Banks' state title bid thwarted by La Grande, 21-0
Someone once said, nothing ends well, otherwise it wouldn't end.
What's been nothing short of a magic carpet ride for Banks athletics over the last calendar year, came crashing down in the frigid cold of Hermiston, as the Braves' reign as defending 4A football champs, 22 game win streak, and string of three consecutive major boys state championships all ended in a 21-0 loss to La Grande in the OSAA 4A State Football Championship Saturday night, Nov. 30, at Hermiston High School.
Banks fell behind late in the second quarter, repeatedly shot themselves in the foot with uncharacteristic turnovers, then fell victim to a Tiger defensive front that wreaked havoc on a typically dynamic Braves offensive attack.
"I can't play the 'what if game,' but the turnovers obviously killed us," Banks head coach Cole Linehan said. "I knew it would come down to who takes care of the ball and who executes their offense. At times we executed well, but we just gave it away too much, and deep in their territory.
"Then #74 and #23 are just great players. We knew beforehand that we needed to stop those guys, but they did a good job of moving them around and putting them in positions to succeed."
In all, La Grande sacked Banks quarterback Tanner Shook four times, but even when they didn't finish the deal, they repeatedly flushed the senior signal-caller from the pocket, forcing him to either scramble or throw the ball away or into tight coverage. But while stymying the Braves offense, it was the turnovers that ultimately led to their demise.
"We turned the ball over more times than you can in a state championship game," Shook said. "They capitalized, and that was the difference."
After a slow start that saw both teams move the ball between the 20 yard lines, but neither put points on the board, La Grande struck first when the Tigers capped a 13-play, 62 yard drive with a 4-yard, fourth down touchdown pass from Parker Robinson to Blaine Shaw. The drive was aided by two Banks 15-yard facemask penalties and gave La Grande a 7-0 lead with 3:41 remaining in the first half.
The Braves appeared to be headed for an equalizer on the ensuing possession when they drove 70 yards — too thanks to a couple big defensive penalties — before a 10 yard pitch-and-catch ended with Banks' Jarred Evans fumbling at the La Grande 7-yard line. It was the second lost fumble for the Braves, but despite the mistakes and the 7-point deficit, Banks was still very much in the game as they headed for the halftime locker room.
"We just needed to keep doing what we were doing," Linehan said. "We were executing and having some success, we just kept shooting ourselves in the foot."
The hole got a little deeper to start the second half when Robinson again found Shaw, this time connecting on a 65 yard score on third down on the half's first possession to put the Tigers ahead 14-0.
"It was supposed to be a run play," Robinson said. "But I checked it down, then checked my check-down and he was covered, so at the last second I saw Blaine and flipped it to him."
It was undoubtedly a big play in the game, but according to Shaw, it was less about him and more about what his teammates have just made common-place in this magical run to a state title.
"That was kind of a turning point, but I just have to give all the credit to my teammates," Shaw said. "They just did a great job and always do."
From there it was simply a struggle for Banks. Trailing by two scores, the Braves abandoned the running game they'd leaned so heavily on throughout the year, and faced with a somewhat one-sided attack, La Grande was able to unleash the defensive line that'd had played such a key role in this season's success.
"Honestly they were the difference in the second half," Shaw said. "They just get after it all the time, and when the second half comes they always seem to turn it up a notch."
And they did.
The front that was spearheaded by senior Chris Woodworth, was repeatedly in the Banks backfield, limiting what had previously been a lethal passing attack. Potent receivers like Evans and Jacob Slifka, who typically have their way with opposing defenses, struggled against a Tiger defense that clearly focused on shutting the playmakers down.
"They knew that Slifka was our guy and that he had hurt a lot of teams all season, so they wanted to take him away," Linehan said. "So we knew we had to go other places, and credit to them for executing."
With constant pressure and without his two biggest weapons firing on all cylinders, Shook was forced into what would be the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back, when trailing by two scores and faced with third and long, the quarterback threw an ill-advised pass that was intercepted by La Grande's Nathan Reed and returned 27 yards for a score. Giving the Tigers a 21-0 lead with 50 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
"I was just trying to put it out there and let one of our guys make a play," said Shook. "That's my bad and that just kind of put a dagger in us."
In the end it was the Tigers celebrating a state title, but while not what the Braves came to Hermiston to do, the success of this group didn't go unnoticed by Linehan and his coaching staff after the game.
"I'll just say that these guys have a special place in my heart, because everyone counted them out, but I knew it wasn't the case," the coach said. "Everybody talked about that senior class. Everybody talked about how that's what got us there. But these kids didn't care and just worked their butts off and they were just hungry.
"I always talked about not being complacent and not being satisfied with things. And I'll say this; this group is the most coachable group that I've ever had, and they just believe and believed in the program, and I appreciate that."
And like his coach, Shook seemed to understand — even in the wake of a devastating defeat — how special this team and this season are and will be to each other going forward.
"This team meant the world to me," he said. "I mean these guys were always behind me and helped me become a better quarterback throughout the year, and without them I wouldn't be where I am. Like all these guys out here, I'd do literally anything for them on any day. I couldn't be more proud of them."
Reed led La Grande with 90 yards on 21 carries, while Robinson completed 10 of 17 pass attempts for 117 yards and two touchdowns.
Shaw finished with four catches for 89 yards and two scores.
Banks was led by Shook who finished 18 for 27 for 141 yards with two interceptions.
Martial Stegemeier carried the ball six times for 23 yards, and sophomore Charles White caught six passes for 51 yards.
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