Clackamas holds off Central Catholic, captures league title, 24-22
Central Catholic quarterback Cade Knighton rolled to his right, looking for someone to throw the football to for a two-point conversion with 19 seconds to play.
But the ball never left Knighton's hand.
Clackamas' Richard Kennewell chased Knighton down from behind and tripped him up in the backfield with a diving tackle, helping the Cavaliers seal a 24-22 victory in Friday night's Mt. Hood Conference championship game at Hillsboro Stadium.
After Central Catholic's attempt at an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff bounced out of bounds, all that was left was for Clackamas to take a knee as the defending 6A state-champion Cavaliers (9-0, 4-0 Mt. Hood) clinched their third consecutive league title and second straight outright crown.
"Anytime you win a league championship, it's a special deal," Clackamas coach Joe Bushman said. "It's hard to come by. We've been fortunate to have a nice run the last few years, but you don't take stuff like this for granted.
"This one is really special. It's special for the community and to beat a team that has turned into our rivals the last few years … to beat them in a really close game is a special deal."
Clackamas never trailed in the game thanks to two touchdown runs by Jailen Hammer and another by Austin Atkeson, but it was Jeffrey Nelson's 25-yard field goal that extended the lead to 24-16 with 3:17 to play.
Knighton then led Central Catholic on a 14-play, 80-yard scoring drive, converting once on fourth down, twice on third down, and eventually handing the ball to Miles Jackson on a 1-yard run that pulled the Rams within 24-22 with 19 seconds left.
The Rams had failed to convert an earlier two-point conversion attempt with an errant throw to the left, so what would they do this time? Run or pass?
Kennewell, the Cavaliers' junior linebacker, said the defense was expecting a pass play and that his job was to cover the running back coming out of the backfield.
"We'd let their running back sneak out twice during the game, once for a touchdown and once for a big gain that led to a touchdown," Kennewell said. "So, my job was just to cover the running back."
So, what happened on the play?
"When the running back when out, I followed him and he took me to the quarterback," Kennewell said. "I'm thinking, 'I better make this tackle. If I miss this ...'"
Central Catholic coach Steve Pyne may need to watch to film to how Kennewell got into the Rams' backfield as quickly as he did, but his initial thought was someone missed a blocking assignment.
"It looked like we maybe didn't block it correctly up front, like we slid the wrong way for some reason," Pyne said. "I don't know that for sure, but maybe that's why they had pressure on the quarterback instantly.
"I think if we maybe blocked it up right, Cade might have had time to see it. Or he might have had time to run it in. Going back, we probably wish we had made a different call, but you go with the one you've practiced since week one of training camp."
The Rams (5-4, 3-1) had a three-game win streak snapped, while sustaining a third consecutive loss in their series with the Cavaliers -- a string that includes a loss in last year's 6A quarterfinals.
"Sure, we're disappointed," Pyne said. "But like I told our kids, if you can't get some perspective on this, just realize that you just went toe to toe with a team that hasn't lost in 23 games now and is the No. 1 team in the state for a reason."
Clackamas scored first on a seven-play, 77-yard drive that ended with Hammer taking the ball on a fly sweep and scoring from 12 yards out to give the Cavaliers a 7-0 lead with 8:14 to play in the first quarter.
Central Catholic answered with a 13-play, 80-yard touchdown drive, picking up the last 11 yards on a short pass from Knighton to Jackson coming out of the backfield on the final play of the first quarter.
After the teams exchanged punts, the Cavaliers regained the lead on an eight-play, 95-yard drive that featured Hammer, the senior wide receiver, taking a pitch from running back Nemo Dedmon and throwing a 24-yard pass to quarterback Caleb 'C.J.' Jordan that took the ball to the Central Catholic 40-yard line.
Jordan got shaken up on the play and was replaced Atkeson, who turned a third-and-4 play from the Rams' 34 into a touchdown when he found running room to the left, making it 14-7 with 2:47 left in the half.
"The play was a quarterback isolation play," said Atkeson, who also was under center on Clackamas' first scoring drive. "I saw Central stacked one of the sides, so I knew I was going to be able to cut back. I cut back and all my guys blocked their tails off and it worked out really well."
Central Catholic had a chance to put points on the board on the final play of the half, but Fritz Kabeiseman pushed a 39-yard field goal attempt wide right.
The Rams threatened again on their second possession of the third quarter, looking at a first-and-goal from the Clackamas 9. But three penalties on two plays -- one for holding, one for unsportsmanlike conduct, and one for a false start -- set up a second-and-goal from the 43 and the Rams eventually settled for a Kabeiseman 28-yard field goal that cut the Cavs' lead to 14-10 with 3:16 left in the third quarter.
Clackamas countered with a 10-play, 72-yard scoring drive that ended with Hammer following the right side of the Cavs' offensive line into the end zone from nine yards out to make it 21-10 with 11:13 to play in the fourth quarter.
Central Catholic answered quickly, going 61 yards in nine plays with Elijah Elliott scoring on a 6-yard run, but the Rams failed to convert a two-point conversion and trailed 21-16 with 8:05 to play.
After Hammer returned the ensuing kickoff to the Clackamas 41, Jordan guided the Cavs on an eight-play, 51-yard drive, setting up Nelson's field goal that made it 24-16 with 3:17 left.
"I really just felt I was doing my job at the time," Nelson said. "I kind of got a little bit nervous before the kick because I knew it would be big. I knew Central would get the ball back eventually and we'd have to have that eight-point cushion in order to win the game, so I'm glad I made it."
By the numbers
Central Catholic finished with a 403-320 edge in total offense, led by Knighton who completed 22 of 43 passes for 256 yards with one touchdown.
Hammer, the 5-foot-11, 185-pound senior transfer from Sprague High School in Salem, paced Clackamas with 194 yards total offense, which included 38 yards rushing, 54 yards receiving, 18 yards passing, and 84 yards in kick returns.
Atkeson and Jordan completed a combined 11 of 20 passes for 128 yards, while Jordan had a team-high nine carries for 40 yards, Atkeson had eight carries for 39 yards, and Noah Hobbs added 32 yards on seven carries.
Clackamas defensive back Grant Schoen finished with a team-high 11 tackles, linebacker Jake Bushman had 10 tackles, and linebacker Justice Pagan had nine tackles with four tackles for loss and two quarterback sacks.
"That was quite something – just a battle between two really good powerhouses," Jake Bushman said. "We've always had a rivalry, but give Central Catholic credit. Those guys can really ball out there.
"I think it came down to team unity, staying together, and everybody on the team doing their job. That's what you need to have in order to beat tough teams in tight games like this."
The Cavaliers, looking to become the first team to win back-to-back 6A state titles since Central Catholic in 2013 and 2014, drew the No. 2 seed in the playoffs and will open at home against Newberg (5-4).
"It's really important anytime you have home games," Joe Bushman said. "Over the last few years, we've played really well at home. We take a lot of pride in defending our home turf and we feel comfortable there, so it's nice. It doesn't guarantee victories or anything, but it is nice."
CLACKAMAS 7 7 0 10 -- 24
CHS -- Jailen Hammer 12 run (Jeffrey Nelson kick)
CCHS -- Elijah Elliott 11 pass from Cade Knighton (Lach Davidson kick)
CHS -- Austin Atkeson 34 run (Nelson kick)
CCHS -- Fritz Kabeiseman 28 FG
CHS -- Hammer 9 run (Nelson kick)
CCHS -- Elliott 6 run (pass failed)
CHS -- Nelson 25 FG
CCHS -- Miles Jackson 1 run (run failed)