When Canby star lineman and Oregon State commit Jacob Strand ran off the field after the first snap of the game in the Cougars’ quarterfinals tilt with the two-time defending state champion Colts, he had just two words for head coach Jimmy Joyce.
Indeed. No. 5-ranked Thurston has not lost a game to a 5A opponent in more than three years. The Colts have trampled all comers en route to a 30-1 record over their last 31 games, and their notoriously stingy defense has given up only eight points — total — over the last five weeks.
Quite simply, they are one of the best football teams in Oregon. And, on Friday night under the bright lights at Cougar Stadium, Canby ran into that well-oiled machine.
The Cougars were blanked, 20-0, and eliminated in the OSAA 5A state playoffs to put an end to what has been a remarkable, resurgent 2021 campaign — and one of Canby’s most memorable football seasons in years.
It was the first time the league-leading Cougar offense was held scoreless — but it was the Colts’ fifth shutout so far this season.
“That front eight for Thurston is as good as any I’ve seen in the state,” Joyce told the Current after the game. “Up there with the Jesuit teams.”
That impressive Colts front line put their mark on the game from the very beginning, as the first three quarters were a defensive slog. With rain dumping down throughout the first half, neither Canby nor Thurston was able to generate much offensive movement.
On the Cougs’ first offensive possession, sophomore wide receiver Parker Ackerman fumbled after catching a pass from senior quarterback Mikey Gibson, and Thurston jumped on the ball at the Canby 33.
But the Colts’ offense also failed to generate much heat, managing only a single field goal attempt, which Gavin Levesque nailed from 34 yards out. That would do it for the scoring over the next 26 minutes, as Thurston would take its 3-0 lead into the fourth quarter.
Canby would gain only 75 yards in the first half — 43 of them coming on one play from team sparkplug Tyler Konold. The super sophomore, fresh off taking first-team all-league as a running back, cornerback and kick returner, broke around the edge and raced to the Thurston 21.
“It was just a defensive battle at first,” said Konold. “But I wouldn’t want to do it with anyone else out there.”
Then, the famed Thurston D clamped down hard, sacking Gibson on three straight plays to reclaim 18 of those yards — and the game’s momentum.
The game shifted on a risky call from Joyce three minutes into the fourth. Facing a fourth and 12, the Cougars faked the punt and instead ran a direct snap to Ackerman, who tossed the ball to Konold. The Colts sniffed the call and blew up the play for a loss of six.
On the very next play, quarterback Alex Boring connected with Jacob Newell for a 51-yard bomb to give Thurston a commanding 10-0 lead with 9:07 left.
From there, the Cougar offense was playing catch-up. A tired Canby O soon gave the ball back to Thurston, and an exhausted Cougar D would give up 10 more points to the Colts before the final buzzer rang.
The suffocating Thurston defense made for a miserable night for Gibson. He was surrounded by a swarm of Colts immediately after every snap and was limited to just four completions. The senior completed 4 of 13 passes for 22 yards, was sacked four times and threw one interception.
“Tonight may have been really rough, but we built a foundation for the future,” said Gibson. “It’s bittersweet, it sucks, but I look forward to seeing what they have in the future.”
Meanwhile, the future of Canby football looks bright with the likes of Konold, who piled up 136 yards on 25 attempts — picking up the slack for backfield mate Bryce Oliver, who was injured in the waning minutes of last week’s first-round victory over Lebanon.
The Cougs’ defense held Thurston to only 199 total yards (compared to Canby’s 138) — no small feat considering the Colts had a more than 10-minute advantage in time of possession. The Cougars were also nailed for 10 penalties — including two negating big plays that would have set their offense up in the red zone.
Thurston will advance to a semifinals rematch with the No. 1 Wilsonville Wildcats — who saw their seasons end to Thurston in 2018 (the state championship game) and 2019 (in the quarterfinals).
With the loss, Canby finishes the year with an 8-3 record, their best finish since 2009. After the game, a proud and emotional Joyce recounted all that the team had been through over the past year and how they had gotten there.
“To go from only playing six games because of a global pandemic, lifting weights in a tent in the snow because they couldn’t anywhere else, to being in the state quarterfinals, “said Joyce. “These guys inspire the hell out of me.”
Though they may not have won state, this year’s Canby football group brought winning back to a community that needed it, relevance back to a program in decline, and contended with the best in 5A all season long. There is nothing for this squad to be ashamed about.
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