In a year where their number one offense has impressed, outperformed and overwhelmed opponents, it was Cottage Grove’s defense that guided the top ranked Lions past Gladstone last Friday and into the state football semifinals.
In their final home game of the season, it was the Lions earning a 27-10 quarterfinal victory in their closest game they have played since a mid-September 35-20 win over number two-ranked Scappoose.
“We haven’t played a ball game in seven weeks. We haven’t been in a ballgame since Scappoose. A true ballgame,” said Cottage Grove head coach Gary Roberts. “And you wonder how kids are going to react when they haven’t been in situations like that in seven weeks now. And our kids did a really good job of continuing to play and continuing to battle and understand that it’s a four-quarter game.”
In the first quarter it felt like a familiar script for the Lions. Chad Bottorff had a 38-yard run that put the Lions up early. Following the score, it was Jacob Woods with two highlight reel touchdown grabs. On the first he out jumped a defender and came down with the ball and on the second he laid out for a diving grab to put Cottage Grove up 20-0.
“I feel like I started out well,” said Woods. “Just run for the ball and catch it.”
While this is normally when the Lions surge past opponents with a high scoring second quarter and put the mercy rule into effect in the second half, it was not the same against the Gladiators.
After a Bottorff fumble and a roughing the passer call on 3rd down, Gladstone was inside the Lions 20 but were held to a field goal.
Cottage Grove was then forced to punt on the next possession, which was just the third time that the Lions have punted in the first half this season. One play later, a Gladiators' fake reverse found Ben Hill open downfield for a 45-yard reception after a Lions defender fell down on the coverage.
“He kind of got shoved down but, you know, regardless, he got burnt,” said Roberts about the lone touchdown the team gave up.
In the second half, as Cottage Grove’s offense stalled, the defense continued to stop the Gladiators from ever getting into any sort of rhythm. After a Woods interception, his second of the game, was returned to the Gladstone 10-yard line, the Lions were in position to score. Graves found Giffen through the air for a six-yard score. Graves finished the game six-of-thirteen with three touchdowns and two interceptions.
As Gladstone began to drive in the fourth quarter, it was Giffen who came up with an interception that sealed the victory for the Lions.
“[Tonight’s game] shows that our defense is strong. You know we made a ton of mistakes tonight which we’re going to clean up and our defense is going to be stronger than ever,” said Woods.
With the win, the Lions secured a spot in the semifinals for the second year in a row. They will face Mazama on Saturday at 4 p.m. at Grants Pass High School.
The Vikings were the winners of the Skyline Conference and are 9-1 on the season. Their one loss came to Henley who they defeated last week in the quarterfinals 50-0.
“They’re a physical team and they ‘re going to come after us and it will be up to us to see where we stand. We’ll find out next week,” said Roberts.
“I know they’re a power running team and that they are well coached and that they are going to get after us.”