Trojans will make their fifth title game in program history, will face Tri-River rival Santiam in Cottage Grove

PHIL HAWKINS - The Kennedy Trojans - pictured celebrating the team's quarterfinal victory at Sheridan - will make its fifth state championship appearance in program history after defeating the Lost River Raiders 23-16 in the semifinals on Saturday.From 10th seed to title berth, the Kennedy football team completed an improbable run to the 2018 2A State Championship game after defeating the Lost River Raiders 23-16 on Saturday in Bend.

It was a contest between two unlikely semifinalists playing at Summit High School. Kennedy (10-2) had finished third in the Tri-River Conference, but won back-to-back road playoff games — including a 27-6 victory over Tri-River champion Sheridan — to return to the state semifinals for the third time in the past four seasons.

Lost River (7-4) had an equally implausible run, beating a pair of league champions to qualify for the semis as an 11-seed one year after a disappointing 3-7 season.

And it was the Raiders who struck the first blow, stopping the Trojans' opening drive and taking over the ball at midfield. Lost River marched the ball 52 yards downfield, converting twice on fourth down, including a one-yard dive by Nolan Britton on fourth-and-goal to put the Raiders up 7-0 after six minutes of play.

But it didn't take long for Kennedy to answer back.

On the ensuing kickoff, the Trojans' David Reyes took the ball 94 yards to the house, tying the game at 7-7 after an extra point by Bruce Beyer.

From there, the Trojan defense that had played a primary role in the team's seven consecutive victories coming into the game took over.

Kennedy held Lost River to three-and-out on the next drive, and although the Trojans were unable to muster any counter offense, junior Emorej Lynk nailed a coffin-corner punt that went out of bounds three yards from the Raider end zone.

When Lost River took over, Beyer sacked Raiders quarterback Aiden McAuliffe for the safety, giving Kennedy a 9-7 lead with two minutes to play in the quarter.

But Lost River wasn't done yet. After another three-and-out, it was the Raiders' time to shine on special teams. Punter Bryan Ayala's 46-yard kick pinned the Trojans inside their own 10-yard line, and after the ensuing Kennedy drive went nowhere, Lost River returner Jayce Fenner ran back Lynk's punt 21 yards, setting the Raiders up 24 yards from the end zone.

Fenner scored six plays later on a three-yard touchdown run, though the Trojans' Bryce Vandervort blocked the extra point to make it a 13-9 game.

Kennedy took over the ball at their own 24-yard line and needed just four plays to return the favor when quarterback Angel Dela Rosa connected with Lynk for a 71-yard touchdown to put the Trojans back on top 16-13.

Neither team was able to score for the remainder of the half. Beyer picked off McAuliffe on the Raiders' next possession, and Kennedy was held at midfield. Lost River's final drive of the half ended before the Raiders could get within scoring territory.

The Trojans took no time setting the tone in the second half, kicking off to the Raiders and taking advantage of a fumble by Fenner at the 18-yard line, where Kennedy's Dylan Kleinschmit was there to recover the ball.

The Trojans needed a fourth-down conversion by Dela Rosa to keep the drive alive, and Lynk plunged into the end zone shortly after, giving the Trojans a 23-13 lead.

The defense held strong for both sides for the remainder of the game. Kennedy and Lost River traded scoreless possessions heading into the fourth quarter before the Raiders caught a break, sacking Dela Rosa for an 18-yard loss and fumble recovered by Britton at the 15-yard line.

But that's as close as Lost River could get. Kennedy pushed the drive back five yards, and the Raiders were forced to settle for a 37-yard field goal by Jorge Palomar to make it a 23-16 game.

Lost River got another chance on the kickoff when Fenner stripped Reyes on the return, and the Raiders' Carston Hartman recovered the ball 26 yards from the end zone. But once again, Kennedy's defense stepped up, holding the Raiders to just 10 yards, including four consecutive incomplete passes to halt the scoring opportunity.

Lost River continued to hold Kennedy's offense at bay, taking over at midfield with 4:51 left to play. The Raiders drove back deep into Kennedy territory only for their scoring drive to end on an interception by Isaiah Basargin in the end zone.

Kennedy ground out the final two minutes of play to seal the win and send the Trojans back to the state championship game for the first time since 2015.

It was a defensive showcase for both teams, which combined for just 415 total yards. Lynk led both teams with 88 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, while Beyer added 32 yards on six carries. Dela Rosa was 3-for-10 behind center for 108 yards, including his 71-yard touchdown pass to Lynk.

It will be the fifth trip to the finals for the Trojans, who have never won a state football title. Kennedy's seniors were part of the team that lost 48-0 to Heppner four years ago. Prior to that, Kennedy fell 14-7 to Scio in 2009 and 13-12 to Vale in 1991. Kennedy's first state title appearance came in 1989 in a 27-14 loss to Salem Academy in the Class A championship.

This year, the Trojans will face a familiar opponent: the Santiam Wolverines (10-1). Like Kennedy, Santiam is also looking to make up for a recent championship loss, falling 36-22 to Monroe in last year's state title game.

The two teams met earlier this season, when the Wolverines won 44-0 in Mount Angel in the conference opener for both teams. That was the first of Kennedy's consecutive blowout losses to open the Tri-River season. Since then, the Trojans have won eight straight games.

The 2018 2A Football State Championship game will be held at noon Nov. 24 at Cottage Grove High School.

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