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For one night, the clock turned backward, and the Canby football team welcomed age-old (former) league rival Oregon City to Cougar Stadium on Thursday, ultimately toppling the visiting Pioneers in convincing fashion, 35-25, to improve to 2-0 on the season.
Canby and Oregon City (1-1) no longer share league ties, as the Cougars football left the Three Rivers League in 2020 when the district elected to move down to the 5A classification, and most of the rest of the school’s sports joined them this year after the latest redistricting by the OSAA.
But, thanks to a shortage of OSAA officials and other quirks that lead several of the top 5A teams to still face opponents from the larger classification each year, it was Canby vs. Oregon City this week — just like the old days.
Narratives abounded for the highly anticipated grudge match, not the least of which was that it was the Pioneers’ first trip to Canby since October 25, 2019, when the Cougs defeated them by a nearly identical score, 35-28, to snap a multi-year, 22-game losing streak and kickstart their renaissance.
(The Cougs have gone 12-6 since that night, mostly at 5A, including a return to the state playoffs last season.)
But head coach Jimmy Joyce said his players weren’t thinking about the history or the storylines as they suited up for Thursday night’s game.
“Honestly, we never talked about that,” he said. “We talked about handling the distractions, with a short week and the first week of school. We tried to focus on getting better and being ready to go. If we do that, everything can fall in place.”
“Ready to go” was a pretty good summation, as the Cougs jumped out to an early 21-0 advantage over the visitors. Leading the way, unsurprisingly, was star junior running back Tyler Konold, who had another sensational game, carrying the rock 33 times to the tune of 252 yards and three touchdowns.
But Konold, who was also an all-league honorable mention as a cornerback last season, also made his mark on defense, scooping up a fumble and returning it for the first score of the game.
“He is a special kid for sure,” Joyce said. “He has the extra gear, where he runs harder in the fourth quarter than the first. But it is not just him: The hogs up front deserve a lot of credit. O.C. probably outweighed us by 500 pounds across the board, but these warriors battled hard and allowed Tyler to do what he does.”
The front line’s effectiveness so far this season has been a pleasant surprise, considering the Cougs graduated three all-league first-teamers last year in Casey Langdale, Colin Kennedy and Lineman of the Year Jacob Strand, a Division I commit at Oregon State University.
Most of this year’s crew is smaller and getting their first varsity experience as offensive linemen this season. But if this year’s lineup is any less dominant than last year’s elite version — it hasn’t translated to the field yet.
“The culture surrounding the offensive and defensive lines is one of the most impressive things I have experienced in my football life, and it pre-dates me by years,” Joyce said. “To be a hog here is something special.
“Coach [Paul] Huggins and coach [Brett] Rhodes do an amazing job. The only place I know of where kids want to be linemen. Look at Davis Hagen: a back-up running back and standout linebacker last year, and he asked to be put on the line. That doesn’t happen at a lot of places.”
While Game 1 in Bend saw juniors Parker Ackerman and Gage Millar splitting time at quarterback, Joyce had a different strategy this week, giving Millar the full-time nod while slotting Ackerman in at corner receiver, a role he played well last season.
“He’s too important. He needs to be on the field all the time — not just every other series,” Joyce said of Ackerman, noting they might employ the same lineup going forward. “We’ll see what the future holds.”
Millar performed capably as lead signal caller, albeit in limited opportunities, going 5 for 9 for 61 yards and adding another 24 on the ground.
The Cougs even did damage on special teams, as junior Cohen Hall recovered a blocked field goal and carted it 90 yards for a touchdown.
“Just really proud of the guys,” Joyce said. “We scored on defense, offense and special teams. These guys play with a chip on their shoulders, and I love it. They are a fun group to be around and they are fun to watch play.”
The Cougs’ next challenge will be another curveball, as they again suit up on Thursday to play a 6A opponent, Beaverton (0-2), on the road. It will be a homecoming for Joyce, who spent seven years as offensive coordinator there, making the 6A quarterfinals in 2015 and 2016, before taking the head coaching job at Canby.
The Beavers dropped their first two games in brutal fashion, losing 41-0 to South Medford and 56-14 to Sprague.
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