COTTAGE GROVE – In his 30 years as Dufur’s football coach, Jack Henderson has racked up a 254-87 overall record, with nine state championships, including three in a row twice, from 1999-2001 and 2015-2017.
Moments after the undefeated Rangers captured their third consecutive state crown, 60-18, over Hosanna Christian on Saturday from Cottage Grove High School, the future Hall of Famer had a chance to soak in his journey – the ups and downs, the trials and tribulations, and the failures and successes.
It has not been an easy road, to say the least, but one he appreciates.
“It is humbling to think back over the history of where this program has been, where we started, how we struggled for a while and then got things going,” Henderson said. “It goes to show that cool things can happen when you have positive energy and everyone pulling in the same direction. I think our program has that, so it is just amazing to be a part of this. I know I have been here the whole time, but I am just a part of it. I remember getting on the bus after a loss to St. Paul in the state championship game in ’92, thinking we were never going to win a state championship. Now, we are in rarified air, we really are, and it is pretty amazing.”
Through the 1A state playoffs, wins over Lowell, Adrian, Falls City and Hosanna Christian, Dufur’s No. 6-ranked scoring defense (16.5 points a game) allowed 794 yards, 282 rushing, posted 15 sacks, forced 10 turnovers and an 8 for 50 conversion rate on third downs.
“The first couple of seasons where we won, it was more of an offensive battle and a close game, but this season, we rose up playing better defense and exceeded our expectations,” said senior Curtis Crawford, who had 11 tackles, 5.5 for loss, a sack and a fumble recovery. “We are more of a defensive team and we just came out and showed it today. We all just went out there flying around and played our best defensive game of the season in the biggest game of our careers.”
In Saturday’s matchup, the Ranger defense delivered their signature hard-hitting style, holding Hosanna Christian to 264 yards, 105 on the ground, with an interception, four sacks, and 12 tackles for loss, adding a momentum-changing fourth down stop on their one-yard line with one minute and 49 seconds left in the half and the team ahead, 22-6.
Following that stand, Dufur went on a six-play, 99-yard drive, capped by a 12-yard touchdown pass from Derek Frakes to Cole Kortge.
Hagen Pence added the conversion rush to give the Rangers a 30-6 lead at the half.
“That changed the game,” Pence said. “That play gave us so much momentum, because it showed us that we can do it and that we can push them back. We came in with the mentality that they can’t win the game on us. We were there, and we controlled the game. We knew this was our game and we were able to do all we could to get this win.”
Dufur racked up 480 yards of offense, with the offensive line opening holes for 459 yards on 47 rushing attempts.
Pence had a career-high 303 yards on the ground with three scores and added a nine-yard touchdown pass to Frakes in the second quarter.
Pence tacked on scoring rushes of 48 and 46 in the second half, the second end zone jaunt making it a 46-18 lead with 10:59 remaining in the fourth period.
“It is amazing. I can’t believe I had the game I did,” Pence said. “Before we came out, my coach told me that this was my senior year and that I had to leave it all on the field. It just feels amazing to have this kind of performance. I can’t believe that I did it. I am so proud of myself and my team.”
With the Rangers ahead, 46-18 in the final period, senior fullback Ian Cleveland tacked on scoring runs of 4 and 3, the final tally coming with 3:44 left.
Asa Farrell got the scoring started on a 30-yard scamper at the 9:01 mark of the first quarter, and he followed up Pence with 125 yards on 12 rushes.
Cleveland totaled 26 yards, Abraham Kilby went for 24 and Crawford hit for 11 yards, as the Rangers averaged 9.8 yards a carry.
Dufur went 5 for 7 on third downs, and attempted three passes for the game, both led to touchdown grabs by Frakes and Kortge.
Frakes had the difficult task of replacing the 1A’s two-time Player of the Year, Bailey Keever, so there was a tremendous amount of pressure on his shoulders.
As a first-year starter, the junior led the state’s No. 1-ranked scoring offense to 680 points in 12 contests (56.6 points a game).
“There was definitely doubt at first, but after our first couple of games, I got into it and showed everyone what I could do,” Frakes said. “I definitely had to prove a point to myself. Throughout the season, I continued to improve, gained more experience and confidence. I feel like I continued to play great and my teammates allowed me to lead them. I appreciate everything they have done for me.”
Hosanna Christian senior Silas Sanchas notched 92 yards of his team’s 105 rushing yards on 24 carries, and added five catches for 112 yards.
Lion quarterback Waylan Cole had a rushing score, and completed 10 of 27 passes for 159 yards, with touchdown tosses to Jacob Moore and Curtis Mick.
Cleveland tallied a team-leading 14 tackles with a sack, Russell Peters had 11 tackles and a sack, Anthony Thomas rattled off 11 tackles, Pence posted nine tackles, and Kilby chipped in eight tackles for Dufur.
Along with Pence, Crawford and Cleveland, Wade Blake, Trevor Phetteplace, Justin Eiesland and Matthew Sipe made up the senior leaders on this group.
Since joining Dufur as a sophomore, Cleveland has been an integral piece of the varsity squad that has amassed a 35-3 record during this three-year road to dominance.
“It is an incredible thing to win three championships in a row. It hasn’t quite sunk in yet, but I am just so happy we won,” Cleveland said. “This is the greatest group of guys I have ever played with. We have an extreme amount of heart and a love for the game. We have all grown so close to each other and it helped us get to this point. It is amazing to share this with them.”
With three championships in a row under their belts, Crawford and the seniors now leave a legacy in place for the future standouts to take over.
Peters, Thomas, Frakes, Kortge, Kilby, Tanner Masterson, Andrew Richman, Tabor McLaughlin, and Marcus Brown are ready to take on larger roles for their senior years in 2018.
“I am not worried about these young guys. I know they will do great. They are tough guys that want to play their best,” Crawford said. “The juniors rose up and were just as effective as the seniors. We couldn’t have done any of this without them. They are going to be fine next year, and they will do great again. I know that because I know these guys, I know their heart and I know they have a drive that will take them far.”
From his first year on the Ranger sidelines in 1987, until now, Henderson relishes the role of being a tough and demanding coach, but also a father figure.
He uses everything about athletics to prepare these young athletes for life in the adult world.
“That’s the thing that I like about coaching. It is amazing to win championships, three in a row, and nine at this point in time, but just the whole being a part of these kids’ lives and everything like that is the reason why I coach,” Henderson said. “All the championships and trophies and wins are cool and stuff, but is a by-product of all that work they put in during the season and offseason. I love these kids, I love working with them and I can’t imagine not being a part of their lives.”