DUFUR – The state championship game is upon us.
On the field in Cottage Grove at noon Saturday, the Dufur Rangers are looking for their 20th straight win, 12th this season, a ninth state title in school history, third in a row, and the No. 5-seeded Hosanna Christian Lions are the final road block standing in the way of 1A football immortality.
Dufur junior Abraham Kilby understands what is at stake in the grand scheme of things in his third straight trip to the final game.
“As far as getting to the state championship, it is just hard work and effort,” Kilby said. “We have had great leaders. I mean, I surely can’t do it without anybody on this team, because it is just so family. It is just family. Everyone pushes each other to the max and that’s just the way it is. It is going down by example. So, the leaders are teaching the freshmen that to do that and the freshmen are picking it up, and that’s just going to carry on.”
As big as the stage is, with everything on the line, Dufur head coach Jack Henderson does not want his team to overthink the magnitude of the situation, but rather focus on the basics of the game.
One of those areas involve getting off to a fast start in all phases of the game.
In last week’s 58-28 victory over Falls City, the Rangers had to find the inner resolve to fight back against an inspired Mountaineer team that was vying for the big upset, down 26-22 late in the second quarter.
“We need to become comfortable earlier in the game,” Henderson said. “We missed opportunities last week during the first quarter that we can’t afford to miss against Hosanna Christian. We have focused on preparing to be effective earlier in the game this week.”
There is no secret that the Lions (11-1 overall) has plans to run the ball and dominate time of possession.
In their 36-34 semifinal victory last week against cross-town rival Triad, the Lions rushed 55 times for 234 yards and held the ball for 30 minutes and 20 seconds, as the duo of running back Silas Sanchas and quarterback Waylan Cole combined for 202 yards and two scores on 40 rushing attempts.
Cole also racked up 200 yards passing on 9 of 18 completions with two touchdowns and an interception.
Hosanna, who has won six games in a row since a 42-16 regular-season loss on Oct. 6 to Triad, ranks fourth in scoring offense at 46.8 points a game.
“Hosanna Christian will run double-tight end stuff and then spread the field on the very next play. They give you a lot to prepare for,” Henderson said. “Sanchas runs the ball hard from his running back position and Cole can beat you with his feet and his arm. Nick Morris anchors both lines for Hosanna. He’s as good as anyone we’ve seen this year.”
On the year, the Dufur defense gives up 16.4 points a contest, 181 overall, for the 1A division’s No. 5 scoring defense.
After allowing 22 first-half points to Falls City, Dufur surrendered 146 total yards on 30 plays, 68 coming on a touchdown pass.
On defense, we’ve been focusing on a faster start and to reduce our penalties,” Henderson said. “It is important that we continue to stay sharp and be sure to do a better job of pinching down on their cutback lanes.”
On the other side of the ball, Dufur is the most prolific offense Hosanna Christian has faced this season, as this battle is between Derek Frakes, Ian Cleveland, Hagen Pence, Cole Kortge and a Ranger offensive unit that racks up 56.3 points a clip.
In their 30-point semifinal triumph, the Rangers finished with 492 total yards on 67 plays, 258 rushing on 44 carries.
Frakes completed 13 of 22 passes for 174 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. He also added 50 yards rushing and a score on six attempts, Pence hit for 92 yards rushing on 12 totes and a score, and Cleveland hit the end zone and racked up 73 yards on 15 rushes.
Through the air, Kortge caught six balls for 136 yards and a career-high three touchdowns, Crawford had 69 yards on five grabs, and Farrell had two catches equaling 21 yards and an end zone trip.
Hosanna’s defense, which ranks seventh in scoring at 17.4 points (214 points), gave up 498 yards on 59 plays, 250 coming through the ground game on 35 carries against Triad.
The Timberwolves had the ball inside the Hosanna 30-yard line four times and did not put any points on the board.
Sanchas and Cole make up the linebackers, and Morris will be the main figure on the line trying to put pressure on Frakes.
“They crowd the line of scrimmage in their 3-3 defense,” Henderson said. “They have a lot of people near the point of attack.”
In less than a handful of games this season, the Dufur Rangers have been in tough, physical tests, especially the last two playoff matchups versus Adrian and Falls City.
Last week, injuries and off-field setbacks besieged the Ranger roster, but Henderson said his group has recovered well, all things considering.
“For as beat up as we were last week, we performed well,” Henderson said. “Our kids, again, showed they have the grit to compete with anyone and can play through adversity. We are ready for this game. Our kids’ demeanor has been all business this week. We have an experienced core and that’s a huge help.”
Henderson has been on the Ranger sidelines since 1987 and has amassed a record of 253-87 in that span.
His 253 wins places him within the top-10 all-time in coaching victories, and his eight state titles ranks first in Oregon.
For Pence, this will be the last time during the school year that he will don his Ranger colors.
It is a humbling and emotional moment for him.
“This definitely means a lot to me, especially being a senior this year,” Pence said. “It is something I was hoping to accomplish with my team. I am so ecstatic. It is going to be great. We are going to go to the ‘ship and we will see what happens from there. We just have to show up and play.”
Radio station KYYT 102.3 FM broadcasts the game with a pregame show at 11:50 a.m., and a live stream can be found at www.gorgecountry.com.