In the quarterfinals of the 4A playoffs, Estacada football found itself in uncharted territory — a one possession game heading into the fourth quarter.
The Rangers led 30-22, and had been making solid plays on both sides of the field, but couldn't seem to shake the persistent La Grande Tigers in a much vaunted rematch between two of the top teams in the state. So when push came to shove, Estacada turned to its formidable running game.
The Rangers began lining up in "Diesel" formation, which brings the entire offense in close for a rumbling strategy that doesn't hide much — the ball is coming right up the gut. Normally the Rangers only break out the strategy for goal line situations and two-point conversions, but with driving rain that had their opponents muff four snaps in a row, power football seemed to be the solution.
"We have been telling the kids we embody the run all season, and our 'Diesel' lineup proves that," said Coach Andy Mott. "We want to go out on every play, punch the defense in the mouth, and attack."
That mindset paid dividends for the Rangers Friday night, Nov. 12, as they bested La Grande 44-22 on a neutral field in Sandy in the latest round of the 2021 OSAA 4A Football State Championships.
"We knew we had to come out here and win a playoff game," Mott said. "(La Grande) is a dang good football team, so we had to step up in the second half."
Momentum swung toward the underdogs in a wild end to the first half that had Estacada going from celebrating an apparent turnover to the Tigers roaring on a last-second touchdown.
With under a minute to play, the Tigers were marching down the field. Junior quarterback Logan Williams was moving in the pocket and finding his receivers for quick catches to spare the clock. With 7 seconds left, it appeared Estacada would hold on the 1-yard-line. The ball seemed to pop out on a fumble in a collision, but the ruling was overturned by the officials. Williams snuck in a quarterback keeper to cut the lead to 8 going into halftime.
"A couple moments didn't go our way, but I am happy with how we responded in the second half," Mott said.
After an uneventful third quarter, that had both teams stall during promising drives, the Tigers opened the fourth on a long drive. Reminiscent of how they closed the first, Williams was making smart plays to keep the Rangers defense on its heels. But this time the fumble went in favor of Estacada.
On an attempted handoff, the ball slipped out. After a scrum, Estacada junior defensive lineman Cody White popped up with the ball in hand.
"Late in the game we got some stops, and our defense was putting a lot of pressure on them," Mott said. "We won the turnover battle, and slowed down their running back (senior Brody MacMillan)."
The Rangers would go on to score a pair of touchdowns to put the Tigers away. Both were scored by dynamic junior quarterback Cory James, including a twisting, highlight-reel 45-yard touchdown run that had the crowd erupt in celebration.
There was drama earlier this week headed into the rematch — the Rangers beat the Tigers 44-14 in week three, the only loss in the regular season for La Grande football. Because of the torrential downpour, that has led to flooding across the region, the higher-rated Estacada football was forced to forfeit home-field advantage and play at a neutral site at Sandy High School, which has artificial turf.
Anyone who had seen the state of Buzz Randall Field last week shouldn't be surprised, as Estacada's playoff opening 37-0 win against Stayton devolved into a muddy mess. Plus the Rangers home grass field would have been dangerous with a lack of footing and deceptive divots.
And even with the fancy turf field, the driving rain made itself felt late in the game. As the Rangers were bunkered up and driving down the field in power formations, La Grande was struggling to hold onto the ball. On a pair of crucial drives to keep the score close, the Tigers muffed four snaps in a row. Two skyed over Williams' head, leading to a 4th and 30 yards on one drive.
As the Rangers celebrated the victory, the refrain was "two more to go." This Estacada football team is now halfway toward its goal of winning the state championship for the first time in school history.
"From the beginning, when we had a tough preseason, I felt confident with this group of players," Mott said. "I know every play the guys will give their all and leave everything on the field."
Up next is a semifinal game Saturday, Nov. 20, against No. 7 Marist Catholic, who upset Cascade 62-35.
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