Wilsonville had to overcome more than the state's stingiest defense in a 5A football semifinal against Bend at Barlow High School on Friday night.
A wave of illness swept over the Wildcats last week, forcing 12 players to sit out the game and several others to play at less than full strength. And Friday night, they had to deal with cold temperatures and a stiff east wind blowing out of the Columbia River Gorge.
Wilsonville coach Adam Guenther was among those most affected.
“I only vomited three times on the sidelines,” Guenther said. “It was a miserable night. First time in 24 years I didn't ride the bus home.”
Still, No. 2 Wilsonville (10-2) was able to fight through it and beat No. 3 Bend 23-14. The Wildcats will go for their first title since 2004 when they meet No. 1 Summit (11-1) in the final Friday at Hillsboro Stadium.
“The kids played with a lot of grit,” Guenther said. “We always say it's mind over matter, and when it really matters the most, let your mind take over, and your body will follow.”
Wilsonville managed only 211 yards against a Bend defense that recorded seven shutouts this season. With the wind at their backs, though, the Wildcats broke a 14-14 tie in the fourth quarter by driving 83 yards for a touchdown and getting a 37-yard field goal from senior Greg Keswick.
“We couldn't do anything into the wind,” Guenther said. “Their defense was stout, and it was 40 to 50 mph gusts. Trying to throw into that wind was a nightmare. And they're tough. It's the first time I can honestly say we were bigger than the other team, but man, they got after it. They bullied us.”
Early in the fourth quarter, Wilsonville held on fourth-and-two at its own 17-yard line, stopping a sneak by Bend senior quarterback Logan Malinowski for no gain. Junior defensive back Kallen Gutridge and senior lineman Jonatan Lazaro-Hampton led the defensive charge.
“They called a timeout, and we just called our guys over and go, 'This is the game. Who wants it more right now?'” Guenther said. “It was just a stalemate, a scrum.”
Senior Jacob Ogden scored the go-ahead touchdown on a one-yard run to make it 20-14. Keswick's field goal extended the lead to 23-14 with 1:45 remaining.
Guenther broke from his usual schedule by forgoing a Saturday workout to allow his players to recuperate. Guenther said he was in bed from late Friday night to late Sunday morning.
“I haven't even watched our film. That's how sick I've been,” he said. “I'm behind in our scouting.”
Wilsonville gets a rematch with Summit. The Wildcats lost at Summit 33-21 in Week 4.
“I do believe we're the two best teams left standing,” Guenther said. “But they're legit. They're good from top to bottom. Our guys are excited to get another shot at them.”
Riding the wind
The wind also was a major factor Saturday at Barlow in a 4A semifinal between No. 6 Tillamook and No. 2 La Grande. Six of the seven touchdowns came with the wind at the scorer's back.
Tillamook won the coin toss, but rather than taking the ball, took the wind.
“That was a big deal for us,” Cheesemakers coach Kye Johnson said. “We deal with that at Tillamook. I've been on the wrong end of some games before where you just get behind the eight-ball because you're driving into the wind.”
Going into the wind, La Grande turned it over on its first three possessions as Tillamook got a fumble recovery from senior Sam Diaz and interceptions by senior Parker McKibbin and junior Eligio Maciel. The Cheesemakers took a 14-0 lead on touchdown runs of six and five yards by senior Judah Werner.
With Tillamook leading 14-7 at half, Johnson said the main discussion among the coaches was about if La Grande would choose to start the second half with the wind. The Tigers opted to kick into the wind.
“Honestly, we were kind of grateful for that,” Johnson said.
Aided by the wind, the Cheesemakers opened a 28-7 lead as Werner added touchdown runs of one and seven yards, the latter on the last play of the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter, La Grande got within 28-21 with 5:05 left. The Tigers got the ball back and drove to the Tillamook 38-yard line, but senior Tyler Moncrief made an interception with 1:35 remaining to seal the win.
