After a high school sports year marked by uncertainty, questions and myriad changes, a handful of the area's best high school football players put an exclamation point on the 2021 season in the annual Les Schwab Bowl.
The Les Schwab Bowl, after a year off in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, made its return at Linfield College in McMinnville on Saturday, July 3. Joining the fray for the North team were Conner McCarty of Clackamas, Kanaan Huffman of West Linn, Zane Garvey of Milwaukie, and Aaron Wilcox, Colby Guenther, Jayce Knapp and Jake Moore of Wilsonville.
While the North's best didn't get the result they wanted — the South posted a 31-8 victory at Linfield — they savored the chance to get back on the football field with the state's best players one more time.
"It was a great week. This is kind of a highlight in their high school careers," said Wilsonville head coach Adam Guenther, who served as an assistant coach for the North team. "The game's just got a great tradition. They do an absolutely phenomenal job of putting it on and showcasing the state's best talent and just making it a week that the kids will remember for a long time."
While this year's game — the 73rd in series history — marked another step back toward normalcy after 16 months of changes brought on by the pandemic and the state government's response to it, it did come with some changes.
There was the move from Hillsboro Stadium to Linfield, there was the addition of players from Southwest Washington and there was the inclusion of underclassmen for the first time in the game's long history.
In the game, here's what the area's best players accomplished.
• Knapp (a 6-foot-2, 185-pound senior quarterback) threw for 109 yards after completing 8 of 11 passes with one interception. His two longest completions came late in the second quarter when he hit Ida Wells' Jayden Brannan for 29 yards, and two plays later, connected with Mountainside's Andrew Simpson for a 28-yard pickup.
• Colby Guenther (a 6-2, 190 senior defensive back) stepped up for 10 tackles (three of them unassisted) — second-most on the North team — and a pass deflection.
• Huffman (a 6-4, 240 senior defensive lineman) finished with one tackle and one quarterback hurry, while Garvey (a 5-11, 195 junior linebacker) and Wilcox (a 6-3, 290 senior defensive lineman) finished with one tackle each.
• McCarty (a 6-1, 290 offensive lineman) and Moore (a 6-4, 240 offensive lineman) teamed up to help the North amass 226 yards in total offense, with 221 of those coming through the air.
"Jayce played very well … and Colby played free safety and he balled out," Adam Guenther said.
While none of that was enough to overcome the South's solid effort — Mazama senior receiver Cole Brosterhous made seven catches for 88 yards and a touchdown to earn MVP honors, while Thurston's Gavin Knights rushed 11 times for 124 yards and a TD — it was the weeklong opportunity to make more gridiron memories that meant the most to the players on both teams.
Besides the contest itself, game week activities included: speeches from former Schwab Bowl players (including Kendrick Bourne, a Milwaukie High School graduate who now plays for the New England Patriots); a players' talent show; a presentation by a hypnotist; a seven-on-seven challenge between offensive and defensive linemen; a tug of war event and more.
"It's a great week, it's an honor to be a part of it and it's special for the kids to be part of the squads this year," Adam Guenther added. "They got to say goodbye to the game the right way this time, like the way that they didn't get to do that this year."
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