Chance Miller kickoff return sparks Cougar comeback in second half on homecoming

PMG PHOTO: DEREK WILEY - Canby junior Chance Miller runs away from a couple of Lakeridge defenders Friday night.

"Sweet Caroline" coming from the Canby student section was the loudest it had been all season as the Cougars tied visiting Lakeridge with 10 minutes to go in the game.

But three plays later Pacers running back Jalen John quieted the home crowd and Lakeridge held on for a 35-28 Three Rivers League victory Friday night.

Lakeridge improved to 3-3, while Canby dropped to 0-6.

"The kids have bought into the idea that we're getting better each week and we're going to get there," Canby coach Jimmy Joyce said after another close loss. "It's just a matter of time. You have to learn to win and we're learning to win. We're getting closer. We're still in that process."

Lakeridge never trailed in the game as quarterback Cooper Justice connected with Bryson Corbin streaking down the sideline for a 42-yard touchdown on third-and-19 with 5:32 remaining in the first quarter.

On its next two possessions, Canby drove inside Lakeridge's 20-yard line, but finished with zero points, each time getting stopped on fourth down.

Canby's defense then provided the spark the Cougars needed as lineman Nicholas Vandecoevering ripped the ball away from John to give it right back to the offense.

And this time Canby took advantage.

Quarterback Mikey Gibson connected with Ronan Gay for a 23-yard gain and then Kaden Boyd for a 6-yard touchdown.

PMG PHOTO: DEREK WILEY - Canby junior Kaden Boyd catches a 6-yard touchdown pass at the end of the first half Friday against Lakeridge.

The Cougars missed the extra point, but were within 7-6 of the Pacers with 38 seconds remaining in the first half.

However, Lakeridge needed only two plays to answer as Justice found Matt Petersen for a 39-yard gain and then Corbin for a 29-yard touchdown to take a 14-6 lead into halftime.

On their first drive of the second half, the Pacers again struck quickly as Justice and Corbin connected for their third touchdown on a 66-yard gain.

"We had the open looks because they were having to respect Jalen," Justice said. "It was there and Bryson's a great player, so are the rest of the receivers, too. The whole receiving core has put a lot of work in with me this offseason and it's showing. They're really showing out this year. We've got a lot of young guys who are learning a lot and learning really quick. It's really fun to see. It's really nice to be able to just spread a team out and each guy that's on the field can make a play for you."

Trailing 21-6, Canby junior Chance Miller then got the Cougars up off the met, returning the following kickoff for a touchdown.

"I just saw a hole and hit it and we had blockers down the field making blocks that honestly a lot of people wouldn't make," Miller said. "I had teammates all the way down the field making blocks for me."

Gibson then found Jackson Linman open in the end zone for a successful two-point conversion to get Canby within a touchdown, 21-14, with 7:26 remaining in the third quarter.

Canby's defense then forced three straight punts.

After both teams exchanged fumbles on back-to-back plays, the Cougars took over at the Lakeridge 45-yard line.

Gibson and Wyatt Ramos combined for a 27-yard gain to get into the red zone.

On second-and-goal from the 15-yard line, Lakeridge appeared to have Gibson sacked, but the sophomore quarterback was able to dump the ball off to Miller, who then avoided multiple Pacer defenders and followed his blockers into the end zone for the tying touchdown.

"I was just trying to make something out of nothing and trying to get in the end zone," Miller said. "I was able to get around a couple of people and I had two teammates blocking for me and was able to escape around the outside."

PMG PHOTO: DEREK WILEY - Canby quarterback Mikey Gibson runs the ball against Lakeridge Friday.

The tie did not last long as John woke up Lakeridge's offense on a 61-yard run to get to the Canby 2-yard line. Justice then took the ball into the end zone from there.

Canby marched to the Pacer 13-yard line, but on third down Lakeridge junior Andrew Oliver intercepted a pass intended for Tyler Mead in the back of the end zone with 2:53 remaining in the game.

John then added a 12-yard touchdown run to seal the victory with 51 seconds to go.

Canby's final touchdown, a 32-yard strike from Gibson to Kyle Sandner came with 7.6 seconds remaining.

"It's all the kids," Joyce said of the second half comeback. "They really have a fighter's mentality. We talk about it constantly. It's a 12 round fight and we've just got to fight and not give up and that's what these kids have really bought into. This game comes down to two big plays for them and some untimely mistakes for us that we need to clean up, and that's the process of learning to win."

In his second start at quarterback, Gibson completed 20 of 30 pass attempts for 284 yards and three touchdowns.

"He's a special kid," Joyce said of Gibson. "He's learning to play the position. You watch him and you see what the future holds and it's pretty bright. He's a generational talent."

For Lakeridge, Justice completed 11 of 22 passes for 291 yards and three touchdowns. John rushed for 137 yards on 14 carries.

"I have a lot of respect to these guys," Justice said of Canby. "They're always a tough team. It's just a tough game. You know you're going to have to fight. They're going to hit hard. They're going to want to win. A lot of respect to these guys, a really tough game tonight."

Both Lakeridge and Canby have tough games next Friday. The Pacers host undefeated Tigard, while the Cougars travel to Lake Oswego to play the defending Class 6A state champions.

"I have no problems with these guys going against anybody right now," Joyce said. "It doesn't really matter. We're just going to show up and play for four quarters and fight like hell."

Derek Wiley
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