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The Wildcats forced three turnovers, including a fumble recovery for a touchdown and an interception to seal the win.

PMG PHOTO: ANDY DIECKHOFF - Wilsonville senior Mason Seal (62) howls in celebration after the Wildcats defeated Bend 23-14 in the OSAA 5A Football State Championship semifinals Friday, Nov. 18, at Sam Barlow High School in Gresham.

The Wilsonville Wildcats are headed back to the state championship game.

On a cold and windy night at Sam Barlow High School, No. 2 Wilsonville outlasted No. 3 Bend 23-14 in the OSAA 5A Football State Championship semifinals. The Wildcats excelled in all three facets of the game, with big plays on offense, defense and special teams that turned the momentum in Wilsonville's favor and kept it there.

"We worked so hard for this, this was our goal all along," said Wilsonville senior linebacker Dylan Nance after the win, his face a deep red from the cold winds and the tears of joy streaming down his face. "Obviously, I'm super emotional. This means so much to me. I can't even explain this feeling right now."

Due to the high winds blowing south all night long, passing came at a premium during the semifinal matchup. Wilsonville head coach Adam Guenther noted that the weather had an effect on the game.

"This is crazy. The cold doesn't bother us, but that wind was a nightmare," Guenther said. "It was tough. When you look at our offense going (north) versus going (south), it played a part."

PMG PHOTO: ANDY DIECKHOFF - Wilsonville head coach Adam Guenther and quarterback Kallen Gutridge (11) try to keep warm during their semifinal matchup against Bend on Friday, Nov. 18, at Sam Barlow High School in Gresham.

While junior quarterback Kallen Gutridge managed 116 yards and a touchdown for Wilsonville, he supplemented his gains with 72 rushing yards to lead the team. Meanwhile, the Lava Bears had just 16 yards passing all game, instead focusing on the ground game, where they rushed 58 times for 298 yards.

For Gutridge's part, he believes that overcoming the conditions was as much a mental feat as a physical one.

"I tried my best, but with these conditions, I think it comes down to who wants it more," the quarterback said. "The toughest team wins, in my opinion, and that was us tonight."

Perhaps more importantly, the Wildcats won the turnover battle 3-0, including interceptions by linemen Gavin Waddell and Mason Seal, as well as a fumble recovery that Cooper Hiday ran back for a touchdown.

"I'm so proud of this defense," said sophomore Mark Wiepert, who caught a touchdown, made multiple big stops on defense and held a fourth-quarter field goal that helped secure the victory. "And for our quarterback to come out and throw it like that in these conditions, I'm so proud of him."

Bend opened the scoring at the end of the first quarter after a long drive that ended with running back Malakai Nutter punching in his first of two touchdowns. Midway through the second quarter, the Lava Bears were driving into Wilsonville territory again when the game suddenly turned on a dime.

PMG PHOTO: ANDY DIECKHOFF - Wilsonville sophomore Mark Wiepert (with ball) runs in a 21-yard touchdown reception during his team's 23-14 win over Bend in the OSAA 5A Footbal State Championship semifinals on Friday, Nov. 18.

Bend quarterback Logan Malinowski fumbled the ball, and Hiday picked it up at the 30-yard line before running into the end zone untouched. Then, just before halftime, Gutridge found Wiepert across the middle for a 21-yard passing touchdown to give the Wildcats a 14-6 edge at the break.

The Lava Bears managed to tie up the game near the end of the third quarter when Nutter went in for his second score of the night and then drove in the ensuing two-point conversion. That set up a tie ballgame going into the fourth quarter — and that's when the second-ranked Wildcats asserted their dominance.

On the opening play of the final period, Bend had the ball on the 17-yard line but faced a 4th-and-1 situation. The Wilsonville defensive line stuffed the ensuing run and, after the referees measured to make sure, the Wildcats retook possession.

Wilsonville reeled off an 11-play, 83-yard drive that included two long runs by Gutridge before the junior quarterback connected with Hiday at the 1-yard line. From there, senior running back Jacob Ogden punched in the go-ahead score, but Bend blocked the extra point attempt by Greg Keswick.

PMG PHOTO: ANDY DIECKHOFF - Wilsonville junior Kheller Larson (2) and Eli Nelson (57) signal for a turnover on downs during their 23-14 win over Bend in the OSAA 5A Football State Championship semifinals on Friday, Nov. 18.

With a tenuous 20-14 lead in hand, the Wilsonville defense came back out and stopped the Lava Bears cold in their tracks. Bend managed to move the ball to their own 36-yard line before an errant pass on fourth down gave the ball back to the Wildcats. Wilsonville eventually drove the ball down to the 20-yard line before Keswick booted a 37-yard field goal with the wind at his back, giving the Wildcats a nine-point lead with just 1:45 to play.

"No hesitation at all," said Guenther of the decision to kick the field goal following the blocked extra point just minutes earlier. "Our kicker is awesome, and going with the wind, he was nailing them from 45 yards in pregame, so I didn't have any doubt in my mind what we were going to do. It was just about challenging our line to say, 'Hey, nobody comes through. Nobody comes through.'"

Bend tried to move the ball up the field on their final possession, but with 19 seconds on the clock, Seal lived up to his name and sealed the win for Wilsonville with an interception.

While Wilsonville will surely take some time to celebrate their semifinal win, the focus will soon turn to the state championship game. The Wildcats will go toe-to-toe with No. 1 Summit, which destroyed No. 4 Thurston 41-14 in the other semifinal matchup. Earlier this season, the Storm beat Wilsonville 33-21 in Bend, setting up a rematch of Class 5A's two best teams with the state title on the line.

PMG PHOTO: ANDY DIECKHOFF - Wilsonville senior Jacob Ogden (middle) rushes for a 1-yard touchdown during the Wildcats' 23-14 win over Bend in the OSAA 5A Football State Championship semifinals on Friday, Nov. 18.

Wilsonville will be looking for its second state championship in football in school history, and the first since 2004.

"I can't wait for next week," Ogden said. "Last time we played Summit, I wasn't able to be out there, so I'm very excited. I just can't wait to play football on Thanksgiving weekend."

The OSAA 5A Football State Championship game will be held at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 25, at Hillsboro Stadium. For more information or to buy tickets, go online to osaa.org.


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