COTTAGE GROVE: Cascade Christian captured its fourth state title all-time, and first since 2017, with a wire-to-wire win over Kennedy, 41-6, on Saturday afternoon at the 2022 OSAA / OnPoint Community Credit Union 3A Football State Championship held at Cottage Grove High School. The win completed a dominant 13-0 run this season for the Challengers and handed the top-seeded Trojans (12-1) their only loss of the season.
The game was billed as a matchup between Cascade Christian’s high-powered offense, which averaged 51 points per game; and Kennedy’s defense, which yielded just 5.5 points per contest. Pundits, however, overlooked the Challenger defense, which was no slouch itself, yielding slightly more than a touchdown per contest. Cascade Christian’s offense lived up to its reputation and piled up 444 yards while scoring six times. The defense also shined, holding Kennedy to a total of 136 yards.
“We were ready to play,” said senior quarterback Keith Reed. “We knew everyone was going to say they’re the most physical team, they’re the best defense, they’ve allowed the least amount of points…We were going to show them who the best defense was.”
While the game finished with a running clock for the last 10+ minutes of the fourth quarter, the game could have been much closer had a key sequence of events late in the first quarter and into the second gone any other way than the improbable way it did.
“That was the game right there,” Cascade Christian coach Jon Gettman, in his 13th year, admitted.
The plays that went a long way towards deciding the outcome of the game began with Charlie Beyer of Kennedy kicking off following a Kennedy touchdown. The game was in the late stages of the first quarter, with Cascade Christian leading, 14-6.
Kicking off from the 35 after the Trojans were called for being offside, Beyer booted a deep kick left and in front of Cascade Christian’s deep man. The ball hit near the 10-yard line and took a crazy, caterwauling bounce to the right in front of star running back Kameron Rague. It then bounced behind him as he tried to corral it, then bounced in front of him again as he tried to pick it up. By then, Kennedy’s player were there and happy to be disruptive. When Kennedy senior Carlos Recendiz pounced on the ball at the five-yard-line, the Trojans appeared on the verge of tying the score.
While Cascade Christian coach Jon Gettman admitted to an “Oh crap!” moment seeing the kickoff defy gravity as the ball bounced anywhere but into Rague’s arms, he said there was no panic in his players when they would have to defend a short field. They looked at it as an opportunity to show Kennedy that Cascade Christian played defense, too.
Kennedy’s first two runs up the middle, one each by William Schaecher and Javier Rodriguez, gained a total of four yards. Matthew Moses, Cascade Christian’s 320-pound senior nose guard, played big in the trenches, making it hard for Trojan runners to find any crease. On third down and goal from the one, QB Elijah Traeger used his 6-3 frame to try to get across the plane. Moses was there again, penetrating the line and forcing Trager to stand up rather than lean over the goal line, as the first quarter expired with Kennedy inches away from pay dirt.
Facing fourth and inches as the second quarter began, Kennedy handed the ball to fullback Griffin Kilbourne. There was nowhere to go except up against the backs of his offensive linemen. Cascade Christian’s defense was unyielding. Kennedy was held out of the end zone by a prodigious and monumental goal line stand.
Reed, watching from the Cascade Christian sideline, said that watching his teammates come up big got everyone amped.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been that excited,” he said. “Matthew Moses just forklifts the center three times in a row and then Cole Shields and Triston Wallace kill the quarterback on those sneaks. That was just incredible to see!”
“We need to be able to punch that in and make it possibly a tie game in the first half,” said Kennedy coach Joe Panuke. “It would have been a different game.”
Despite the change of possession, Cascade Christian wasn’t out of the woods. Facing Kennedy’s vaunted defense, realistically the Challengers were hoping to create enough space for their punter. But any miscue so close to their goal line could spell disaster.
“We were hoping we could pin them there deep, force them to punt and have a chance to go score again there,” Panuke said.
On Cascade Christian’s first play, Reed took a shotgun snap from his end zone and burrowed his way for three yards. A pass play on second down netted just one more, setting up third-and-six.
