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Ashland pulls off quarterfinal upset

SPRINGFIELD — This wasn’t how Trever Watson imagined his career ending.

Everything pointed to Watson, the four-year starting quarterback for Springfield and three-time Midwestern League offensive player of the year, leading his Millers to a victory in the Class of 2016’s final game at Silke Field.

But there was Watson, walking on the soggy grass Friday, accepting hugs of condolence after fifth-seeded Ashland defeated No. 4 Springfield, 35-27, in the Class 5A state quarterfinals. In his 45th and final start for the Millers (9-2), Watson rushed for 163 yards on 34 carries and scored all four of his team’s touchdowns, but it wasn’t enough against the Grizzlies.

“It’s been a long, crazy ride,” Watson said, both of his arms caked in dried mud. “I’ve played with most of these guys for what, 10 years? Jeez. Just crazy.

“It’s kind of bittersweet to think about how much we’ve accomplished but at the same time the disappointment.”

Ashland, which finished third in the Midwestern League behind Crater and Springfield, moves on to its ninth semifinal appearance in school history. The Grizzlies did so by capitalizing on Springfield miscues and not turning the ball over — a larger reason for its 44-21 defeat to the Millers on the same field nearly a month ago. Springfield outgained the Grizzlies 375-264 but committed 16 penalties.

Ashland will face Wilsonville in the state semifinals on Saturday at a location to be determined. Wilsonville, seeded ninth, upset No. 1 Liberty, 24-21, on Friday.

“It’s tough,” Ashland coach Charlie Hall said. “Playing these guys before got us ready to play them again. ... Our kids showed some heart and resolve and made big plays.”

Springfield led 7-0 in the second quarter on a 26-yard run from Watson, but the Grizzlies closed out the first half scoring two straight touchdowns — including a 1-yard run by backup quarterback Tucker Atteberry with 8 seconds left.

Kyle Weinberg started the game at quarterback for Ashland, but Atteberry replaced him after he started 2-for-8 with 1 yard passing and an interception. Atteberry finished the game 8-for-12 passing for 147 yards.

“I’m just really proud of our entire team,” Hall said. “A great team effort.”

The Millers tied the game at 14 on their first drive of the second half, but a long kickoff return by Shashi Penn set the Grizzlies up with a short field. Atteberry scored on a 5-yard run with 7:25 to go in the third that put Ashland back up.

Springfield answered again, Watson powering in from 5 yards out to tie the score at 21, but on the ensuing kickoff, Ashland took all the momentum out of the crowd at Silke Field. Penn, who was tripped up by Springfield kicker Damon Squire on the previous return, this time evaded him to score on a 95-yard return that sent the large contingent of Ashland fans into loud cheering.

“One guy gets squeezed in too tight and off to the races,” Springfield coach Dave Heuberger said.

Ashland forced two consecutive punts before putting the game just out of reach. Atteberry connected with James Hutchings on a 60-yard run and catch to put the Grizzlies up 35-21 with 6 minutes left in the game. They had to survive two final possessions by the always dangerous Millers, but Ashland was finally able to celebrate as the clock ran out with Watson being dragged to the ground by Collin McGuire, who had five tackles.

Ashland running back Mason Dow (23) tries to run past Springfield's Isaac Gillard (4) during the Class 5A quarterfinals Friday at Springfield High. PHOTO BY MARY JANE SCHULTE / EUGENE REGISTER-GUARD