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  • Ednold

Championship Saturday 11/27/21

As seems to be the case each Championship Saturday, this Saturday was packed full of more sporting events than anyone could possibly keep track of. But the Arsenal game started at 4:00am, so Gabriel Martinelli scored to secure that win, and assure my fantasy team’s loss, long before the football started. Which gave me time to prepare my breakfast of champions - Grits “All The Way” - and otherwise prepare myself for an afternoon in my chair juggling the onslaught of soccer, football, and basketball that my various devices were plucking magically out of thin air. For the first time in two years championship trophies would be presented for Oregon high school football, and 2.5 teams would be attempting to defend their 2019 championships this year. There were two 6A games at Hillboro Stadium on Friday, where #4 Central Catholic beat #9 Jesuit and #3 Tualatin beat #2 West Linn. Those two winners will meet next weekend in Hillsboro for the championship, but ten other teams would decide their fate on the field this day, and I would be following each one.

If you remember my story from two years ago, you’ll recall that I likened myself to Snowman from Smokey and The Bandit. I was gonna do what they said can’t be done. I guess that still applies, but this will be more like the sequel, Smokey and The Bandit II. I hope it’s not as disappointing as the movie but I’ll basically be doing the same thing over again, tuning in my television, phone, and laptop to follow the games and trying to keep track of all of the action, so I hope you don’t think I’m above copying and pasting parts of that story from two years ago where I can get away with it. It worked for Burt Reynolds.

Things got started at Cottage Grove High School, where the #1 ranked Siuslaw Vikings were taking on the #3 South Umpqua Lancers in the 3A title game. Both of the teams compete in Special District 2 and Siuslaw were champions of the northern division of the league while South Umpqua were champions of the south, but they hadn’t faced each other during the regular season. The only blemish on either team’s record was South Umpqua’s loss to a team from Washington in the final week of the regular season, but they had bounced back and knocked off defending champion Santiam Christian in the quarterfinals, so this looked to be a pretty tight contest. These two teams had met in the title game in 1981 and the result was a scoreless tie, but there are no ties anymore so someone would be coming out on top this year. In addition to that 1981 game, Siuslaw has played for the championship three other times, losing in 1974 and 2011, and winning in 2006. South Umpqua lost the championship game in 1975, had another tie in 1976, and won in 1977.

Ten years ago, when Siuslaw played in their last championship game, they were a 4A team. Things went downhill from there and after finishing the season 1-7 in 2017 they were reclassified and began competing at the 3A level. They went 0-8 the next year, but in 2019 they were 6-4 and made the playoffs. Maybe this is a good illustration of how reclassification can revive programs that are having trouble. Maybe this is exhibit A of how successful this process can be. But whether or not Siuslaw wins this game I hope there’s some stipulation that requires them to compete at the correct level of competition next season. For some reason it doesn’t seem right that they should even be eligible to take a trophy that should rightfully go to a real 3A team. But that’s just my opinion.

Siuslaw scored early and it looked like they might be too much for the Lancers defense to handle, but from then on it was a defensive struggle on both sides. South Umpqua threatened a few times but managed only two field goals from their German exchange student Juri Moros before halftime, and the Vikings went to the break with an 8-6 lead. The Lancers got close enough again in the third quarter for Moros, who scored 22 goals for the soccer team this season, to kick another field goal and South Umpqua took a 9-8 into the fourth quarter. But they couldn’t hang on, allowing a late Viking touchdown, and Siuslaw were state champions for the first time in fifteen years, 14-9.

Just about the time Siuslaw was retaking the lead in Cottage Grove, the Adrian Antelopes and Powder Valley Badgers were taking the field at Baker High School to compete for the 1A title. Adrian are the .5 team that were attempting to defend their title from two years ago, kind of. In 2019 the Adrian/Jordan Valley Antelopes were champions, but this year they are just the Adrian Antelopes, without their sidekicks from Jordan Valley, so it would be interesting to see if they could reach the same heights on their own. Would they be the Paul Simon of that duo and have continued success? Or would they turn out to be the Art Garfunkel's of that duo, destined never to win another title after attempting a solo career? We would soon find out.

Adrian, the champions of the eastern division of Special District 2, had a 12-0 record and had won their first 3 playoff games by a total score of 208-26. They had also beaten Powder Valley earlier this season 38-0. Powder Valley plays in that same division of that same league and their only defeat this season was that loss to Adrian. They had won their first three playoff games 152-42.

These two teams were definitely in a class by themselves, and for a while it looked like Powder Valley had improved enough since their earlier match-up with Adrian that they might be the ones taking home the trophy. They took a 16-14 lead into halftime in what passes for a defensive standoff in 8-man football. The scoring picked up in the second half and twice during the game the Badgers held ten point leads, but the Antelopes (or Lopes, as they are called) found ways to stay within striking distance and scored two touchdowns in the final five minutes to win 46-38. It was a tough loss for Powder Valley, but they can say they were the only team that really gave the Lopes a tough game all season. And Adrian can say they didn’t really need those guys from Jordan Valley after all.

In addition to the action on the field, one of the funnest parts of this game was listening to the announcers try to keep track of all of the Martins and call each by his correct name. The Badgers had Cole, Clay and Tucker, while the Lopes had Conley and Jace. Most of the time five of the sixteen players on the field were Martins and the announcers had a good time correcting each other often.

