleash the hounds. As someone once said, it’s easy to win, but it’s hard to lose.
Despite a few kerfuffles — 13 penalties for the Gulls, costing them 125 yards — the score piles up on Seaside’s behalf. Thompson scores with a 35-yard run and Westerholm surpasses even that with a 38-yard sprint.
The clock ticks down, and upstairs, when 0:00 hits, snacks are scooped up, chairs folded (or not) and the press box clears out, stories to be filed — just like at CenturyLink Field.