That’s when Drew Hall stepped up big. The 6-3 sophomore went horizontal to snare Reed’s pass for 10 yards and a huge first down at the Challenger 15.
“Once we got to the point, there’s a play we’ve been repping for three weeks now,” Gettman said. “It was the time to call it.”
Reed rolled left and threw a wobbly spiral to Peyton Maurer, another 6-3 receiver. Maurer had gotten behind the defense. The ball hit him in stride. The play covered 56 yards before Traeger made the tackle at the Kennedy 29-yard-line.
It took only three more plays for Cascade Christian to complete the 99-yard drive. Wallace, part of an effective tailback tandem with Rague, gained the first 15. Rague, a tall, fast sophomore, finished the drive by racing through a gaping hole untouched for the score. The extra point was good.
Unbelievably, improbably, Cascade Christian led 21-6.
“That was the game right there,” Gettman admitted. “Getting the stop, then boom boom boom! That was a pretty quick drive that we scored. That’s where the game was decided.”
The game started at 4:30 p.m. in clear but cold conditions. Wind would not be a factor in the game to determine the best of 3A.
Kennedy being in the championship game was no surprise when considering that the Trojans had played for the state title the previous three times the championships were held, winning in 2018 and placing second in 2019 and 2021.
But that was in 2A. When that classification went to 9-player football this year, Kennedy opted to move up to 3A and continue playing 11-player football. Despite playing a division higher, the Trojans dominated, outscoring teams, 36 to 6, on average, all the way to the championship game.
Cascade Christian was a perennial 3A state contender, so the Challengers back in the championship game for the first time since placing second in 2018 was no surprise. They reached the quarterfinals in 2021 before losing by five to Siuslaw, the eventual state champs.
That team had just five seniors, making Cascade Christian one of the pre-season favorites in 3A. The Challengers lived up to that reputation, winning every game on their slate by three touchdowns or more heading to the final versus Kennedy.
Despite the evidence of their domination on every scoreboard after every game in 2022, Cascade Christian’s players felt like they still had more to prove facing Kennedy and that storied defense.
“They were the most physical team in the state, apparently, but I don’t think 41-6 says they’re the most physical team,” Reed said.
Evidence of Kennedy’s defensive toughness was apparent on Cascade Christian’s opening drive. Yards were simply hard to come by. The Challengers did earn a first down, when Reed ran for four on fourth and 1 from the Cascade Christian 32, but Traeger almost came up with an interception on an out route and Matt Hopkins stuffed a third-down run up the gut, forcing a punt.
Kennedy took over at its own 29 and gained 17 yards on two Schaecher runs. But the game took a turn on the next play, when Traeger rolled left to throw and held on to the ball too long. Senior Brody Sample made the first of his many game-changing plays, not only by grabbing Traeger behind the line of scrimmage, but by snaring Traeger’s fumble when the ball squirted up in the air.
Cascade Christian capitalized by scoring in three plays. The key play was a swing pass to Tyler Almasy, good for 28 yards, which produced a first-and-goal from the 10. Reed finished the drive by following his blockers to the end zone from five yards out. Cascade Christian led, 7-0, midway through the first quarter.
Cascade Christian’s defense shined on Kennedy’s next possession. Sample and Shields were stout at the point of attack and Hall broke up a third down pass, resulting in a 3-and-out for the Trojans. A shanked punt on fourth down gave Cascade Christian the ball at the Kennedy 48-yard line.
On the Challengers’ first play, Reed went for a home run ball down the left sideline into double coverage. The “perfectly imperfect” pass waffled into Sample’s arms for a 38-yard play, as he adjusted while the Kennedy defense did not. Two Reed runs later, Cascade Christian led 14-0, adding a second touchdown just two minutes after its first.
Kennedy needed a drive to get back into the game and got one. It started with Owen Bruner’s long kickoff return to the Cascade Christian 40. Two Schaecher runs produced a Trojan first down. Two Javier Rodriguez carries followed and netted another first. Rodriguez’ third tote, off tackle from three yards out, produced Kennedy’s only touchdown. Wallace blocked the extra point try but the Trojans were on the board, down by just one score, with plenty of time to come back and win the game.
