BEND — Cooper Clark watched from the stands last year as the Cascade Christian football team fell to Dayton in the Class 3A state final.

BEND — Cooper Clark watched from the stands last year as the Cascade Christian football team fell to Dayton in the Class 3A state final.

The former football player had chosen to focus on baseball that season, so he could only play the role of spectator as the Challengers came up short.

"It killed me," Clark said.

The senior wide receiver came back this fall and, on a bitter cold Saturday at Summit High, he helped Cascade Christian return to the big stage once again.

Clark hauled in a highlight-reel touchdown catch and later snatched the game-ending interception as the Challengers edged Vale, 24-19, in the 3A state semifinals.

With the victory, Cascade Christian (11-2) advances to face Nyssa in the championship game next Saturday. Nyssa beat Dayton 19-15 on Saturday.

Quarterback Seth Knox finished 17 of 37 for 281 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions for the Challengers, who trailed 13-10 at halftime. Cascade Christian tuned into its offensive mojo and turned down the Bulldogs' bulldozing ways to gain the edge in the second half.

Clark and several of his teammates pulled off some heroics to keep the Challengers' hopes of a second school title alive. Cascade Christian's first crown came in 2006 as a 2A program.

One of the biggest moments was the last: Clark picked off Josh Schoorl's final pass on third-and-16 with 44 seconds left as the Vikings pushed for a game-winning drive. David Sellers helped to put Vale in the desperate position with a key sack on the previous play.

"I was just trying to stay deep because I knew it was going to go long," Clark said of his first interception of the year. "It bounced off his hands, bounced off my hands and I came up with it. I am just glad it happened."

Things got interesting when Vikings sophomore running back Zac Jacobs rumbled in a 21-yard score with 5:08 remaining. Vale found itself in a hole earlier after Knox struck gold with the sensational connection with Clark. On the play, Vikings defensive back Agi Tamez tipped the ball as it sailed toward Clark.

"I almost just let out my arm and it fell right into it," said the wideout, who collected it and bolted for a 49-yard TD strike. "I stuck it out, it was there and I started running."

Said Cascade Christian head coach Jon Gettman: "That was a divine gift from the heavens. ... Cooper is a warrior. He's been battling all year."

That score put Cascade Christian ahead, 24-13.

The Challengers took the permanent lead when Knox found Cody Parker for a 35-yard touchdown with 4:59 to go in the third quarter.

"I am pleased with the way the kids responded," Gettman said. "They played a heck of a football game."

The first half favored the Vikings, who entered intermission with 171 of their 267 yards. Lane Cummings had scores of 11 and three yards for Vale.

Parker put Cascade Christian on the scoreboard first with a 26-yard field goal in the first quarter. Knox hit Dalton Palmer for a 11-yard TD connection with 2:06 left in the opening period, giving their team a 10-7 advantage.

Sellers had three catches for 82 yards, Parker four grabs for 73 yards and Clark three receptions for 57 yards for the Challengers, who played turnover-free ball.

Jacobs finished with 149 yards rushing on 24 carries for the Vikings, who missed a key opportunity at the end of the third quarter. Vale (10-2) was five yards away from scoring before Palmer ripped off a monster tackle to force fourth-and-5. The Vikings went for it, but TJ Alvarez sacked Schoorl.

Alvarez had another momentum-killing sack late in the first quarter.

"You get here inside the 10 or 15 and turn it over on four downs, that is tough," Vale head coach Matt Hawley said. "There are a couple plays we'd like to have back but that is why we play the game."

Certainly, Clark is glad he played.

"I am so excited to play this game," he said. "We are so close, this team is so close."

Vale 7 6 0 6 — 19

Cascade Christian 10 0 7 7 — 24

CC — FG C. Parker 26

V — Cummings 11 run (Weber kick)

CC — Palmer 11 pass from Knox (C. Parker kick)

V — Cummings 3 run

CC — C. Parker 35 pass from Knox (C. Parker kick)

CC — Clark 49 pass from Knox (C. Parker kick)

V — Jacobs 21 run (pass failed)

Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email djones@mailtribune. Find him online at facebook.com/danjonesmt or twitter.com/dljcards