The Pirates needed a break, and their defense earned a couple.
After trading touchdown for touchdown much of the second half, Dayton High School’s football team forced Cascade Christian into fourth-and-long situations in the fourth quarter and its pass defense held up for a 34-28 win in the OSAA Class 3A state championship game at Cottage Grove High School.
The state championship is the seventh in school history for Dayton and first since 2002.
“We got a group of guys that can dig deep,” senior quarterback Nathan Bernards said. “We’ve got a great group of seniors that lead this team and have experience in state championships.
“The underclassmen will be back next year, too, because they’re fighters. Kevin Castillo got hurt, he’s out, he got a concussion. We pulled together just like we have all year. I can’t say enough about my coaches, my teammates and my fans, and especially my family.”
The Pirates (12-0) weren’t expected to be as successful this season after graduating away Division I talent from last year’s squad, but this version of Dayton accomplished what last year’s team came up short of doing.
“A lot of people weren’t expecting us to do that well,” said senior receiver Jered White. “We knew that we had underclassmen that were still good, they just didn’t have their chance because they were behind seniors.
“We just worked hard over the summer, worked hard over the preseason and it paid off at the end.”
Cascade Christian (13-1) was in the state championship game for the first time since 2006 and for the first time at the 3A level.
Dayton’s defense was focused for much of the game on Cascade Christian senior running back Brandon Williams.
Williams rushed for 167 yards on 27 carries, but didn’t score a touchdown on offense and the Challengers were limited to 107 yards of offense from other players.
“We knew he was going to be a key player,” White said. “Great running back. He always gets a couple more yards, but we were trying to make sure we shut down him and their offense.”
Cascade Christian was stopped on its opening drive of the game, and Williams’ punt came to White, who started left and spun past two defenders, then cut right and sprinted 70 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
But the ensuing kickoff was fielded by Cascade Christian’s Levi Giradot on a bounce. He pitched it back to Williams, who then sped away for an 80-yard touchdown to tie the game.
Dayton marched back down the field and running back Forrest Garcia rushed for a three-yard touchdown and a 14-7 advantage.
“We don’t design it to happen like that, but both teams are explosive offensively,” said Garcia, who along with many of the Pirates played on last year’s 3A state champion basketball team. “It turned out to be touchdown, touchdown, touchdown battle.”
With 30 seconds until halftime Seth Knox caught a slant pass from Daniel Scottow for a 16-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 14.
The second half became a game of chicken between the teams’ offenses.
Garcia ran for a seven-yard touchdown then Scottow threw a touchdown pass to David Sellers. Garcia ran for a six-yard touchdown and Scottow hit Josh Brite for a 10-yard.
With 8:01 to go, Bernards faked the handoff to Garcia up the middle, bootlegged to the left and snuck the ball inside the pylon for the game-winning score.
“It’s just a play you have to make at the end of the game,” said Bernards, who was14 for 14 passing for 135 yards . “We’ve ran it this year before and it ended up coming up real big in the state finals.”
As Garcia rushed for 144 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries in the game, the Challengers were wisely focused on him.
“It was a good call,” Garcia said. “That was designed to do that the whole time. It’s a great play, it’s a game-winning touchdown, and it’s just amazing.”
The script of trading touchdowns was finally broken with five minutes left as on fourth and 13 Cody Parker was hit by a pass by Scottow down the sideline, but Parker was tackled inches short of the first down marker by cornerback J.J. Jones.
Dayton quickly punted the ball back, but on fourth and 16, Garcia batted Girardot’s halfback pass to the turf on fourth and 16 with 1:33 left to clinch the game.
The Pirates lost the state championship game on a last-second field goal a year ago, but they were determined to change their fortunes this year.
“It’s amazing, the best feeling,” Garcia said.
bpoehler@StatesmanJournal.com, (503) 399-6701 or follow at twitter.com/bpoehler
CASCADE CHRISTIAN 28
DAY– White 70 punt return (Jones kick) 9:31.
CC– Williams 80 kick return (Parker kick) 9:18.
DAY– Garcia 3 run (Jones kick) 4:11.
CC– Knox 16 pass from Scottow (Parker kick) :30.
DAY– Garcia 1 run (Jones kick) 11:42.
CC– Sellers 9 pass from Scottow (Parker kick) 5:30.
DAY– Garcia 6 run (Jones kick) 3:51.
CC– Brite 10 pass from Scottow (Parker kick) 11:52.
DAY– Bernards 1 run (PAT failed) 8:01.
Rushing– Cascade Christian: Williams 27-167, Scottow 4-5, Girardot 7-5, Brite 1-(-2). Dayton: Garcia 27-144, Berbards 8-24, White 2-1.
Passing– Cascade Christian: Scottow 7-14-99-3-1, Girardot 0-1-0-0-0. Dayton: Bernards 14-14-135-0-0.
Receiving– Cascade Christian: Parker 2-37, Brite 2-23, Sellers 2-23, Knox 1-16. Dayton: White 8-103, Sutton 4-18, Jones 1-10, Garcia 1-4.