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Trojans return to semifinals for third straight season, face Lakeview in Grant's Pass on Saturday

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - The Kennedy defense overwhelmed Gaston on Saturday, forcing five turnovers and holding the Greyhounds to 150 yards of offense in a 50-16 victory in the 2021 2A state football quarterfinals.After beginning the season against each other, it was somewhat fitting that the Kennedy Trojans and Gaston Greyhounds would meet up once again three months later with their respective seasons on the line.

Behind an overwhelming defense and an opportunistic offense, the Trojans (10-1) beat the Greyhounds (7-3) 50-16 in the quarterfinals of the 2021 2A state football playoffs Saturday at Silverton High School.

It was a bittersweet ending for a Gaston program that had turned itself around and had seen its first playoff success in a decade behind the leadership of its senior-heavy team. After going unbeaten in five games during the COVID-shortened spring season earlier this year, the Greyhounds returned to the field this fall, reeling off the most wins the school had seen in a generation. With the only losses coming in two games against state champion contender Kennedy and league champion Knappa, the 12 departing seniors have lifted the Gaston program to new heights.

"The expectation was to be in the hunt for a league title and to make it to playoffs," head coach Gary Hedin said. "Gaston hasn't (won a playoff game) in probably 10 to 12 years. To get past that first round was a big step for us."

But the Greyhounds ran into a buzzsaw on Saturday against the Trojans, who are making their third consecutive state semifinal appearance. After taking control of the game early, Kennedy blew the contest open in the final five minutes of the second quarter, scoring four touchdowns in quick succession to take a 43-8 lead heading into halftime.

"I told the guys I'm really proud of how we played on a Saturday afternoon," Kennedy head coach Joe Panuke said. "It's just different. It's not Friday night, you're used to being in school and I'm just proud of how we came out. We were focused. Very few mental mistakes."

The run began with the Trojans up 14-0 when quarterback Riley Cantu found receiver Owen Bruner for a 55-yard catch-and-run, setting up a one-yard touchdown run from sophomore teammate Elijah Traeger.

Kennedy forced a fumble on the first play of Gaston's next drive — one of five takeaways for the Trojans — that was pounced on by Matt Hopkins. Four plays later Cantu converted a fourth-down run into a 14-yard touchdown with 2:27 left in the half.

But the Kennedy defense wasn't done yet.

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Kennedy's Brett Boen reaches up for a touchdown reception to conclude a 29-point scoring barrage in the final five minutes of the second quarter to put the Trojans up 43-8.PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Kennedy's Ethan Kleinschmit pulled down two interceptions in the second quarter, leading a Trojan defense that generated five takeaways against Gaston.Junior Ethan Kleinschmit jumped in front of the first pass from Gaston quarterback Dylan Tallent on the next drive, once again putting the Trojans on the doorstep of the Greyhound end zone. Junior running back William Schaecher converted the possession into a 15-yard touchdown run one play later.

The Greyhounds retaliated on the ensuing kickoff with an 82-yard return by Tristan Still for Gaston's first score of the game, followed by a two-point conversion run from Sam Fillinger.

With just over a minute left before the half, Gaston attempted an onside kick, but it was recovered by the Trojans, setting Kennedy up near midfield. That was more than enough time for one more touchdown. A 31-yard flea-flicker pass from Traeger to Bruner set up a nine-yard score from Cantu to Brett Boen, concluding the scoring barrage.

Entering the second half with a running clock, the Trojans used most of the third quarter to stage a 14-play touchdown drive, culminating in a nine-yard run from Traeger. Up 50-8, Kennedy began pulling its starters in the fourth quarter, and Gaston took full advantage.

A strip sack and fumble recovery by the Greyhounds turned into a 55-yard touchdown pass from Tallent to Zaden Wilhelm. A conversion run by Brandon Clowdus concluded the scoring on the day.

