HILLSBORO — Summit led by three points early in the fourth quarter when its offense jogged out onto the field, the ball at the Storm 1-foot line.
Ordinarily, a team in that situation would take a conservative approach and run the ball to give its offense some breathing room, minimize the possibility of a disastrous turnover. But against a resilient Ashland team that had only minutes prior turned the momentum of the 5A state championship game decidedly in its favor, the Storm proved once again that it is not an ordinary team, nor is it led by an ordinary quarterback.
John Bledsoe’s 28-yard pass to Nick Mason kicked off a 99-yard touchdown drive, highlighting a 21-point game-ending run for the Storm, which avenged its only loss of the season and captured its first-ever state championship with a 45-28 victory over Ashland on Saturday at Hillsboro Stadium.
Ashland (10-3) scored a touchdown late in the first half and marched right down the field on its first two drives of the third quarter to turn the game on its head and take a 28-24 lead. But the Storm (12-1), which suffered its only loss of the season Sept. 18 in Ashland, responded with a 54-yard touchdown drive of its own to go back up, 31-28.
That was still the score when Bledsoe positioned himself under center with 11:10 to go in the game, preparing to take a snap in the end zone against an Ashland defense that had eight sacks in last week’s semifinal rout of Wilsonville. When the play came in from the sideline, even Summit’s rocket-armed junior quarterback had to wonder.
“That was the call and I was questioning it a little bit,” he said. “Like, really? Throw from the half-yard line? But Mason made a great catch and got us to the 30-yard line, so I was happy.”
“That was Drew making a call,” Summit head coach Joe Padilla said, referring to assistant coach Drew Bledsoe, who’s John Bledsoe’s father. “I think most of us would probably prefer to run it out, but obviously great call and a heck of a catch by Nick Mason. He’s an athlete, he makes plays. … That (drive) was it. That’s the one that sealed it for us.”
The 15-play, 99-yard drive ate 6 minutes, 3 seconds off the clock and included two third-down conversions and a fourth-down conversion, which was handed to the Storm on an encroachment penalty at the Ashland 22. Three plays later Dawson Ruhl, who led the Storm with 174 yards rushing and two touchdowns, ran in from the 6 to give the Storm a 38-28 lead with 5 minutes, 16 seconds to go in the game.
“Tip the hat,” Ashland head coach Charlie Hall said. “If they can go 99 yards and then basically drive the stake through us, they did. The first play was huge, we saw it coming. Walker (Shibley) was right there.”
The Grizzlies ran out of magic on their next drive, turning the ball over on downs near midfield with 4:02 to go. Summit then put the game out of reach when Ruhl took a direct snap on fourth-and-6 from the Ashland 25 and shot up the middle untouched for an easy score.
The Grizzlies were down in the dumps late in the first half after Bledsoe’s 3-yard touchdown run gave the Storm a 23-7 lead with 2:11 to go. But, much like last week’s comeback from an early 14-0 hole, the Grizzlies rallied.
Kyle Weinberg’s 34-yard pass to James Hutchings gave the Grizzlies a first down at the Summit 30, and three plays later Weinberg found Hutchings again for a 15-yard touchdown. The play — a jump ball won by Hutchings — was part of a monster performance by the senior wideout. Hutchings finished with nine catches for 184 yards and three touchdowns, tied for the most TD receptions and fourth-most receiving yards in OSAA championship game history.
The Grizzies’ momentum seemed to carry over into the third when Ashland marched 63 yards in five plays on its opening drive to cut the lead to 24-21. Weinberg finished it with a perfect 27-yard pass down the sideline to the streaking Hutchings.
“We’ve got a lot of great receivers,” Hutchings said, “so whenever we see one-on-one we pick on the corner that’s (weakest). If we get a mismatch and you pick on him, you keep going and keep going. If you have a good game, you have a good game.”
