Oregon City's Calvin Green was in the right place at the right time for the Pioneers on Friday night.
And so was Morpheus Nithikhun.
Green caught a 28-yard touchdown pass from Trey Martin with 39 seconds remaining and Nithikhun turned a broken play into a two-point conversion, lifting the Pioneers to a 41-39 non-conference win Friday over Grants Pass at Pioneer Memorial Stadium.
Tied at 33-33, Grants Pass went on an 11-play, 79-yard scoring drive that ended with Joel Valadez finding the end zone on a 4-yard fly sweep for the go-ahead touchdown with 5:16 remaining.
The Cavemen elected to go for two, but quarterback Chase Coyle threw incomplete in the end zone, leaving the score at 39-33.
Oregon City answered with a 12-play, 83-yard touchdown drive that saw the Pioneers convert on a fourth-and-2 situation from their own 48 with 1:29 to play followed by a defensive pass interference call that took the ball to the Grants Pass 33 with 1:04 remaining.
After a Martin-to-Green pass picked up 6 yards on first down and a Zac Woods' run lost a yard on second down, the Pioneers called a timeout, facing third-and-5 from the Cavemen 28.
The Pioneers wanted to run a hitch-and-go to Green on the left side, but Green changed the play at the line of scrimmage as soon as he saw that he was matched up one-on-one with Valadez, the defensive back who was lined up in press coverage.
"Grants Pass was trying to bounce the hitches and we were just eatin' them up all night," Green said. "When I saw Valadez press up, I was like, I'm just going to give him a little move and go.
"And I just want to say, it was the sickest thing, I caught the ball and then I got up and the first person I see is my mom standing there and I was like, 'I love you, mom.' It was such a surreal moment."
But that just tied the score at 39-39.
The Pioneers lined up to kick an extra point with Austin Canchola holding for backup kicker Indy Daniel. But Canchola bobbled the snap from center, then picked the ball up and scrambled out of trouble before floating a short pass to Nithikhun, who rumbled into the end zone to keep the game from going into overtime.
"The snap was low and I couldn't catch it," Canchola said. "We just went over that 'fire drill' yesterday at practice and coach just said, 'Look for someone flying out.'
"I grabbed the ball, I saw Momo, and I hucked it to him and just prayed."
Grants Pass got the ball back a final time at its own 37 with 32 seconds left, but Coyle threw incomplete on first down and his next pass got tipped by Oregon City linebacker Kyle Kopp and ended up in Green's hands for an interception with 22 seconds left.
All that remained was for Martin to take a knee one time and the Pioneers had another win over Grants Pass to go with the two from last season – a 64-41 win in Week 1 and a 60-35 win in the first round of the 6A state playoffs.
"That was a phenomenal effort," Pioneers coach Dustin Janz said. "We just kept swinging the axe and eventually the tree fell down. You've just got to play like that sometimes."
"That's a heckuva football team over there. I told the kids it's hard to beat a team once like we did last year. It's harder to beat them a second time like we had to do in the playoffs. And now to come back and find a way to beat them for the third time, that is really, really special."
The Cavemen had Oregon City reeling when they scored on the last play of the first half to take a 19-10 lead and then added a touchdown and a two-point conversion on the opening drive of the second half that made it 27-10.
But with the game on the line, Grants Pass came up empty on six of its final seven possessions — three drives ending with punts and three others ending with interceptions.
"We didn't make plays down the stretch," Cavemen coach John Musser said. "Some of our best players were the ones that … those are the guys that have got to make plays and they didn't down the stretch.
"Oregon City has a gunslinger for a quarterback and they just starting firing away. Nowadays in high school football, you're a couple of series away from changing any game. We stall out, we have a series where we dropped three balls in a row and we just shot ourselves in the foot."
Musser said the Cavemen had the matchup they wanted — Valadez one-on-one with Green — on the game's final touchdown play.
"Green just made a beautiful play," Musser said. "Our best corner, our best DB was all over him and just just went up and made a play over our guy. That's why I'm saying, our guys have got to make plays down the stretch. We didn't do that.
"Oregon City's kids made plays down the stretch. That Green kid, I think is one of the toughest players in the state. He really is. I know he doesn't get all the write-ups that a lot of the kids from West Linn, Lake Oswego, and Jesuit do, but he's as tough as there is. We've seen him for two years, and he's as tough as we've played."
As for Oregon City's play call in that situation, Janz said the Pioneers had been waiting for the right moment to take a deep shot.
"Early on in the game, Grants Pass was playing that off-man coverage, so we kept dinking them underneath, underneath, underneath," Janz said. "The whole game, we were like, 'We're going to get a shot at a hitch-and-go, eventually.' I just didn't want to pull it out too soon and lose the opportunity to use it when it counted.
"We got down there with 40-some seconds left and it was like, 'It's now or never.' So, we called a timeout to set it up, and then they played press coverage, and if they're pressing Calvin, he's going to run right by ya.
"He did a great a job. He just did a little head shake and he was gone and then Trey threw a great ball. It was pretty special."
By the numbers
The Pioneers had several players who had big games in the opener. Among the biggest and brightest:
• Martin, the junior transfer from Jefferson High School in Northeast Portland, completed 39 of 54 passes for 377 yards and four touchdowns.
• Green, the 6-2, 185-pound senior wideout, led all receivers with 17 catches for 171 yards, including touchdown receptions of 24 and 28 yards. He also was a force on the defensive side of the ball with two second-half interceptions, one with 9:54 to play in the fourth quarter that set up a two-play, 16-yard scoring drive that tied the game at 33-33.
• Canchola was Martin's second-favorite target, making 10 catches for 98 yards.
• Jahleel Heath, the 6-3, 210-pound junior receiver, caught five passes for 52 yards and two touchdowns — a 9-yard strike that cut the Cavemen's lead to 13-10 with 41 seconds to play in the half, and a 12-yard score that pulled the Pioneers even at 33-33 with 9:22 left in the fourth quarter.
• Linemen Lucas Cloyd, Kaden Krug, Hayden Miller, Broc Riskey, Matt Wollcott, and Zach Zumwalt did all the heavy lifting in the trenches after injuries and other factors left the Pioneers without backups.
"Overall, the performance wasn't our best, but we fought our way back and found a way to win," Martin said. "I had to execute on my part, my receivers had to run great routes, which they did, and my line blocked and protected me the whole game. I didn't get touched.
"It feels great. I'm so proud of the team. I'm so proud of everybody. I'm just glad we put it all together and we won the game."
GRANTS PASS 0 19 14 6 — 39
OREGON CITY 3 7 15 16 — 41
OC — Indy Daniel 29 FG
GP — Joel Valadez 25 pass from Chase Coyle (Riley Bonney kick)
GP — Dante Haven 7 pass from Coyle (kick failed)
OC — Jahleel Heath 9 pass from Trey Martin (Daniel kick)
GP — Jake Henricks 41 pass from Coyle (pass failed)
GP — Henricks 11 run (Coyle run)
OC — Zac Woods 27 run (Daniel kick)
OC — Calvin Green 24 pass from Martin (Austin Canchola run)
GP — Valadez 14 run (run failed)
OC — Heath 12 pass from Martin (Heath run)
GP — Valadez 4 run (pass failed)
OC — Green 28 pass from Martin (Morpheus Nithikhun pass from Canchola)
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.