INDEPENDENCE — Forty-two points, 458 yards in total offense, a 28-7 lead in the second quarter … normally all that would be good enough for a Knappa Logger win.
But … not so, in a Class 2A football semifinal against Monroe, played at Central High School Saturday afternoon in Independence.
In a football game that doubled as a track meet, the No. 2-ranked Dragons rallied from a 21-point deficit to score a 47-42 win over the No. 3 seed Loggers, ending Knappa’s season one game short of the championship. The title game will feature Monroe vs. Santiam, which defeated No. 1-ranked St. Paul, 23-22.
Knappa was also plus-two in turnovers, but the Dragons countered the Loggers with 26 first downs, 495 yards in total offense, and a couple of big plays on special teams that made a difference.
Still, Knappa coach Aaron Barendse wasn’t going to let his team’s only loss of the year spoil a near-perfect season, which ends at 10-1 overall.
“I couldn’t be prouder of these kids,” Barendse said. “They gave their heart and soul for this program. To go 10-1 … I don’t know what the history of this school is at the 2A level, but there’s not a lot of 10-win seasons. These kids earned every bit of it.”
Likewise, Monroe coach Bill Crowson said, “Knappa’s very talented, a very good football team and well-coached. We knew it was going to be a track meet, but I didn’t know it was going to be that kind of a track meet — we were hoping for something a little lower-scoring.”
Monroe will make its first state championship game appearance since 1962.
The Dragons moved the ball well on their opening drive, but fumbled it away inside the Knappa 10-yard line, the first of three Monroe turnovers.
It took the Loggers just six plays to travel 83 yards for the game’s first score, a 7-yard run by quarterback Kaleb Miller.
Monroe’s second drive also ended with a turnover, as Knappa’s Reuben Cruz intercepted a pass in Logger territory and returned it to the Dragon 23-yard line.
Four plays later, Mason Hoover powered in from four yards out for a 12-0 lead.
The Dragons answered quickly with their first big play on special teams, an 80-yard kickoff return by Zach Young.
And the track meet was on.
In the second quarter alone, Miller scored on runs of 35 and nine yards for the Loggers. Parker Wynn answered for the Dragons on TD runs of 30 and five yards, cutting Knappa’s lead to 28-21 at halftime.
After a Logger three-and-out to open the second half, Young scored the tying touchdown with a 48-yard sprint. The sophomore running back had a monster game for the Dragons, rushing for 268 yards on 35 carries, with three touchdowns. He was also 5-for-5 on point-after kicks.
As a team, Monroe rushed for 394 yards on 65 carries.
Meanwhile, Knappa’s triplets were also racking up the yards and points.
Miller was 12-for-22 passing for 220 yards and two touchdowns, and gained 104 yards rushing (on just 14 carries), with three scores.
His three-game totals in the state playoffs should be worthy of some all-state votes — 1,164 yards in total offense, with 14 touchdowns.
Cruz caught six passes for 153 yards and a score; and Hoover rushed for 128 yards on 14 attempts (9.1 yards per carry).
Cruz had 208 all-purpose yards (rushing/receiving/returns), while Young finished with 351 yards for the Dragons.
Trailing 36-34 after three quarters, Monroe scored the go-ahead touchdown with 6:41 left, Brodey Lynn catching a 16-yard touchdown pass from Kairen Garber on a fourth-down play.
“We don’t throw a whole lot (the Dragons were just 4-of-12 for the game), but it was a great throw and a great catch,” Crowson said.
The drive was sparked by a roughing-the-punter penalty on the Loggers, extending the Monroe drive.
“That was a huge way to keep that drive going at that point,” Crowson said. “And the fourth-and-11 play in the end zone was huge.”
The Dragons stopped Knappa on a fourth-down play on the next series, and Monroe cashed in for more points, with Garber sneaking in from a yard out for a 47-36 lead with just 1:35 left.
The never-say-die Loggers answered, driving 73 yards in just four plays, with Miller hitting a wide open Braedon Eltagonde for a 19-yard score with 54 seconds left.
But Knappa was unable to recover the ensuing onside kick, and the Dragons were able to run out the clock.
“We were having a tough time stopping ‘em, and we knew we would,” Barendse said of the Dragons. “We were quite a bit undersized, but our kids came out and battled.
“Of course you can second-guess all day long, but one thing I’ll never second-guess is these kids’ attitude and effort.”
The Dragons “held on to the ball a little more in the second half, and that’s probably the difference in the game,” he said. “We knew we’d be in a dogfight, and that’s the way a No. 2 and a No. 3 seed should be in a semifinal.”
The game marked the end of football for a successful Knappa senior class.
“It’s devastating to lose them,” Barendse said. “They’re a huge part of this program, and like I told them after the game, they left this program in better shape than when they came in. Great leaders … I’m going to miss every single one of them.”
Crowson said of the Loggers, “That’s a really good football team on that sideline, and we feel fortunate to walk away with a win.”