Picture perfect finish for Cascade Christian
COTTAGE GROVE — For much of the 2022 regular season, the coaches in Class 3A had Cascade Christian ranked as the top football team in the state.
On Saturday night, the Challengers showed everybody one more time why the ranking was no mistake.
Dominant as ever, second-seeded Cascade Christian rolled to a 41-6 win over No. 1 seed and previously unbeaten Kennedy in the 3A state championship game at Cottage Grove High School, securing the Challengers’ first state title since 2017 and putting the cherry on top of a perfect 13-0 season.
“It’s the feeling that I wanted,” said Cascade Christian senior quarterback Keith Reed. “I wanted this and to finish on a state championship since I started playing football. It couldn’t have ended a better way and I couldn’t have wished for it to go any different.”
It’s the Challengers’ fourth state title as a program and third in five trips to the championship game under the direction of Jon Gettman, who guided Cascade to its first-ever undefeated season.
“They came in on a mission,” Gettman said of his players. “After last year, there was some disappointment and they were on a mission the whole season. I can’t thank them enough for their willingness to do whatever was asked of them. All of them took a lesser role in some areas. There was no kid who was a big standout and had all of the stats or anything and they were just a humble, hard-working group of kids.”
So, just how dominant were the Challengers on Saturday night?
Kennedy had allowed 62 points all season coming into Saturday’s title game.
By halftime, Cascade Christian had already put up 27 points, the most the Trojans had allowed in a game this season. By the time the running clock kicked in after the Challengers’ last touchdown less than two minutes into the fourth quarter, Cascade had surpassed the 40-point mark for the 11th time this season.
It was a Challengers offense that outgained the Trojans 444-136.
Not even a Kennedy team that had given up 5.8 points per game — the lowest of any school in the state regardless of classification — could slow Cascade Christian down.
“Looking back on it, especially now, a huge difference between the two teams was the line,” said Cascade senior receiver Brody Sample. “Our O-line just gave it to them and all game our running backs could do whatever they wanted. They could not stop our run, not stop our pass and it’s all on our O-line.”
It didn’t matter who had the ball in their hands for Cascade Christian, the Challengers were making things happen.
Reed followed up his impressive performance in last Saturday’s semifinal win over Dayton with just as good of a game against Kennedy. He finished 14-of-16 for 238 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. He completed passes to six different receivers and also rushed for 49 yards and a pair of 5-yard touchdowns.
“I think that’s the best I’ve ever seen him,” said Cascade sophomore running back Kameron Rague, who ran for 119 yards on 13 carries and a touchdown. “He’s a great quarterback, a great leader, and I think him being at his best puts the team at its best.”
The Challengers, who have played with the lead virtually all season long, took a 7-0 lead on their second drive of the game. Three plays after Sample pried the ball away from a Kennedy player for a fumble, Reed punched in the first of his two rushing TDs.
The Trojans quickly went three-and-out on their next drive, giving the Challengers the ball right back. And just like Cascade’s previous drive, the Challengers found the end zone via a 5-yard touchdown run from Reed.
Suddenly, within the span of two minutes, a scoreless game had become a 14-0 Challengers lead.
“After that first series, we came back and from that second series on Keith made decision after decision, put the ball in the right places,” said Gettman.
Kennedy cut the deficit to 14-6 with just under two minutes left in the first quarter, scoring what proved to be its only touchdown of the night on Javier Rodriguez’s 3-yard run.
On the ensuing kickoff, Rague couldn’t handle the kickoff after letting it bounce in front of him, giving the Trojans the ball inside of the Cascade Christian 5-yard line and a golden chance to potentially tie the game.
But the Challengers’ defense stood tall, holding strong on the 1-yard line on third and then fourth down to force a turnover on downs.
In the same fashion from last Saturday when they went on a 96-yard drive after a big fourth-down stop against Dayton, the Challengers did the same against Kennedy.
Cascade Christian went 99 yards in seven plays to swing the score back in its favor, with Rague scoring on a 14-yard touchdown run to make it 21-6.
“Right away, I told the center to not snap it over my head,” said Reed of what the message was before starting the drive on his team’s 1-yard line. “It was one play and we get out of the end zone and at that point it’s just time to play ball. It doesn’t matter the distance and I don’t think any of us were really thinking about it being 99 yards. Just (thinking of the) next play and what we’re doing.”
It was a moment in which Gettman said: “That fourth-down stop, that was the game.”
“You stop them at the 1-yard line, that’s huge momentum if they go and tie up the game,” continued Gettman. “It’s really similar to last week and what happened with Dayton — you get the stop, we’re able to turn around and convert it to the touchdown and that sequence changed the game completely.”
Reed connected for his first TD pass with 50 seconds left in the first half, running a great play fake before throwing out to Cole Shields in the flat for an 8-yard score to make it 27-6.
Starting with its 99-yard drive, Cascade Christian scored three straight touchdowns after Kennedy turned the ball over on downs.
“I was feeling really good just knowing we were moving the ball like that,” said Reed. “Right after that defensive stop, we knew we could play with these guys.”
Reed added second-half touchdown passes of 31 yards to Drew Hall — who used all of his 6-foot-3 frame to stretch out and catch the ball — and a 20-yard pitch-and-catch to Sample to cap a 13-play, 95-yard drive.
Sample caught four passes for 77 yards and a TD, while Peyton Maurer had three receptions for 65 yards — including a big 56-yard catch during the Challengers’ 99-yard drive — and Tyler Almasy had three catches for 34 yards.
“It’s great because we run so many different plays,” said Sample. “I think we ran 220 different plays in practice this week. We have so many different weapons we can do it whenever and wherever.”
Added Gettman: “It’s fun to see all of those kids — Drew Hall, Peyton Maurer, Brody, Tyler, Kam, Triston (Wallace) — and that’s a tough offense to stop when you get all of those playmakers.”
On top of his touchdown catch, Shields finished with a team-high five tackles with two tackles for a loss, a sack and a forced fumble.
Kennedy finished with just eight first downs and averaged 3.2 yards per play.
“It’s obviously all a team thing,” said Rague, who also had a second-half interception. “We did it as a team and we did it day-by-day, worked hard and I could tell everyone here has earned it. … Just, for Kennedy, they were a tough team, but once they found out that we weren’t giving up, that changed the game.”
CC — Reed 5 run (Hoffman kick)
CC — Reed 5 run (Hoffman kick)
K — Rodriguez 3 run (kick blocked)
CC — Rague 14 run (Hoffman kick)
CC — Shields 8 pass from Reed (kick blocked)
CC — Hall 31 pass from Reed (Hoffman kick)
CC — Sample 20 pass from Reed (Hoffman kick)
Reach reporter Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.