Defensive stand caps Clackamas' 41-33 playoff win over Oregon City
With 1:46 left in the fourth quarter Friday, Oregon City finally forced Clackamas to punt for the first time in the OSAA Class 6A second-round game at Cavaliers Stadium. The Cavaliers were leading by eight points, so it was up to their defense to stop the Pioneers and secure the win.
And that's what the defense did.
Clackamas linebackers Kolby Barber and Jakobe Erskine each registered a sack in the defensive stand, and the Cavaliers escaped with the 41-33 win.
Clackamas' James Millspaugh rushed for a game-high 274 yards and two touchdowns, and Mitchell Modjeski threw for 123 yards and two scores to help lift the No. 2 Cavaliers (11-0) into the quarterfinals against Central Catholic, a 28-24 winner over Sheldon.
"That was a really good playoff game," Clackamas coach Joe Bushman said. "All I know is I believe in our running game and I believe in our defense, and we kind of hung our hat on that and came through by the skin of our chinny-chin-chin."
Oregon City's Teron Bradford caught three touchdown passes from Austin Bonner, including a 23-yard circus catch in dense fog that made it a 41-33 game with 3:16 to play, but that was as close as the Pioneers (7-4) could get after trailing 24-13 at halftime.
"I'd love to have a few more seconds and a few more plays," Pioneers coach Dustin Janz said. "The game plan was to take the fight to Clackamas and not let them bring the fight to us, because they're a very physical, tough team.
"We did some things really well, we just didn't make enough plays down the stretch."
After both teams scored touchdowns on their opening drives, Bradford intercepted a Modjeski pass on Clackamas' second drive and returned in to the Cavaliers' 37.
Eight plays later, the Pioneers had a fourth-and-goal at the Clackamas 3, but failed to convert when Zakayas Dennis-Lee lost the ball in a goal-line collision with Clackamas linebacker Tyler Vaughn. Kale Sorenson grabbed the loose ball for Oregon City, but was down at the Cavs' 2, turning the ball over to Clackamas on downs.
"I still don't know what happened or how that happened," Janz said. "I know that we had it blocked really well and Zee actually made a good cut, so I don't know how the ball actually came out.
"I thought it was a touchdown until I was halfway on the field celebrating, and then I saw that they had the ball. That ends up, in the long run, being a big deal."
Clackamas then went on a 14-play, 98-yard drive that ate 5:31 off the clock and ended with Modjeski throwing a 9-yard pass to Cole Turner in the left corner of the end zone to give the Cavaliers a 14-7 lead with 10:16 to play in the second quarter.
After Oregon City's Ethan Kassebaum scored on a 4-yard run and the Pioneers botched the two-point conversion to make it 14-13, the Cavaliers tacked on a Modjeski-to-Chad Bletko 27-yard touchdown pass and a Jeffrey Nelson 41-yard field goal to take a 24-13 halftime lead.
Clackamas' Darius Martin Jr., intercepted a Bonner pass on the opening drive of the second half, setting up an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that ended with a Millspaugh scoring on a 3-yard run to make it 31-13.
From there, the teams traded punches like two heavyweight prizefighters.
First, Bradford grabbed a 48-yard touchdown pass from Bonner, and Clackamas' Braelen Bettles countered with a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
"I was just out there trying to make a play for my team," Bettles said. "We had a wedge going, so I took it slow and then right when I saw a hole I just exploded through and it was all gas to the end zone."
Next, Dennis-Lee capped a nine-play, 54-yard scoring drive with a 5-yard touchdown run for the Pioneers, and then Nelson kicked a 25-yard field goal at the end of a 14-play, 68-yard drive that made it 41-26.
Finally, Bradford caught his third TD pass of the night, the Oregon City defense forced Clackamas to punt, and the Pioneers took over at their own 41 with 1:46 to play, needing a touchdown and a two-point conversion to tie.
"All I was thinking about was winning the game -- scoring and tying this thing up and going on from there," Bonner said. "We just didn't execute at the end. It's disappointing, but I'm proud of all my guys. They fought real hard tonight."
Bonner ran for a first down, taking the ball to the Clackamas 37 with 1:15 to play. Then he went to pass, but never got the ball away as Barber came with pressure from the left side and dropped Bonner for a 10-yard loss.
"Everyone was doing their job, but I just made a bad read," Bonner said. "That sack killed us."
On fourth-and-20, Erskine sacked Bonner, sealing the win with 42 seconds left.
For the first time in 11 games, Clackamas experienced some fourth-quarter pressure, and while the Cavalier showed signs of bending, they never came close to breaking.
"I think we probably got a little tighter than we wanted to, but it was good for us," Bushman said. "We needed to be in a game like this. We know in playoff football there's going to be a bunch of games like this.
"You would have liked to have been in one a little earlier in the season to kind of work out the kinds and get that feeling to know what it's like to be in a close game. It's good to come out here with a win and hopefully we'll be more battle-tested down the line."
Modjeski completed 13 of 21 passes and connected with five different receivers. Bletko had four receptions for a team-high 56 yards, and Turner added four catches for 26 yards.
"Not our best," Modjeski said. "I think we definitely could have played better in all areas of the game. We've got some stuff to work on, for sure.
"The keys tonight were just sticking with the game plan, the offense having faith in the defense, the defense having faith in the offense, and just knowing that we were going to make plays when we needed to make them."
Bonner, one of the 14 seniors on Oregon City's roster, completed 11 of 18 passes for 148 yards, while Bradford had six catches for 119 yards. Kassebaum led the Pioneers' ground game with 14 carries for 117 yards, and Dennis-Lee had 15 carries for 94 yards.
"It's hard to say goodbye to these seniors," said Janz, whose team is scheduled to return to the Three Rivers League next season. "I'm really thankful for this group. It's a really good group of kids and I'm looking forward to what's to come, because it's only year one.
"I feel like we were a play or two away from being a quarterfinalist in year one, and if we continue to build this thing and we keep our community involved and excited, I think that we can be contenders down the road and be a significant program that hopefully can stand alongside the good ones like Central Catholic and Clackamas. We want to be in that conversation."