Bucks' season comes to bitter end in title game
HILLSBORO — It was a season of destiny for St. Paul football, until it wasn't.
On a foggy, frigid Saturday at Hillsboro Stadium, the No. 3 seed Buckaroos lost 38-32 to No. 1 Dufur, coming up a touchdown short of their goal of a Class 1A state championship.
The Bucks entered the title game 12-0, their closest contest a 46-16 win over Wallowa in the semifinals a week prior. They were averaging just over 63 points per game and boasted a nearly unstoppable offense.
At the half against Dufur, St. Paul led 32-30 and hadn't punted yet. Its first punt of the game — early in the third quarter — presenteda disastrous shift in momentum. The snap was bad, the Rangers got a hand on the kick, and it ended with a safety that tied the game at 32-32.
The lone touchdown of the second half was a pick-six by Dufur's Tanner Masterson. That play ended up deciding the game, as two productive offenses stalled entirely in the third and fourth quarters. Dufur won 38-32 without scoring an offensive touchdown in that time period.
"We had some guys open and we missed them," St. Paul coach Tony Smith said. "We didn't sustain blocks up front, either. It was just a night and day difference from the first half.
Dufur and St. Paul traded touchdowns during an 8-8 first quarter, with the Buckaroos' score coming on a touchdown run by quarterback TJ Crawford. In the second quarter, St. Paul converted three touchdowns and three two-point conversions, while the Rangers managed three scores and missed one of their two-point tries.
The Bucks scored in the second quarter on a 16-yard run by Justin Herberger and two touchdown catches by Jaidyn Jackson. St. Paul's defense struggled to contain Dufur, however, as the Rangers matched them score for score.
A missed two-point conversion by Dufur near the end of the half seemed crucial at the time, but the safety forced in the third quarter erased its significance. Masterson's pick-six secured the Rangers' state title and 13-0 season.
St. Paul, meanwhile, left the field expressing disbelief and frustration. Its season wasn't supposed to end like this, but Smith told his players in the postgame huddle to keep their heads up and not let one game define them.
The Buckaroos graduate nine seniors: Eric Diaz, Francisco Vargas-Ayala, Rawley Koch, Herberger, Ethan Garofalo, Zach Brentano, Aidan Kirsch, Israel Cisneros and Jackson. Among this group, Herberger and Jackson were the biggest contributors, leading the ground game and receiving group, respectively.
"It was a great group of seniors," Smith said. "A lot of them are two- and three-year starters. Their commitment, the kind of kids they are and the work they do in the classroom has been outstanding. We couldn't be prouder of them and their effort this year."