On Summit’s next drive, Bledsoe, who passed for 265 yards and two touchdowns, made a rare mistake when his third-down pass over the middle was intercepted by Shashi Penn. It was Bledsoe’s third interception of the season.
The Grizzlies made it count when Weinberg, who passed for 304 yards and four touchdowns, hit Penn in stride for a 24-yard touchdown and Ashland’s first lead of the game.
When the Storm went three-and-out on its next possession and Ashland crossed midfield on a 15-yard Weinberg-to-Michael Pruitt hookup, the Grizzlies appeared to be one or two big plays away from rolling to what would have been the program’s fourth state title. But Pruitt fumbled at the end of his run after the catch, and Summit’s Nick Rassmussen recovered at the Storm 46.
Summit then rode Ruhl’s back to the end zone to reclaim the lead, as the junior gained 50 yards on five straight runs before Bledsoe’s 4-yard plunge made it 30-28, Summit.
“Games like this always come down to a few plays,” said Ashland senior two-way lineman Collin McGuire, who had 10 tackles. “The last time we played them there were a couple plays that went our way and this time they went Summit’s way. … And then there are some things that you just have to accept. On that one play, I thought (Pruitt) was down, and turnovers can kill you. You gotta be able to recover from that. And we’ve done a good job all season, just didn’t have quite enough tonight.”
Weinberg, who completed 21 of 35 passes, finished with 52 rushing yards to lead a Grizzly ground attack that was held to 103 yards. Mason Dow rushed for 27, while Penn and Pruitt had four catches apiece. Pruitt also had eight tackles on defense and the Grizzlies’ lone sack.
Sean Kent had nine catches for 63 yards and Rassmussen four catches for 42 yards for the Storm, which outgained Ashland in total yards 540-407.
Ashland scored more points against Summit than the Storm had allowed all season, including the Grizzlies’ 15-14 win over Summit.
The loss snapped the Grizzlies’ five-game winning streak, a run which included a road win over Midwestern League rival Springfield in the quarterfinals and a rout of Wilsonville in the semis.
“Again our team showed great resiliency,” Hall said. “We took the lead in the third quarter and had some momentum. But that’s a really good football team and we just can’t give them anything. And we did.”
Hall said Ashland’s senior class was a fantastic group.
“Great kids,” he said. “I’m just so proud of their effort. I feel sad for them, but the journey’s been great and I think maybe 10 years from now we’ll find out if they learned some great life lessons this year, and I think they did.”
Summit 45, Ashland 28
At Hillsboro Stadium, Hillsboro
S — Mason 55 pass from J. Bledsoe (Wadsworth kick)
A — Hutchings 39 pass from K. Weinberg (Weinberg kick)
S — FG Wadsworth 23
S — Garcia 34 pass from J. Bledsoe (Wadsworth kick)
S — J. Bledsoe 3 run (Wadsworth kick)
A — Hutchings 15 pass from K. Weinberg (Weinberg kick)
A — Hutchings 27 pass from K. Weinberg (Weinberg kick)
A — Penn 24 pass from K. Weinberg (Weinberg kick)
S — J. Bledsoe 4 run (Wadsworth kick)
S — Ruhl 6 run (Wadsworth kick)
S — Ruhl 25 run (Wadsworth kick)
Summit — Ruhl 27-174, Garcia 13-78, J. Bledsoe 6-18, Thompson 1-3, Kent 1-3.
Ashland — K. Weinberg 10-52, Dow 9-27, Pippa 3-22, Penn 1-3, Hutchings 1-(-1).
Summit — K. Weinberg 21-35-1 304.
Ashland — J. Bledsoe 20-31-1 265.
Summit — Kent 9-63, Rassmussen 4-42, Mason 2-83, Tobias 2-25, Garcia 1-34, Langton 1-17, Meagher 1-1.
Ashland — name Hutchings 9-18, Penn 4-47, Pruitt 4-44, N. Weinberg 2-19, Shibley 1-11, Dow 1-(-1).