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The secondary postseason tournament offers players more time together - and a more realistic shot at raising a trophy.

PMG PHOTO: ANDY DIECKHOFF - Ansu Sanoe (1), Tashi Crofut (12) and the rest of the Lakeridge Pacers have been enjoying the inaugural Columbia Cup, where they reached the semifinals after defeating Oregon City 35-14 on Friday, Nov. 11.

The new Columbia Cup football tournament will not result in a state championship, but for at least two teams, the event has still been extremely significant.

After No. 22 Lakeridge defeated No. 19 Oregon City on Friday night, Nov. 11, both teams expressed gratitude about the opportunity to play in the first-ever Columbia Cup. The tournament, which places the teams ranked No. 17 through No. 32 into a secondary bracket, has provided both the Pacers and Pioneers with chances to host games in the postseason — something that would not have happened in years past for the No. 19 and No. 22 seeds. More importantly, the new tournament has given two teams that struggled in the regular season something to play for in November.

"We're trying to go out and win this Columbia Cup championship," said Lakeridge senior Tashi Crofut after the win on Friday.

The all-league linebacker added that while some may look down upon the second-tier tournament, he and his fellow teammates are not listening to the naysayers.

"I know people say the Columbia Cup is not a big deal, but for us, these seniors, it's a big deal," Crofut said. "It's fun. We're having fun out here. It would mean the world to our coaching staff, our seniors, our juniors, whoever. It means a lot."

Added Lakeridge freshman running back Ansu Sanoe: "It feels great. We're not in the bracket we wanted, but we're playing more games."

The feeling was mutual on the other side of the field Friday night.

"Any extra weeks you can get with your team is an awesome bonus," said Oregon City junior lineman Ryder Swanson. "Making it as far as we did, compared to last year, was just tremendous for us."

PMG PHOTO: ANDY DIECKHOFF - Oregon City senior Marcus Jordan (6) breaks a tackle by Lakeridge senior Tashi Crofut (12) during the Columbia Cup quarterfinals on Friday, Nov. 11, at Pioneer Memorial Stadium in Oregon City.

For the Pioneer seniors, such as wide receiver/defensive back Jake Lopez, these games offered one last chance to play together.

"We've played together for a long time," Lopez said. "It was really special to be able to work with these guys one last time."

While the players have enjoyed their experience in the Columbia Cup to this point, perhaps the biggest fan of the new tournament is Oregon City head coach Shane Hedrick.

"I think the Columbia Cup is probably one the smartest things the OSAA has done for Class 6A," Hedrick said.

"People have to understand that 6A is a little different. When you get your Central Catholics and Jesuits, that caliber of team, and then your West Linns and Sheldons, that's like the SEC," said the Pioneer coach, referring to college football's premier league, the Southeastern Conference. "It's like what you've seen the last eight, nine years in championship football in college. There's Clemson, there's Alabama and then occasionally someone else sneaks in."

Hedrick noted that the Columbia Cup helps to even the playing field a bit.

PMG PHOTO: ANDY DIECKHOFF - Oregon City head coach Shane Hedrick is a major proponent of the new Columbia Cup tournament, calling it 'probably one of the smartest things the OSAA has done for Class 6A.'

"It's giving a chance to other schools that maybe don't have the financial resources that some have, or the population gatherings that some have. It's balanced things out, equaled it out, so I think it's a very good deal for 6A."

To Hedrick's point, the semifinals of the 6A championship bracket include: No. 1 West Linn, which won its quarterfinal matchup 52-7 over No. 8 Sherwood; No. 2 Sheldon, which dismantled No. 7 Lake Oswego in a 42-7 rout; No. 3 Tualatin, which crushed No. 6 Mountainside 53-21; and No. 4 Central Catholic, which survived a 23-20 battle with a fellow statewide powerhouse, No. 5 Jesuit.

Even in the top-tier tournament with the eight highest-ranked teams in the state, the top three seeds won their games by an average margin of over 36 points.

On the other hand, the Columbia Cup semifinals feature two teams — Lakeridge and No. 28 North Salem — that have defied the odds to make it this far. Lakeridge pulled off the upset over Oregon City, while North Salem has engineered two upset wins, beating No. 21 Newberg 34-14 and No. 20 Jefferson 42-8. That is a breath of parity not seen in the championship bracket.

Lakeridge will take on No. 18 Westview in the Columbia Cup semifinals Friday, Nov. 18, while North Salem squares off with No. 17 Liberty in the other matchup. The times and locations for those games has not yet been finalized.

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