In all, Tillamook's defense had three interceptions and three fumble recoveries. Johnson said that his defense – led by coordinator Dan Seaholm, a former Tillamook quarterback – has been playing at a high level all season.
“The secret's out that we can force turnovers and get after it, play very physically,,” Johnson said. “Our defense, as much as anything, is why we're playing in the state championship game.”
The Cheesemakers (10-2) will go for their first title Saturday when they play No. 5 Estacada (11-1) in the final at Hillsboro Stadium. They have made the final only one other time, losing to South Umpqua 35-7 in 1977.
“We've been kind of laying low and enjoying being under the radar,” Johnson said. “I think we were overlooked a little bit.”
Talk of the town
Another team on the brink of its first state championship is Weston-McEwen of Athena.
The seventh-seeded TigerScots (9-2) came back from a 22-6 halftime deficit to defeat No. 3 Colton 31-30 in a 2A semifinal Saturday at Barlow, getting a two-yard touchdown run from sophomore Easton Berry with nine seconds left to go ahead.
“We're on a run here, and it's been a joy,” said coach Kenzie Hansell, a 1999 Hermiston graduate who played receiver at Washington State.
The Weston Tigers were B-8 runners-up in 1964, and after merging with the McEwen Scotties in 1974, they lost in the 2A final to Dayton in 1996. They will play for the title Saturday at Hillsboro Stadium against No. 1 Oakland, a team they beat 24-16 in Week 2.
The last two weeks, the town has given the team a send-off down Main Street, escorted by an ambulance and fire truck. The team will have another send-off this week.
“It's a big deal for everybody,” Hansell said. “I've told the kids, 'It's OK to pinch yourself and enjoy this, and have fun with it. This is something that you don't get given, you earn it.' We're going to take our third trip down the Gorge, and we couldn't be more excited to represent something bigger than ourselves.”
The TigerScots have new starters at 13 of 18 positions this season. They have won six in a row since back-to-back losses to Umatilla and Heppner, upsetting No. 2 Lowell 27-21 in the quarterfinals.
They showed their character by rallying in the second half to beat the Vikings (10-2) on Saturday.
“We didn't play our best in the first half,” Hansell said. “Colton was doing a lot of things right. We started making plays.”
Hansell and his family are fourth-generation farmers in Hermiston and Athena. His brother, Luke, is the team's defensive coordinator.
“Having that opportunity to coach alongside my brother is truly a dream come true,” Kenzie Hansell said.
It went down as Oregon's first official 1A-6 title, but for Spray/Mitchell/Wheeler, it had all the makings of a repeat.
The fourth-seeded Rattlers (10-1) claimed the blue trophy Saturday at Caldera High School with a 32-13 win over No. 2 Triangle Lake, the same team they defeated 30-0 to take the unofficial championship last year.
“By far this season was more difficult than last year,” Rattlers coach Jerry Anderson said. “We had a target on our backs each game this year. And last year, we surprised everyone, even ourselves. We didn't know any better, honestly.
“I pushed this team with the question, 'What do you want your legacy to be? One-time champ or back-to-back?' And they certainly responded.”
One of the main differences this season was the play of senior quarterback Carter Boise. Mostly a passer last season, he spent more time running this year, rushing for 148 yards and three touchdowns in the final. He also passed for 162 yards and one score.
“We definitely relied on Carter Boise more,” Anderson said.
The co-op team calls itself the Wheeler County Rattlers. This year's roster was composed of 13 players from Spray, five from Wheeler and four from Mitchell.
The team had seven international students who live in dorms at Spray and Mitchell. The group includes two key contributors in senior kicker Damian Dobias (Slovakia) and junior defensive end Paco de la Vega Fernandez (Spain).
Dobias, a soccer player, gave the team a new element by drop-kicking extra points.
“He has great control of the ball,” Anderson said.
De la Vega Fernandez (5-8, 170) was new to the sport this year. He earned a starting spot midway through the season.
“He says he'll give rugby a try when he gets back home,” Anderson said.