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Kennedy senior Riley Cantu passed for 164 yards and two touchdowns while running for a third to help the Trojans advance to their third consecutive state semifinal.Cantu finished the game completing 6-of-11 passes for 162 yard and two touchdowns. Bruner hauled in three catches for 116 yards and a touchdown to lead the team.

Kennedy spread the load among its corps of running backs, with Schaecher's 64 yards on eight attempts leading the team. Traeger added 41 yards and two touchdowns on a team-high 12 carries.

On defense, Kleinschmit led the Trojans with two interceptions. Hopkins, Boen and Schaecher each had takeaways of their own.

For Gaston, Tallent passed for 64 yards and a touchdown, while teammate Jaden Dolan had a team-high 38 rushing yards.

No. 2 Kennedy now turns its attention to 3-seed Lakeview (10-1), which remains the final obstacle between the Trojans and their third straight 2A championship appearance. The two teams will meet Saturday, Nov. 20 at 5 p.m. at Grants Pass High School.

"This group is focused," Panuke said. "They've got one goal in mind and we're looking forward to playing next week against Lakeview."

The top-seeded Heppner Mustangs (11-0) and the 4-seed Coquille Devils (8-1) face each other at McMinnville noon on Saturday on the other side of the semifinal bracket.

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Kennedy's Elijah Traeger had a team-high 12 carries for 41 yards and two-touchdowns. Traeger added a 12-yard catch and a 31-yard pass to finish with 84 all-purpose offensive yards.

Kennedy — 14 29 8 0 -- 50

Gaston — 0 8 0 8 -- 16

SCORING SUMMARY

First Quarter

Kennedy (7:28) — E. Traeger 12y run. J. Martinez kick.

Kennedy (4:40) — R. Cantu 19y pass to O. Bruner. J. Martinez kick.

Second Quarter

Kennedy (4:48) — E. Traeger 1y run. J. Martinez kick.

Kennedy (2:27) — R. Cantu 14y run. J. Martinez kick.

Kennedy (1:16) — W. Schaecher 15y run. J Martinez kick.

Gaston (1:02) — T. Still 82y kickoff return. S. Fillinger run.

Kennedy (0:46) — R. Cantu 9y pass to B. Boen. E. Kleinschmit to L. Beyer.

Third Quarter

Kennedy (1:28) — E. Traeger 9y run. J Matinez kick.

Fourth Quarter

Gaston (3:20) — D. Tallent 55y pass to Z. Wilhelm. B. Clowdus run.

STATISTICS

KENNEDY

Running

William Schaecher – 8 attempts, 64 yards, TD

Riley Cantu – 8 attempts, 26 yards, TD

Elijah Traeger – 12 attempts, 41 yards, 2 TD

Isaac Berning – 3 attempts, 14 yards

Owen Bruner – 2 attempts, 13 yards

Jaydon Estrada – 2 attempts, 13 yards

Spencer Bizon – 1 attempt, 2 yards

Passing

Riley Cantu – 6-of-11, 162 yards, 2 TDS

Elijah Traeger – 1-of-1, 31 yards

Receiving

Brett Boen – 2 catches, 56 yards, TD

Owen Bruner – 3 catches, 116 yards, TD

Elijah Traeger – 1 catch, 12 yards

William Schaecher – 1 catch, 9 yards

Defense

Matt Hopkins – Fumble recovery

Brett Boen – Fumble recovery

Ethan Kleinschmit – Interception, Interception

William Schaecher - Interception

GASTON

Running

Jaden Dolan – 4 attempts, 38 yards

Dylan Tallent – 6 attempts, 9 yards

Brandon Clowdus – 7 attempts, 29 yards

7 – 1 attempt, 10 yards

Austin Liesegang – 2 attempts, 10 yards

Passing

Dylan Tallent – 2-of-11, 64 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT

Receiving

Brandon Clowdus – 1 catch, 9 yards

Zaden Wilhelm – 1 catch, 55 yards, TD

Defense

Jesse Liesegang – Sack

7 – Sack, Forced Fumble

70 – Fumble recovery

Special Teams

Tristan Still – 82KOTD


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