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Despite strong passing game from Cantu, Trojans undone by Coquille rushing game

COTTAGE GROVE, Ore.—Heading into the 2A title game, Kennedy had held nine of its 12 opponents to 10 points or less including four shutouts, most notably over semifinal opponent Lakeview. On the other side of the field Coquille averaged 40.25 points per game (not including results ending in a forfeit).

So what happens when an immovable object is met by an unstoppable force? This time around the unstoppable force kept on moving. Kennedy fell to Coquille 38-28 in the championship contest.

The biggest difference in the game was the effort of Coquille running back Gunnar Yates who ran for 388 yards and 5 touchdowns, three of which came in the second half to put the Trojans away. Yates had touchdown runs of 55, 26, 74, 61, and 48 yards.

"It wasn't lack of effort or execution, our guys played hard and did a good job," Kennedy head coach Joe Panuke said. "Hats off to Coquille and the special season they had. Gunnar Yates has some lightning speed, he broke a few tackles, and when you miss a few tackles on him he can take it to the house on you. I'm proud of how hard our guys fought and played and came back. We just didn't have enough on the scoreboard at the end of the day."

PMG PHOTO: TANNER RUSS - Kennedys Riley Cantu threw for three touchdowns in the state championship game.

Kennedy's offense operated largely through the air. Senior quarterback Riley Cantu had himself a game, throwing 25-of-38 for 266 yards and three touchdowns. Cantu's receiving corps showed up as well. Luke Beyer had eight catches for 68 yards and a touchdown; Owen Bruner had five catches for 60 yards; Stephan Salinas had four catches for 59 yards and a touchdown; Ethan Kleinschmidt had four catches for 41 yards; and Brett Boen had three catches for 39 yards and a touchdown.

The lone Kennedy rushing touchdown of the game came via William Schaecher on a three-yard run at the tail end of the game.

PMG PHOTO: TANNER RUSS - Kennedys William Schaecher recorded the last touchdown of the night, punching the ball in from three yards out.

"I saw that they were in a zone coverage, (and) we had great routes called so I just had to pick them apart, take my time, step into my throws and complete them," Cantu said.

Kennedy started the game strong, converting a pair of early Coquille fumbles into 14 points. Cantu first found Boen and then Beyer to take an early 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Coquille found its way onto the board before the first 12 minutes were up, with Yates scoring on a 55-yard touchdown run.

The lone score of the second quarter was once again Coquille's Yates finding the endzone from 26 yards out. At the half Kennedy and Coquille were tied up 14-14.

The third quarter began just as evenly as the first half ended. Coquille's Brock Willis scored at the 6:45 mark of the quarter on a run from 10 yards out, and a failed 2-point conversion put the Red Devils up 20-14.

Kennedy answered quickly. Cantu found Salinas wide open down the middle of the field for a 32-yard touchdown pass at 4:05 of the third, and a Charlie Beyer extra point gave Kennedy the slight lead 21-20. It was the last time the Trojans would lead in the game.

"(Stephan) does a good job for us in practice, and when Owen went down he stepped in and did a great job," Panuke said. "Good athlete, good hands, proud to see him get a touchdown in the state championship game."

PMG PHOTO: TANNER RUSS - Kennedys Riley Cantu and Stephan Salinas pregame.

Coquille scored twice more in the third quarter, both coming on huge breakaway runs from Yates. By the end of the third Coquille led 32-21.

In the fourth quarter Yates scored his fifth touchdown of the game to put Coquille up 38-21. The Trojans found the endzone once more when Schaecher punched the ball in from three yards out, and Beyer converted on the PAT. When the game ended Coquille were the 2A state champions 38-28.

Riley Cantu was named Kennedy's Player of the Game.

"(Riley) is our senior leader," Panuke said. "He's been making big plays for us all year. He does a great job putting the ball in places our guys can catch it and make plays after the catch. He's been a competitor for us all year, and it's what we expected out of him all year."

The game brought an end to the high school careers of Kennedy's senior class who, as freshman, brought home state gold in the 2018 season. It was a remarkable stretch of consistency as the team reached three state championship games in that time. Now this years mantle goes juniors and sophomores who are more than capable of continuing the run of excellence, according to Cantu.

"(The juniors are sophomores) are really deep," Cantu said. "They've got a lot of skilled players and guys who can do different things. The program is in good hands for the next couple of years."

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