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Bucks crush the reigning state champions on Hall of Fame night, improve to 2-0 on the season

The history of St. Paul athletics was on full display Friday night at the St. Paul Rodeo Grounds, as the high school welcomed legendary teams and individuals from decades past. The current Buckaroo football players, visibly motivated and hyped up for the game between the lines, had a bit of recent history on their minds.

Last season, St. Paul entered the Class 1A state championship game undefeated before falling to the Dufur Rangers 38-32 at Hillsboro Stadium. The Bucks (2-0) got revenge on Friday by demolishing a rebuilt Ranger team, 68-18.

"They're good football players — they just need to get better," St. Paul coach Tony Smith said of Dufur. "We need to get better, too, fundamentally — but we did some good things. We came out and played better in the second half and didn't make the same mistakes."

Senior quarterback TJ Crawford, who was under center for that bitter state title loss, got the scoring started for St. Paul in the first quarter with an 18-yard pass to senior tight end Hayden Scott. A failed two-point conversion made it 6-0 Bucks early.

Late in the first, St. Paul scored again on a 16-yard run by Mitch Curtis. It was 12-0 Bucks before Dufur responded with a touchdown in the final seconds of the first frame — a trick play that saw running back Kaleb Pence take the toss and eventually throw a pass to quarterback Cooper Bales, who hauled it in for the score.

The Bucks and Rangers traded touchdowns — a seven-yard run by Crawford and a one-yard run by Pence — before the game began to break open. Crawford hit Scott for a 29-yard touchdown before the signal-caller switched to the defensive side and ran back an interception 35 yards to paydirt.

At the half, it was 34-12 St. Paul.

"We were kind of asleep at first, but we realized that Dufur wasn't going to just lay down like the other teams we play," senior lineman Steve Coppola said. "The underclassmen did a good job stepping into their roles and I'm proud of what they did tonight. It was an amazing game as a group."

A litany of errors by Dufur and a renewed focus by St. Paul led to a lopsided third quarter. The Bucks out-scored the Rangers 34-6 in the third, doubling their point total in grand fashion as substitutes began to trickle into the game.

Senior running back Saul Martinez rumbled into the end zone from 15 yards out. Curtis did the same thing three minutes later, but from 17 yards. Sophomore Clancy Koch got in on the action and scored on an eight-yard scamper. Less than 15 seconds later, after a fumble on the kickoff, senior Gianni Grasso ran unopposed for a 20-yard touchdown.

Two-point conversions were made and missed, young guys got a chance to prove themselves and raucous celebrations by St. Paul were met in equal measure by downtrodden body language from Dufur. When the dust settled, it was 62-18 Bucks through three.

Early in the fourth quarter, with the clock running for the remainder of the contest, Grasso put a bookend on the scoring onslaught with a 58-yard run to bring the game to its final score of 68-18.

"We came out and played hard," Coppola said. "We prepared for this all week, studied film and came out tonight and performed almost perfect. We had a little vengeance in us, but we still did what we knew we could do."

St. Paul players left the field after postgame handshakes, faced their fans and sang along to the fight song — their voices an echo of the 70-plus years of history that was acknowledged at halftime of their blowout win. The small town known for its Fourth of July rodeo, has been singing the high school's fight song for generations at all manner of sporting events.

As current football players look ahead to the remainder of the 2019 season, they hope to find their place in the athletic program's proud history. Smith believes in his team's potential and said it has plenty of room to improve. Coppola echoed those sentiments and took it a step further.

"If we continue to play the way we've been playing as a unit, we will make it to the state championship," Coppola said. "Hopefully we'll win this time."

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