While it was the start of the new season, it was a pair of familiar faces guiding the way for a Cottage Grove victory last Friday. In a game that was closer than any contest last year and required a late-fourth quarter comeback, the Lions were led by the lone offensive returners from last year’s championship team in seniors Dylan Graves and Erick Giffen to a dramatic 23-19 victory over Cascade.
“First win of my senior season so that’s what I wanted but that was one of the craziest games that I’ve ever got to be a part of and I’m just happy that we got to come out with the W but we need to get back on Monday and get ready to play because it’s not acceptable to have games like that,” said Giffen. “I’m used to blowing teams out and I want to get back to that.”
It was unfamiliar territory for Cottage Grove when Cascade followed up a safety – the result of a high snap on a punt – with a 45-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown and gave the visiting team a 19-15 lead with just over five minutes left in the game.
“In the fourth quarter, I definitely had more nerves then I had coming into the state championship game. I was scared,” said Giffen.
The Lions, who had not scored since the first quarter, were able to put any fear aside and rattled off a game-winning drive. It did not look like a successful drive at first when quarterback Graves appeared to be picked off by a Cascade defender who was called for pass interference. Two plays later, Graves found Giffen across the middle of the field who then eluded one defender before knocking another to the ground as he powered his way into the end zone to give the Lions the lead for good.
“As soon as I caught the ball I knew that I needed to score. Because, I don’t know, somebody needed to step up so I just did what I could,” said Giffen.
After the score Cottage Grove elected to go for two to ensure Cascade would need more than a field goal to stay in the game. Graves found Jacob Dunn on the one yard line who then fought his way into the end zone for two.
“I have trust in myself and trust in my teammates and I know in times in that situation we’re going to make big plays so I knew that there was something coming,” Graves said of the drive as a whole. “I put my trust in my coaches and everyone on our coaching staff and I believed what they had for us and we just executed what they had for us.”
But Graves’ day wasn’t over yet.
With time now a factor, Cascade, a team that ran the ball on 69 of the team’s 75 offensive plays, needed to go through the air. Trying to catch the Lions off guard, running back Ethan Coffey, who ran for 269 yards and two touchdowns on an astounding 48 carries, threw the ball downfield where he was intercepted by Graves.
“So I was safety on the other side of the field and I see him rolling out pretty slow and I was like, ‘Why isn’t this kid going?’ So, I’m flowing over and he lets it fly and it was overthrown and I was like that’s my ball and I went up it got it,” said Graves. “When I caught it I just wanted to do a backflip or something.”
Needing to extend the game, the Cottage Grove rushing attack sprang to life as David Cox picked up 23 yards in the final drive to help the Lions put the game away. Cox had one run play in the game which resulted in a loss of five yards.
Graves led the team in rushing with 77 yards and a touchdown that came via a 14-yard run on the first drive of the game. Passing wise, Graves finished 12-for-18 with a pair of touchdowns which were both to Giffen and an interception. Giffen finished with four receptions for 74 yards. Outside of Giffen, it was wide receiver by committee as Dunn, Logan Nelson and Jaden Doolittle all finished with a pair of receptions.
“First ball game against a pretty good team and we did some things well and we did some things not so well,” said head coach Gary Roberts. “It’s tough when you’re playing a big, physical team like that. That’s not our forte and we’re still kind of learning what it takes to be varsity players and it’s going to take us some time to get there but we’re going to continue to keep battling and continue to work hard.”
The battle will continue this Friday as Cottage Grove makes the journey to central Oregon where they will face Crook County. In their season opener, the Cowboys defeated Ridgeview 47-25.