CORVALLIS — There wasn’t much difference between South Medford and Clackamas on the football field Saturday at Reser Stadium.

And yet, there was a huge difference in emotions for each sideline as one of the best Class 6A state championship games came down to a frenzied finish that saw the Cavaliers rally past the Panthers for a 31-30 triumph on Jeffrey Nelson’s 37-yard field goal with three seconds remaining.

The matchup pitted two teams vying for their school’s first state title, and each team gave it their all on a rainy, cold afternoon.

“I’ve been to a lot of state championship games and watched them on TV,” said Clackamas head coach Joe Bushman, “and I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s kind of a shame anybody had to lose this game.”

The final three seconds marked the only ones in which South Medford trailed, and were gut-wrenching for those on the visiting sideline considering how close the Panthers were to hoisting their first blue trophy.

“I love this team,” said South Medford senior quarterback Robbie Patterson. “We work so hard and just to have an outcome like this, it’s tough. But props to them because they played a hell of a game. It was a good battle and in the end it just didn’t go our way.”

Patterson passed for three touchdowns — two in the first half to senior Jaalen Owens before a nagging back injury sidelined the receiver for the second half — and he also ran for another TD. Still, Patterson appeared to save his biggest moments for a final South Medford drive as his team looked to secure a potential 30-28 victory.

On a third-and-9 play from the Panthers’ 42-yard line that broke down, Patterson scrambled all over the field, retreating inside the 20 before ultimately maneuvering upfield for what turned into an 8-yard gain.

On fourth-and-1, Patterson met a couple Clackamas defenders in the gap but still found a way to power forward for a first down by the length of the football.

“Robbie is going to play every play as hard as you can, just like all of our team will,” said South Medford head coach Bill Singler. “He’s going to do everything he can to help his team win, and he did. We got a chance to at least get on the ball and make a first down, which we did, to keep the momentum of the game going ... but fate just wasn’t with us today.”

Patterson followed with another 17-yard run that got the ball to the Clackamas 32-yard line with 1:45 to play — the clocked stopped when he couldn’t stay in bounds — then the unthinkable happened.

On a 9-yard run up the middle by reliable senior standout Jaylin Parnell, the ball was forced loose by Justice Pagan on the tackle and a scrum ensued that eventually led to Clackamas recovering the fumble at its own 21-yard line with 1:39 remaining.

“They still had some timeouts so we couldn’t just sit on the ball,” said Singler. “I thought we had it in good shape. It’s a darn shame the fumble had to occur; he’s such a tremendous player and one of the top three football players, in my mind, in this state. Offense, defense, special teams ... whatever you want to say, he’s just a football player. But Clackamas made a nice tackle and the ball popped out.”

Slowly but surely, the Cavaliers slipped downfield to give Nelson a chance at the game-winner on a 10-play, 59-yard drive, and he made the most of his opportunity. Nelson entered the game 6-for-9 in field goal attempts, with a long of 42.

“It’s kind of a weird feeling just to lose by a last-second field goal,” said South Medford senior Chase Cota, who had five catches for 90 yards. “You obviously got beat, but it’s almost like it didn’t really happen. There wasn’t really much of a difference out there, it was just two really good teams. We lost by one. There’s not really even a difference. It’s just a last-second field goal.”

Parnell was understandably inconsolable after the game, but he had the support of the Panther faithful.

“Unfortunate things happen,” said Patterson, who completed 15 of 23 passes for 291 yards and ran 10 times for 27 yards. “I know that’s not his fault. There’s a lot of things that could’ve gone differently, so I don’t blame any of it on him. There’s a lot of little things that could’ve gone differently, we just didn’t get the ball to bounce our way the whole game. Anyone could’ve recovered it. It just stinks that it happened to go that way.”

Added Singler of what he would say as consolation to the two-time Southwest Conference offensive and defensive player of the year: “You just say, you know, Jaylin, you’re going to have much more adversity and many more things are going to happen in your life that you’re going to have to bounce back from. This is just maybe one of your biggest hurdles that you’ll have to overcome.

“He’s a great person and he has a lot of heart and a lot of toughness. He will get over this in time. It will take awhile, but we didn’t lose a game just because one fumble. … We lose as a team and win as a team, and certainly Jaylin Parnell helped us get to where we are today, so nobody on our team will ever look on him in a negative way.”

Parnell ran 13 times for 52 yards — ultimately losing two fumbles for a Panther team that had lost only three this season — and hauled in three passes for 66 yards, with a 39-yard TD reception that helped South take a 24-14 halftime lead.

Parnell also had eight tackles — senior linebackers Evan Dallas and Trent Snyder led the way with 15 apiece and Jace Campbell added 13 — to go with one sack and one fumble recovery.

“Nobody gave it to anybody, nobody lost it, somebody had to win it in the end and that’s what happened,” said Singler, who had a Medford team in the final for the first time since 2003. “It was a well-played game and hard-fought game. You wish nobody had to lose this game, but in sports, somebody wins and somebody loses. But we’re not losers.”

South Medford opened the game with Owens stealing the show, going 45 yards on the first play of the game to set up his own 31-yard field goal. Owens added touchdown receptions of 11 and 37 yards before being sidelined late in the second quarter, leaving senior Peyton Shipley to handle the kicking duties. Shipley entered the game with five PAT’s to Owens’ 76.

Shipley converted the kick after Parnell’s TD but his attempt sailed wide after Patterson scored on a 5-yard run with 7:11 to go in the third quarter to leave South Medford’s lead at 31-20.

The rest played out as a battle neither team wanted to lose, but James Millspaugh’s third TD run of the game gave Clackamas a chance toward the end of the third quarter.

In the end, the Cavaliers made one more play than the Panthers.

“Our senior class, we’re all going to look back on it and be content,” said Cota. “I just don’t want to talk about what-ifs ever; that’s what always happens, but I hope everyone steers that away. We said going into it there’s not going to be any regrets, so we just have to deal with it and move on.”

CLACKAMAS 31, SOUTH MEDFORD 30

At Reser Stadium

South Medford;10;14;6;0;—;30

Clackamas;7;7;14;3;—;31

SM — FG Owens 31

SM — Owens 11 pass from Patterson (Owens kick)

C — Millspaugh 4 run (Nelson kick)

SM — Owens 37 pass from Patterson (Owens kick)

C — Millspaugh 39 run (Nelson kick)

SM — Parnell 39 pass from Patterson (Shipley kick)

C — Turner 17 pass from Modjeski (Nelson kick)

SM — Patterson 5 run (Shipley kick)

C — Millspaugh 8 run (Nelson kick)

C — FG Nelson 37

TEAM STATISTICS

;SM;C

First Downs;15;25

Rushes-Yards;26-129;54-233

Passing Yards;291;230

Comp-Att-Int;15-23-0;18-29-0

Total Yards;420;463

Punts;4-37.2;4-30.8

Fumbles-lost;2-2;1-1

Penalties-yards;3-29;6-61

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING

South Medford — Parnell 13-52, Snyder 3-50, Patterson 10-27.

Clackamas — Millspaugh 29-160, Bettles 7-25, Turner 4-19, Modjeski 11-17, Vaughn 2-12, Shanks 1-0.

PASSING

South Medford — Patterson 15-23-0 291.

Clackamas — Modjeski 18-29-0 230.

RECEIVING

South Medford — Owens 5-102, Cota 5-90, Parnell 3-66, Snyder 1-20, DeBoer 1-13.

Clackamas — Bergers 7-74, Tolonen 4-42, Turner 3-43, Bletko 2-46, Bettles 1-15, Millspaugh 1-10.

— Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry