6A quarterfinals: No. 2 Clackamas rallies past Central Catholic, 17-14
The Clackamas Cavaliers did not take kindly to Central Catholic punching them in the mouth in the first half Friday night.
In the second half, they punched back.
Jeffrey Nelson kicked a 42-yard field goal with 3:48 to play to cap Clackamas' comeback from a 14-point halftime deficit and lift the Cavaliers to a 17-14 win over the Rams in the quarterfinals of the OSAA Class 6A football playoffs at Cavaliers Stadium.
Clackamas James Millspaugh and Cole Turner each scored a touchdown to help send the No. 2-ranked Cavaliers (12-0) into the semifinals for the second season in a row to face No. 6 Tigard, a 24-21 winner over defending-state champion West Linn.
"We talked at halftime about sticking together and believing in one another," Cavaliers coach Joe Bushman said. "What are you going to do when your back is against the wall? Are you going to man up? Or are you going to feel sorry for yourself?
"I was of these guys. I was really proud of how of how they hung in there and how they gutted this thing out."
Central Catholic's Liam Anderson lined up to attempt 39-yard field goal with 30 seconds left, but the Rams' holder bobbled a low snap and could do little more than fall on the loose ball as the Clackamas defense arrived.
"We played toe-to-toe with a team that's now 12-0 and we deserved to be here," Central Catholic coach Steve Pyne said. "A break here, a break there, and we're playing next week. I'm disappointed for our kids, but I'm not disappointed in our effort.
"I figured if we could get a stop coming out of half and put a scoring drive together, we probably would have iced the game away with the way our defense was playing tonight."
Central Catholic (9-3) dominated the first half, getting a 36-yard touchdown run from Miles Jackson on the game's opening drive, and a 6-yard touchdown run from backup quarterback Joe Henderson with 10:09 to play in the second. The Rams' defense also forced two Clackamas turnovers -- one on a fumble, the other on an interception -- both in Central territory.
On a down note, the Rams lost Jackson, the sophomore tailback/defensive back, who was ejected in the waning seconds of the first quarter when he helped force Clackamas quarterback Mitchell Modjeski out of bounds near the Cavaliers' bench, touching off a minor skirmish.
"The ejection of Miles Jackson is baffling to me," Pyne said. "What the referee said he saw and what actually happened are two very different things, but that impacted us on both side of the ball.
"We weren't able to rotate our running backs, and that hurt us a little bit. And give Clackamas credit, because they made some adjustments."
Keeping the faith
Clackamas went into Friday's game averaging 52.5 points a game, but suddenly found itself in unfamiliar territory with only 24 minutes to mount a turnaround.
"We just talked about how we knew we were going to be in this type of situation at some point," Bushman said. "This was real. We were down two scores and we haven't been down like that all year.
"So, we talked about sticking together and not chipping at each other and to keep believing. I really felt like if we could score once, we could get some momentum. And we finally did."
The Cavaliers came up empty on their first drive of the second half, but then went on a seven-play, 55-yard scoring drive that ended with Turner catching a 15-yard pass from Modjeski on a fourth-down play with 3:13 to play in the third quarter.
Central Catholic cornerback Kitan Oladapo had Turner blanketed on the play, and even looked to have control of the ball in the air before Turner pulled it away in the left corner of the end zone.
"There was definitely a point where there were four hands on the ball," Turner said. "I think we both had it at the same time, but Kitan was falling backwards, so I had the advantage, and I've got a little height advantage."
Clackamas got the ball again near the end of the third quarter and went on a six-play, 70-yard scoring drive to tie the score. Modjeski completed a 16-yard pass to Thomas Tolonen on third-and-4 that took the ball to the Rams' 31, and then Millspaugh scored on the next play, finding running room on the left side to pull the Cavaliers even at 14-14 with 9:51 to play.
"I just saw the defense flowing pretty hard, so I tried to cut the play back," Millspaugh said. "There was some pretty open space and I just ran to the end zone."
Before the the touchdown run, Millspaugh had carried 14 times for 56 yards with only one other carry that had gone for more than 10 yards.
"Everything was a little tougher today, but we fought through it," Millspaugh said. "We worked some stuff out at halftime, believed in the process, and got it done in the end."
After the Rams went three and out on their next possession, the Cavaliers got the ball back at their own 35 and ran seven plays to move the ball to the Central 25, setting the stage for Nelson's 42-yard field goal.
The Rams called a timeout a split second before Clackamas snapped the ball, and as whistles were sounding, Nelson went ahead and kicked the ball and clanked it off the right upright.
"The one thing about hitting the upright is you know you have the distance, obviously," Nelson said. "So, all I had to do was make a small adjustment and hit it to the left."
With Modjeski holding, Nelson made no mistake on the second attempt, driving a kick that probably would have good from 52 yards.
"This game was one huge momentum swing," Nelson said. "One minute, you're down and you don't want to think hyou could lose, but it crosses your mind. And then the next minute, I'm out there hitting a go-ahead field goal."
There was still enough time for three more offensive drives -- two for Central Catholic and one for Clackamas.
After an exchange of punts, Central got the ball back one last time at the Rams' 24-yard line with 1:08 to play.
A Cade Knighton-to-Elijah Elliot screen pass that was good for 37 yards plus a Clackmas personal foul at the end end of the play moved the ball to the Cavs' 24 with a minute remaining.
A procedure penalty pushed Central back to the 29, then Knighton threw incomplete, Elliott ran for 7 yards on second down, and then Knight spiked the ball on third down to stop the clock, leaving Anderson plenty of time to attempt a game-tying field goal.
"It was well within his range," Pyne said. "The snap was a little bad and … stuff happens, right?"
A Clackamas defense led by all-Mt. Hood Conference, first-team picks Braelen Bettles, Jake Bushman (the coach's son), Jakobe Erskine, Kelson Hennessy and Justice Pagan was brilliant coming out of halftime, limiting Central Catholic to 49 yards total offense and one first down in the second half.
"The coaches had a game plan and we executed it perfectly in the second half," Erskine said. "Yeah, Central Catholic did come punch us in the mouth two times in the first half, but we persevered. Our coaches have talked about that all year -- perseverance -- and we did that."
Said Pagan: "Our rhythm was just off early. We had to deal with a lot of adversity, but in the locker room our coaches gave a good speech and got us pumped up for the second half, and ultimately we came out and played with the energy that we needed in the first half.
"I've got to give a lot credit to Central. Those guys came out guns blazin' and they were ready to play us. Lots of respect for those guys, man."
The Cavaliers are in the same position they were in a year ago, looking to do something that no other Clackamas team has done -- advance to the championship final.
"This game shows that these guys have a lot of fight in them and they know how to compete," Joe Bushman said. "It's our goal to make it back to the semis and do better than we did last year. And now we've made it back, and I think a lot of that has to do with this team's heart.
"It's special for me, personally, because so many of these kids are kids my son grew up with and I've known these kids since they were 5 or 6 years old.
"So, for them to make it all the way through and to have the success they're having, it's just neat and it's rewarding, not just that they're playing well, but so many of them are turning out to be great kids and I know they're going places."