That’s when the pivotal sequence of plays occurred…
Cascade Christian scored once more before the half ended to go up by three touchdowns, 27-6. The drive covered 81 yards and featured two Rague runs to get the Challengers a first down after a holding penalty put them behind the chains. A Reed option run for 24 yards was another big play in the drive, which culminated with Shields, uncovered in the flat, scoring from eight yards out on a Reed pass.
Panuke said that Kennedy was still in the game after 24 minutes.
“We were still there,” he said. “I never stopped believing in those guys. We needed to come out and put a good drive together. We were down three scores. Chip away. It didn’t happen for us. It wasn’t for lack of effort.”
That “good drive” came up two links on the chain short.
Ashton Moody stopped Rodriguez on a fourth-down run from the Kennedy 36-yard line, stuffing Kennedy’s first possession of the half and allowing Cascade Christian to take over deep in Trojan territory. The Challengers cashed in on the second play thereafter, as Reed found Hall running a streak along the numbers. The sophomore received shrugged off holding and found an extra gear to snag the aerial by its nose before tumbling into the end zone to complete the 31-yard scoring strike. With a little more than two minutes gone by in the third quarter, Cascade Christian was a touchdown and extra point away from sending a state championship game between two unbeaten teams to running time!
The next three drives – two for Kennedy and one for Cascade Christian – produced no points. The highlights were interceptions: Safety Ethan Kleinschmidt for Kennedy after Reed tried for a home run ball; and Rague for Cascade Christian after Trager’s deep, desperation pass on fourth-and-19.
Cascade Christian took over at its own five-yard line with 5:27 remaining in the third quarter and imposed its will on Kennedy with a soul-crushing 13-play, 95-yard drive that consumed seven minutes on the clock. Ten of the plays were runs, including a 20-yard dash that Rague was a half-step away from taking to the house. Sample finished the drive on a 20-yard scoring pass. And, when Mason Hoffman’s conversion was good, giving Cascade Christian a 35-point lead, all that remained was for the clock to run down the final 10 minutes before the coach’s Gatorade bath, the hugs, the happy tears and the trophy raise.
“They’re a good football team,” said Coach Panuke of Kennedy. “We knew we were a good football team, too. We knew we could play with those guys. We knew we belonged here. We just didn’t have our best night tonight.”
“Obviously, we needed to score more points,” he continued. “You have to make plays when they’re there. They are good defensively. We tried pushing the ball down the field. They covered us. We tried running different things offensively. They’re good. They were fast, physical and well-coached.”
Reed was named Moda Health Player of the Game for the victorious Challengers. The senior was 14-for-16 through the air for 238 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for 51 yards and two touch downs.
“Our offensive line was better than theirs and our offensive line is what we ran through most of the year and they dominated,” Reed said. “It’s all on them. Those five guys.”
That line included Moses, Jaxson Turituri, Liam Benade, Daniel Nering and Jack Knips.
Rague complemented Reed’s big night with 119 yards on the ground. Sample was sensational on both sides of the ball, accumulating 77 yards receiving while forcing a fumble among his two tackles for loss. Shields also had a forced fumble and sack and led the Challengers in tackles for the game.
Cascade Christian imposed its will from start to finish and earned the state title against a good, fast, competitive Kennedy squad.
“As a football coach you absolutely want to do that,” Gettman said. “They were a good, physical team, but our kids, the way they’ve been practicing, to me it was another gear. It’s awesome to see the culmination of their hard work.”
“I looked at Kennedy,” the coach continued. “What they put on film, they looked like the most athletic team we faced. Our kids executed and when the big moments were there, they rose to those moments.”
Reed was hard to miss after the game. His sky lit up the field even more than the waning crescent moon.
“Running clock against a 12-0 team…That’s something special,” he said.
“That was perfect.”
“I wouldn’t change a thing.”