Cottage Grove football is heading back to the state championship.
After a year of dreaming and working to get back to the title game where they lost a season ago, the top-ranked Lions kept their undefeated season alive Saturday night at Grants Pass High School as they powered past Mazama 54-35 in the semifinals. The Lions are headed to their third state championship football game in five years and will face the undefeated Marshfield Pirates on their journey to get their elusive first state football title in the school’s history.
“I’m really happy for the kids. Happy for the seniors that made this their goal. Happy that they worked hard and that they’re getting rewarded to get back here. I can tell by the look in their eyes that they’re not satisfied with just getting there, they want to win it. And we’re going to do everything we can this week to win this thing,” said Cottage Grove head coach Gary Roberts.
In the semifinal, Cottage Grove had their hands full as they faced a one-loss Mazama team (a loss they avenged in the quarterfinals with a 50-0 win) that boasted a strong run game and a defense that had given up an average of just 10.8 points against them all season.
It was the Vikings who struck first – after recovering an onside kick on the opening kick that they converted into a rare passing touchdown – and took an 8-0 lead early in the first quarter. But the Lions then unleashed an impressive stretch of football from the first quarter until the middle of the third quarter in which the offense rattled off 41 unanswered points while the defense gave up just 45 yards and three first downs.
“They came out and scored first but we knew exactly what we needed to do… We knew we could come right back and punch them in the face and put more points on the scoreboard than they did,” said quarterback Dylan Graves who finished the game 17-of-24 for 166 yards with one touchdown.
On the Lions first offensive series the team had two successful fourth down conversions. After a botched snap, it was Graves who scrambled out of the pocket for an 11-yard gain and got tackled on the out of bounds line. As he got up, the Mazama defender was in his face and the two exchanged words resulting in a Vikings unsportsmanlike conduct.
“I thought they were more of a respectful team… They started pushing up in my facemask and grabbing at my face and that really got me amped up and then I was like okay now I really want to punch you guys even harder,” said Graves.
A play later it was Chad Bottorff who found the end zone for his first of two touchdowns on the game. Bottorff finished with 13 carries for 81 yards.
After forcing a three and out, one of four on the day, Cottage Grove struck again, but this time needed just one play. Graves threw a backwards pass to receiver Hayden Glenn who then pulled the ball back and found an open Jacob Woods downfield for a 57-yard touchdown. Woods finished the day with 10 catches, 140 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
“At first we definitely started out a little slow but then we realized what we were doing and everybody got a lot more into the game and then we just started executing good,” said Woods.
The Lions continued to pour it on with a second Bottorff score, two Juice Claflin rushing touchdowns and two made field goals by Erick Giffen.
The Vikings then strung two quick scores together at the end of the third quarter with a Zach Gibson 43 yard reception and a Brandon McVey three yard rushing touchdown that followed a Cottage Grove fumbled handoff on their own five yard line.
Back on offense, the Lions wasted no time as Graves found Woods for a 50 yard strike. After a turnover on downs, Claflin took over and scored his third touchdown of the game to put the Lions up 54-21 in the fourth quarter.
Mazama scored twice in the last eight minutes of the game but it was too little too late and the Lions advanced to the championship game.
“Absolutely the best feeling ever,” said senior offensive and defensive lineman Nate Farrell on getting back to the championship. “We set a goal to go there and we’re going there. The goal is to take the trophy this time and that’s the dream, the goal – everything right now.”
The championship game holds extra significance for Cottage Grove head coach Roberts who grew up in Coos Bay, attended Marshfield High School and while on the Pirates football team played in the state semifinals and finals.
“I’m really happy for John Lemmons, the head coach there at Marshfield. He’s a great guy, one of the best people I’ve ever been around. I’m really proud for him and the kids down there but when we suit up next week there isn’t an ounce of me that wants them to win,” said Roberts.