Kennedy returns to state title game with 15-12 victory over Monroe
In a contest tauted as a clash between the state's top offensive and defensive teams in the 2A Classification, the Kennedy football team's vaunted defenders held the high-scoring Monroe Dragons at bay in a thrilling 15-12 victory that sent the Trojans to the state championship game for the second consecutive year.
Meeting at Hillsboro Stadium in the 2019 2A Football State Semifinals on Saturday, the two teams represented the past two 2A champions — Monroe winning in 2017 and Kennedy in 2018.
And while the Dragons entered the game led by a potent offense that led all 2A teams at nearly 50 points per contest, neither team was able to gain any kind of offensive footing, combining for five turnovers in the first four drives of the game.
Kennedy junior Sam GrosJacques ended the opening drive by pouncing on a fumble by Monroe's senior All-State running back Zach Young, but after marching down to the Monroe 16-yard line, Trojan quarterback Dylan Kleinschmit was intercepted on the 3-yard line by Young.
Five minutes later, it was Kennedy's Ruben Ramirez with the pick, pulling down an interception on Monroe's Brody Ballard. But Kleinschmit and the Trojans were in turn picked off by Edgardo Rodriguez.
Kennedy finally found paydirt at the tail end of the first half when Kleinschmit ended the Dragons' ensuing possession, intercepting Ballard at midfield and returning the ball to the Monroe 21-yard line. Kleinschmit connected on a 10-yard pass to Isaiah Basargin and Bruce Beyer advanced the ball to the 2-yard line. Kleinschmit punched it in two plays later with eight seconds left on the clock to give the Trojans a 7-0 lead heading into halftime.
The Dragons scored their first touchdown of the game on their second drive of the third quarter when Ballard took a 47-yard keeper from midfield to the house. But Beyer blocked the extra point, preserving the Kennedy lead and making it a 7-6 ball game with 5:04 left in the third quarter.
The two teams traded scoreless drives for the remainder of the contest until Monroe took the ball at their own 45-yard line with six minutes left. The Dragons used a fake punt on fourth down, a forward fumble and a facemask penalty to advance to the one-yard line, where Ballard punched it in to give his team the first lead of the game. His ensuing two-point conversation attempt was no-good, making it 12-7 with 2:59 left for the Trojans to launch their game-winning touchdown drive.
Starting at their own 41-yard line, the Trojans went to Beyer for four consecutive runs, converting on a crucial fourth-and-one to keep their hopes alive with 1:38 left. After two incomplete passes, Kleinschmit found Riley Cantu for a 22-yard reception, followed by a 27-yard completion to Brady Traeger, who stretched across the goal line for the touchdown with 41 seconds left.
Beyer converted the two-point conversion, bringing the game to the final margin of victory. The Dragons had one final drive to tie or win the game, and completed a fourth-and-eight pass from Ballard to Trenton Bateman for 25 yards to get to midfield. But the play was called back due to illegal motion, and Ballard's ensuing fourth-down pass fell incomplete to conclude the game.
Defensively, the Trojans held Ballard to 2-of-10 passing for 16 yards. Though Kennedy gave up 302 rushing yards to the Dragons, led by 163 yards from Young, the Trojans took advantage of four Monroe fumbles, recovering one, to go along with two interceptions.
Kleinschmit led the Trojans on offense,completing 4-of-12 passes for 69 yards a touchdown and two interceptions to go along with his rushing touchdown. Beyer had a team-high 117 rushing yards on 19 carries. Traeger, Cantu, Basargin and Beyer each caught a pass from Kleinschmit.
No. 1 Kennedy (10-1) advanced to the 2019 2A Football State Championship against the No. 3 Heppner Mustangs (12-0), who defeated No. 7 Knappa 55-18 in the other state semifinal on Saturday.
The two teams met in the 2015 state championship, where the Mustangs claimed a 48-0 victory over the Trojans.
Kennedy is making its sixth appearance in the state championship, where the team is 1-4 overall, winning their lone title last year against Santiam. Heppner is likewise in its sixth title game, and has gone 2-3 in its previous contests, winning in 2015 and 1992.
The 2019 2A Football State Championship will be held on Saturday, Nov. 30 at Hermiston High School. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:30 p.m.
The Kennedy Trojans are making their sixth trip to the football state championship. Kennedy has gone 1-4 in its previous five visits, winning its first state championship last year to break a four-game streak of losses in the finals.
1989 Class A
Salem Academy 27, Kennedy 14
1991 Class 2A
Vale 13, Kennedy 12
2009 Class 2A
Scio 14, Kennedy 7
2015 Class 2A
Heppner 48, Kennedy 0
2018 Class 2A
Kennedy 31, Santiam 20
2019 Class 2A
No. 1 Kennedy (10-1) vs. No. 3 Heppner (12-0)
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