ROSEBURG -- As the minutes ticked away in the third quarter Saturday night, Thurston’s chances at a repeat 5A football title appeared to be in serious jeopardy.
Midwestern League rival Crater, a team the Colts had beaten comfortably in the third week of the season, held a three-point lead and had found a way to slow down Thurston’s high-powered offense in an emotionally charged struggle.
“You get a little tense there, but you’ve just got to keep it calm,” Colts senior quarterback Cade Crist said.
In an instant, though, senior running back Wesley Kommer provided just what the top-seeded Colts needed, propelling them to a 14-10 win over the second-seeded Comets in the OSAA/OnPoint Community Credit Union 5A final on a frigid, wet night at Roseburg High School.
Kommer exploited a crease in the Crater defense for a 41-yard touchdown run to put Thurston ahead late in the third quarter, and the defense did the rest, turning back two fourth-quarter threats as the Colts (13-0) completed a perfect season.
“It was a little stressful before that, but once we got up, we felt a little bit of momentum,” Thurston senior lineman Grant Starck said. “It felt like we were good, felt like we were going to get this.”
The Colts (13-0) followed a magical 2018 season, in which they won their first title by beating Wilsonville 30-27 in a dramatic final, with a dominant run in 2019. Their closest regular-season game was a 31-20 win over Crater, and they won their previous three playoff games by an average of 36.3 points.
“It was so hard,” Crist said. “You’ve got all these expectations on you, and you’re No. 1 all year, and you’ve really just got to put your head down and not worry about anything else, and just go to work. I’m just so happy I was able to do it with these guys.”
It marked Starck’s last game playing for his father, Colts coach Justin Starck, before heading off to a college career at Nevada.
“That’s probably the best part, to do this with him,” Grant Starck said. “It’s really special to be able to do this when I’m a senior.”
In Thurston’s first game against Crater this season, Crist passed for 385 yards and three touchdowns. But Crist struggled to make big plays Saturday, completing 16 of 21 passes for 105 yards and no touchdowns with one interception.
The Colts needed a big game from Kommer, and they got it, as the 5-foot-9, 205-pounder rushed for 193 yards on 24 carries. For the season, Kommer rushed for 2,031 yards and 34 touchdowns despite suffering a broken wrist in the opener and playing the rest of the year in a cast.
“He was on a mission,” Crist said of Kommer. “He wanted to be the best running back Lane County had ever seen, and I think he really accomplished it. He was so focused all year. It just shows how tough he is. He’s the toughest kid I know, and he’s going to battle through anything to be there for us.”
Kommer got Thurston started in the first quarter Saturday by busting loose for a 54-yard run, setting up a one-yard touchdown run by Crist for a 7-0 lead.
Crater (11-2) tied it 7-7 on the next series when senior Trever Davis connected with junior Trevor Jaasko on a 68-yard bomb. Midway through the second quarter, the Comets took advantage of a high snap on a Thurston punt to take a 10-7 lead on a 29-yard field goal by Davis.
The Colts had a golden opportunity when junior Jeremy Foss recovered a fumble at the Crater 18-yard line on the second-half kickoff, but Comets senior Bruce Cwiklinski blocked a 34-yard field-goal attempt by sophomore Gavin Levesque.
Two series later, Kommer came through. On third-and-six at the Crater 41, he busted through the line, made a sharp cut and raced to the end zone to put Thurston up 14-10.
“I noticed that they went to a five-man D-line, like a Bear front, and I even looked over at Cade and I said, ‘Bear, Bear,’” Kommer said. “Next thing you know, touchdown. They usually have that three-linebacker set, and I only saw one of them back there. In those fronts, you get to the second level and there’s a good chance of you breaking all the way, and that’s what happened.”
Crater got a big break early in the fourth quarter when sophomore linebacker Caden Lasater tipped a Crist pass and Cwiklinski intercepted at the Thurston 30. Two plays later, though, Davis was intercepted in the end zone by Colts senior Santino Stranieri.
The Comets drove to the Thurston 16 on their final possession, but after they were pushed back by a holding penalty, Davis’ fourth-down pass into the end zone was intercepted by senior Kyle Casley with 1:57 left.
The Colts ran out the clock.
“When we had an opportunity to make a play, we didn’t make them,” Crater coach Randy Waite said. “We got some turnovers in the red zone, and we just couldn’t get anything going offensively, and that’s a credit to their defense.”
Thurston held the Comets to 179 total yards. Davis completed 7 of 21 passes for 99 yards and one touchdown with three interceptions. Crater senior running back Gavin Acrey, who rushed for 245 yards in the first meeting between the teams, finished with 20 yards on 11 carries.
“Their defense was locked down,” Acrey said. “It was a lot harder to run against them this time. Their linebackers pursued really well. They tightened up the things they needed to and played good.”
Thurston coach Starck said the game was “knock-down, drag-out.”
“Lot of penalties, real heated, real emotional,” he said. “But our kids had the mental toughness to finish in the end. We ran the ball, and had some big catches in spots. We really just had to play good, conservative football, and just play great defense.”