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In a back-and-forth battle, the Trojans got a big stop late in the fourth quarter to secure victory over the Vikings

PMG PHOTO: TANNER RUSS - Kennedy quarterback Elijah Traeger scored two touchdowns for the Trojans against Vale, one through the air and one on the ground. Kennedy defeated Vale 14-12 on Nov. 12.

Kennedy football might be operating at 3A, but the results are looking eerily similar to the run the team put together last year as a 2A team. The Trojans once again will reach the state semifinals of 11-man football after defeating Vale 14-12 on Nov. 12 at Silverton High School.

The winning play for the Trojans came on the defensive side of the ball. After the Vikings scored a touchdown on a quarterback sneak from the one-yard line, Kennedy's lead was cut to 14-12 with 30 seconds to go in the game. Needing a 2-point conversion to tie the game up, Vale went to a play that had worked well for them earlier in the game: the halfback pass.

Vale actually scored its first touchdown of the game with a pass from Eli Aldred to Brooks Haueter, and the Vikings went back to the play with the game on the line.

Kennedy had other ideas. The Trojans intercepted the pass in the endzone, nullifying the 2-point conversion and effectively ending the game.

According to Kennedy head coach Joe Panuke, the halfback pass wasn't something that showed up in the film ahead of the game.

"We were expecting them to run it inside or toss, they love to run tosses outside," Panuke said. "We thought it was going to be a toss, and they went with a toss pass, which was pretty gutsy there. Not a whole lot of room for that."

PMG PHOTO: TANNER RUSS - Kennedy running back Javier Rodriguez breaks free from the line of scrimmage against the Vale Vikings in the 3A state quarterfinals. Kennedy defeated Vale 14-12.

On offense, Kennedy picked up both touchdowns courtesy of junior quarterback Elijah Traeger. The first Trojan touchdown of the game came with 7:30 to go in the third quarter when Traeger connected with tight end Brett Boen. The second Kennedy touchdown also came courtesy of Traeger, although the latter was on a sneak play inside the red zone.

According to Traeger, who Panuke identifies as one of the leaders on the team, the touchdown through the air is more satisfying than the one on the ground.

"Connecting with the receiver (is better), definitely," Traeger said. "It's always that bond that you have with the receivers, you're able to connect with them; there's always a lot more excitement through there."

While the Kennedy offense struggled to produce more than 21 points for the first time all season, the defense was resolute the entire game. The Trojans stopped several Vale excursions into the red zone and came up big with the game-winning 2-point conversion denial.

It's something Traeger and company intend to hold strong with another heavyweight matchup on the horizon.

"Honestly, our offense didn't go as expected or as we wanted it to, but our defense played outstanding," Traeger said. "We stopped them pretty much all throughout the game. We wanted to run it on them and throw it on them. They came out ready to play, and their defense pretty much shut down our offense. We need to come about on that."

The Trojans improve to 11-0 on the year and will face a stern test in the semifinals. Banks, a 4A school that dropped down to 3A, is also unbeaten at 11-0 and won a close quarterfinal contest of its own, winning 10-7 over Santiam Christian on Nov. 12.

The prospect of facing another unbeaten team is an exciting one for Panuke.

"I don't think we've ever played Banks before," Panuke said. "First time, it gets me excited. They're a 4A school coming down to play 3A this year, we're a 2A coming up to play 3A, so it's kind of fun. It's essentially a 4A playing a 2A in the semifinals, I'm sure our guys will get pretty excited about going to play Banks. There's a lot of history there, and we're looking forward to it."

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