COTTAGE GROVE — In senior quarterback Haiden Schaan, the Cascade Christian football team had the most reliable offensive player in Class 3A. Yet, in the end, it was Schaan who relied on his defensive teammates to seal the deal on a state championship.
Josiah Sills' interception with seven seconds remaining — set up by Cristian Flores-Alatorre's pass deflection — thwarted a second-half surge by Santiam Christian, preserving a 28-21 victory for Cascade Christian in the 3A title game on Saturday evening at Don King Field.
"I was just taking a knee, I was just praying," Schaan said of his team's final defensive stand. "I was just hoping and waiting. I knew our guys would make a play."
Schaan and the Challengers nearly saw their championship slip away during the second half, in which Santiam forced three turnovers and converted them into 14 points, erasing a 21-7 halftime deficit.
The resilient Eagles intercepted Schaan twice in the third quarter and recovered a fumble in the fourth quarter, leading to a pair of field goals by Ivan Gilder and a three-yard touchdown run by Luke Janssen that was followed by a 2-point conversion by Kyle Paratore.
But after Gilder's second field goal tied it 21-21 with about eight minutes to play, Schaan orchestrated the game-winning drive, marching his team 80 yards in 13 plays, capped by Caleb Jordan's four-yard touchdown run, his second score of the game. Schaan connected with senior receiver Ben Dunn three times for 58 yards on the possession.
"It's tough when you've got turnovers. Turnovers are gonna kill you," Challengers coach Jon Gettman said. "We were able to come back and fight through it and make the plays when we needed to."
Added Schaan: "I knew we were going to get back and get some momentum going, so I just trusted my guys and just waited for it to happen."
It appeared Cascade Christian had locked up the win when Dunn intercepted Santiam quarterback Grant Carley at midfield with less than two minutes remaining, but the Eagles forced a punt and got the ball back with 1:05 to play and no timeouts.
A pass interference penalty against the Challengers and a 41-yard reception by Gilder moved the ball to the Cascade Christian 18-yard line, but two plays later Flores-Alatorre stepped in front of Carley's pass and deflected it, allowing Sills to make a diving catch for the game-clinching turnover.
"I was so happy," said Dunn, who finished with a game-high eight receptions for 125 yards, in addition to six tackles and several passes defensed. "Josiah, he's a great player and he just doesn't get the recognition. But he really stepped up this year."
Although Santiam (10-3) held the higher seed in the tournament (No. 2), fourth-seeded Cascade Christian (12-1) came into the game with the more impressive credentials, including a 47-0 win over Santiam in a nonleague game earlier this season.
"The big thing was just our mindset and belief," Eagles coach Matt Bain said. "We went through a period of several games there in the middle of the season where we weren't playing very well and there was multiple reasons for that, but we got guys really picking it up and really transformed who we are as a team over the course of a season. And that's what it all about is, 'How do you finish?"
The Eagles botched a snap on an attempted punt deep in their own territory on their opening possession, setting the Challengers for a short touchdown drive in which Jordan scored from 1 yard out on a fourth-down conversion.
After Cascade Christian was held without a first down on its following two possessions, Santiam took advantage of good field position, driving 36 yards and scoring with a two-yard run by Carley in which he avoided multiple defenders in the backfield to tie it 7-7.
"I came in this game thinking, 'Offensively, we're gonna get on our good foot, we're gonna roll over 'em,'" Schaan said. "Nah, they came out fighting with a vengeance. It was a battle."
Added Dunn: "I think they were just being aggressive. We were being a little tentative up front, I think, and we just didn't take it to 'em."
The Challengers rallied with a pair of touchdowns in the second quarter, with Dunn catching a 44-yard bomb from Schaan on a double-move in which Dunn worked his way open behind the Eagles' secondary, and Schaan catching a 3-yard pass from his younger brother Kiegan Schaan on a double-reverse quarterback throw-back.
"Compared to the way we played them last time, we had a lot of (strategic) changes," Bain said. "We played 'em different, but we played better — that was the big thing. But that's a tough squad to control. You kinda contain it here and there, but then stuff pops out on you. And then, you know, they did what they do: They made some big plays."
Cascade Christian 28, Santiam Christian 21
At Don King Field
CC — Jordan 1 run (Hoffman kick)
SC — Carley 2 run (Gilder kick)
CC — Dunn 44 pass from H. Schaan (Hoffman kick)
CC — H. Schaan 3 pass from K. Schaan (Hoffman kick)
SC — FG Gilder 38
SC — Janssen 4 run (Paratore run)
SC — FG Gilder 29 l
CC — Jordan 4 run (Hoffman kick)
Cascade Christian — H. Schaan 15-77, Jordan 12-49, K. Schaan 3-12, I. Fralich 1-3, Team 1-(-1).
Santiam Christian — Watson 5-42, Manzi 3-36, Janssen 11-21, Carley 7-5, Gilder
1-(-6), Team 1-(-14).
Cascade Christian — H. Schaan 23-29-2-247; J. Fralich 3-3-0-43; K. Schaan 1-1-0-3.
Santiam Christian — Carley 20-40-2-270.
Cascade Christian — Dunn 8-125, J. Fralich 5-97, McLemore 5-22, K. Fralich 2-26, I. Fralich 2-5, K. Schaan 2-(-1), Jordan 1-16, H. Schaan 1-3, Weeks 1-0.
Santiam Christian — Manzi 5-54, Carter 4-98, Hubele 4-34, Watson 4-32, Janssen 2-11, Gilder 1-41.
Reach reporter Mike Oxendine at 541-776-4499 or email@example.com.