And as the Lopes were scoring those final points, things were getting going again in Cottage Grove as well as in Hillsboro. The 9-1 Coquille Red Devils were facing the 11-1 Kennedy Trojans in the 2A championship in Cottage Grove while the Thurston Colts were trying to defend their title against the Silverton Silver Foxes in the 5A championship at Hillsboro Stadium.

As things got started in Cottage Grove, Kennedy was probably thinking that this was their year. They had lost the title game in 2019 to a Heppner team that had been #1 this season until losing in the semi-finals last week, and their only loss this season had been a close game to that same Heppner team. Early on it looked like they might run away with the game after scoring two touchdowns in the first ten minutes of the game. But Coquille was coming off an 8-6 win over Heppner, so I knew they weren’t going to go down that easily. I didn’t get to see that game against Heppner and wondered how they had managed to pull it off. Now I know. Coquille didn’t throw a single pass this entire game. Not one. They never threw a pass! But they ran for over 500 yards and one running back, Gunner Yates, ran the ball 23 times and averaged 17 yards per carry. So after those two early Kennedy touchdowns, it was pretty much all Coquille for the next 3 quarters. They went to halftime tied at 14, then the Devils stepped on the gas and led 38-21 before Kennedy managed another touchdown with just a few minutes left in the game, making the final score 38-28 .

After watching Kennedy handily win their first round playoff game a few weeks ago it was stunning to listen to the difficulty they had stopping the Red Devil running attack. It was the sixth loss for the Trojans in seven trips to the final game, and their second runner-up finish in a row. Coquille, on the other hand, has now won two title games in as many tries, the first coming in 1970.

Meanwhile, in Hillsboro, it looked like Silverton might easily dethrone the defending champs from Thurston. They capitalized on a few fumbles and other mistakes by the Colts’ offense and led 23-0 after the first ten minutes. But from that point on they could manage only a single field goal, and both defenses dominated the action. Thurston eventually got a few big plays from their offense that, along with an interception return for a touchdown, got them within six points with eight minutes left in the game. That’s when the Silverton offense, which had done nothing since that first quarter, converted just enough first downs to keep possession of the ball to secure the win, 26-20.

This was a game defined by just a handful of big plays for both teams. The majority of the time neither offense could do anything against the opposing defense and Thurston finished the game with 20 rushing yards; Silverton was little better at 33 yards. Thurston managed 112 passing yards to Silverton’s 183. Thurston had 14 tackles for loss; Silverton had 8. Maybe the craziest stat was the time of possession: Thurston had the ball for just 13 minutes of the 48. Yet somehow the outcome was in doubt right to the end. It was strange, but it made for an exciting game.

When it was over, Silverton had earned their second state championship, the first coming in 1991. They’ve been on the losing end three other times. The Thurston Colts lost the 2008 title game before winning back-to-back titles in 2018 and 2019. That 2019 team was undefeated, as was this year's team before this game, so it was their first loss in quite a while.

With the first four games over, I had a little time before the start of the finale, the 4A game in Cottage Grove. I took the time to bake a batch of graham cracker cookies and take a lap around the neighborhood. So far, the Adrian Antelopes were the only repeat champions, and the Coquille Red Devils had been the only team to pull off an upset in the title game. The final game of the day would be a matchup of two teams with a lot of experience playing for titles, but would be the first championship match-up between the two. It would be the tenth championship game for the Marist Spartans and they have a 5-4 record in those games, their last championship coming in 2009. Marshfield has played for a championship eight times, losing half of them. Their last championship came in 1992.

Marshfield got things started with two long scoring drives in the first quarter, but Marist answered with a touchdown of their own to make it 14-7 after one quarter. But that was just a warm-up for the second quarter, which saw Marist score three touchdowns. Unfortunately for them, the Marshfield quarterback caught fire at the same time and threw for four more touchdowns in that single quarter, giving him five touchdown passes by halftime and making it 42-27 at the break. I didn’t catch fire myself, but I did take the opportunity of the break in the action to set one in the fire pit out back where I listened to the final half of football of the day on my phone. It was an oddly warm night for late November and the fire was almost unnecessary, but it’s a tradition now. A tradition that global warming will probably render completely superfluous before long.

The defenses obviously made some adjustments at halftime because there was no scoring at all in the third quarter before each team managed one more touchdown in the fourth to make the final score Marshfield: 49, Marist: 34. It was another exciting game, with Marist closing to within 8 with over ten minutes to play, but after the teams traded unsuccessful possessions after that, Marshfield put together another scoring drive that sealed the win.

And that was that. Another championship Saturday had come to an end along with another season, almost. The 6A heavies will go at it next weekend, but for everyone else the season is over. That includes all of the 1A six-man teams, who don’t even have playoffs or crown a champion. But once again those six-man teams held an unofficial state championship with the best team from west of the mountains taking on the best team from the east. Conveniently, there was one undefeated team on each side and they met at Crook County High School on November 6. It was the 8-0 Powers Cruisers vs. the 9-0 Wheeler County Rattlers from Mitchell/Fossil/Spray. When I heard they would be playing each other it occurred to me that I may be the only person in the state, or even in the whole world, who saw both teams play a home game this season, and here they were playing for the unofficial championship. I didn’t watch the game or listen to it, so all I can tell you is the final score, but the Rattlers came out on top 53-13. Both trips had been among my favorites and I would have been happy to see either team win.

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