The Gervais football team opened the season expecting to host Chemawa for homecoming night on the final home game of the season.
When the Braves dropped to a JV schedule mid-season, it appeared as if the Cougars would be without a homecoming, but the Colton Vikings stepped up and volunteered to travel to Gervais for a rematch that allowed the Cougars to send out their seniors in style.
The Vikings pulled no punches, though, delivering a 24-0 shut out on Friday, Oct. 25 to improve to 4-4 (1-3 Special District 2) and keep their playoff hopes alive. But despite their struggles, the Cougars were happy to close out their home schedule in front of packed stands and cheering fans.
"Four weeks ago, I didn't think I was going to have a homecoming game," Gervais senior Xaden Ramon said. "Having this now, it's a delight."
Ramon was largely held in check, leading the team with 48 all-purpose yards as the Viking defense came away with four takeaways and held the Cougars to just 108 yards of offense.
The first time the two teams played, the Vikings prevailed in a much closer 30-14 contest. Colton senior Zach Rodgers said that getting a second chance to see the Cougars' offense that relies a lot on misdirection helped the team stifle Gervais' run game in the rematch.
"We kind of thought they'd just do the same thing, and they did, so it was nice knowing what they were going to do." Rodgers said. "The first time we played them, we kind of had a rough time figuring it out. It was nice to know what they were doing and just stop it."
The first contest between the two games in September counted for league placement. Though that was not the case the second time around, the No. 15 Vikings needed a victory to keep their OSAA ranking high enough to earn one of the four at-large state playoff berths. They largely achieved that in the trenches, rushing for 245 yards, including a game-high 175 yards from Wyatt Earls. The senior running back-quarterback hybrid scored three touchdowns and credited the Vikings' defense with setting up the offense in Gervais territory most of the evening.
"I'd say that was the biggest factor, just giving (Gervais) three-and-outs and shutting out their offense gave our whole team momentum to go do better on offense," Earls said.
Earls did most of his work in the first half, including a 58-yard touchdown toward the end of the second quarter that put the Vikings up 18-0. But after struggling to contain Earls and sophomore teammate Travers Rodgers in the first 24 minutes, the Cougars tightened their defense in the second half, holding the Vikings to just one two-yard touchdown by Rodgers.
"Defensively, I think we did great," Gervais junior Brian Limage said. "A few ups and downs, but we can get that covered against (future opponent) Nea-Kah-Nie."
Earls agreed, noting that the rematch appeared to give the defenses on both sides of the ball an edge on Friday.
"I think it did give the defense an advantage, but they really stepped up in their defense and shut our offense down," he said. "They did a lot better in this game on the defensive end."
Although the Cougars were unable to keep pace with the Vikings, the crowd remained in a festive mood. A standing room-only crowd cheered and celebrated with abandon as Gervais gave out gift cards, showcased its homecoming court and retired their 30-year-old Cougar mascot for a new one that was introduced at halftime.
"The spirit during homecoming, this was just amazing," junior Auggie Guido said. "There was so much school spirit from previous years. I feel this is a good step not only for football here, but for the school in general."
In addition to his big game on the ground, Earls was 2-of-5 from behind center for 30 yards, finding Rodgers once for a 27-yard connection in the first half to keep their second scoring drive alive.
Rodgers added 18 yards and four carries, while Travers Rogers chipped in 53 yards on 11 carries.
Damian Tavera led the Cougars on the ground with 37 yards, while Santos had 28. Ramon had 27 yards on the ground and added a 21-yard catch. He was one of six seniors to play the final home game of their football career on Friday. Ramon was joined by Santos, Eduardo Cortes, Cole Trevino, Manuel Cardenas and Jesus Cortes.
"I'm glad that everyone came out tonight," Ramon said. "I got to play with this team all four years, and I'm glad. I'm going to be a Cougar for life."
Gervais (2-6, 0-5 SD2) closes their season on the road on Friday, Nov. 1, at Neah-Kah-Nie (4-3, 4-2 SD1).
Colton finishes its regular-season schedule at home against No. 11 Santiam (3-3, 2-2 SD2) in a game in which the winner — and possibly both teams — will likely punch its postseason ticket.
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