In a reminder that anything can happen in football — and even more so in this strange, Covid-shortened season of football — the Cougars (2-1) on Friday squeaked out the narrowest of victories after surviving a furious second-half onslaught from visiting Cascade (1-2), a 4A school that would never have made Canby’s schedule in a normal year.
After making light work of Hillsboro, 48-0, at Hare Field last week, the Cougs were not expected to struggle against Cascade, which Canby penciled in at the last minute when their league tilt versus St. Helens was scratched due to injury and Covid-19 safety protocols.
But the visitors refused to be intimidated, mounting a gutsy comeback beginning late in the third quarter after falling behind 20-6.
After knotting the score at 20, Cascade — whose team name is also the Cougars — had a chance to take the lead with a long field goal attempt from the 40-yard line with less than six minutes left to play. Fortunately for the home team, the kick fell short, and the game went into its first overtime.
After the extra period ended in a shutout, Cascade was first to put points on the board in the next frame — giving Canby one final drive to keep their hopes alive.
Junior quarterback Mikey Gibson and the Cougar offense rose to the occasion, marching confidently downfield and capping the drive with a 25-yard touchdown run by senior Tyler Mead.
Rather than play it safe by kicking the extra point and going to a third overtime, Coach Jimmy Joyce opted to give his boys a chance to win with a do-or-die attempt on a two-point conversion.
“We felt that it was now or never,” Joyce later explained. “The offensive line said, ‘We’ve got it,’ and [Mead] had been running hard, so it was an easy call.”
Again, it was Mead who made the clutch play, coming up with the floater by Gibson in the end zone and securing the Cougars’ win, 28-27.
“What a game!” Joyce said afterward. “Cascade deserves a lot of credit. I have been coaching for a long time and never seen a team play as hard as they did last night for 48-plus minutes. They do things on offense and defense that really gave us problems.”
Of course, the second-year head coach was also quick to give his players props for the way they refused to give up the fight — even when the momentum was firmly against them.
Key performers who stood out to Joyce in that regard were Mead, who “ran hard, especially in overtime,” and another senior, Kyle Sandner, who returned from injury to make two big plays on special teams that helped secure the Cougars’ win.
After throwing for four touchdowns last week against Hillsboro, Gibson and the rest of the Cougar offense did most of its early damage on the ground.
The junior QB — under pressure most of the night from a vicious Cascade pass rush — was the first to put Canby on the board with a 15-yard scramble halfway through the first quarter, while Mead punched it in from the 10-yard line on the first play of the second.
But the Cougars’ third score came through the air, as Gibson connected with fellow junior Matt Soles in the corner of the end zone on 2nd and 19 from the 21-yard line.
“Matt Soles came up huge when Chance Miller was double- and triple-teamed,” Joyce said.
And while Miller, who was shut down for the first time this season, and fellow star wideout Kaden Boyd were both kept off the scoreboard, Joyce praised their hard work and contributions.
“They were warriors, almost never coming off the field,” he said. “Defensively, Rylan Wymer led the way, and really, the entire defensive unit deserves credit. Dealing with an offense like Cascade, which is designed to wear you down, they showed tremendous heart late in the game when most teams would have rolled over.”
This game, the third of a six-week season, was the first to feature the Cougar band and a fuller complement of the dance and cheer teams, as well as some limited in-person attendance in the stands, thanks to relaxed guidelines from the Oregon Health Authority and OSAA.
The Cougars’ final home game of the season comes Friday, March 26, against league rival Scappoose (2-1), followed by a crosstown grudge match with Wilsonville to close out the season.
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