The Canby football team’s season ended in heartbreak Friday night, with a 28-14 home loss to the Hillsboro Spartans and the subsequent news that the Cougs had been officially eliminated from playoff contention.
Despite sitting in the No. 14 slot of the OSAA’s statewide 5A rankings, the Cougars (5-4, 2-2 Northwest Oregon Conference) were superseded by automatic bids from several lower-ranked teams that won their respective divisions.
In 6A, the state’s largest classification and where Canby played football until 2020 and all other athletics until this season, 32 teams qualify for the postseason dance.
But 5A’s leaner, 16-team bracket features 15 automatic berths with only one at-large bid to give — and it was claimed by the No. 11 West Albany Bulldogs, who were upset by 3-6 McKay in their Mid-Willamette Conference showdown Friday.
The upset also dashed the hopes of Canby’s NWOC rivals, No. 13 Southridge, who had also eyed the at-large berth.
“It’s always tough ending a season,” junior Parker Ackerman told the Current afterward. “Especially for the seniors. There are a lot of guys on the team that I’ve been playing with since third or fourth grade, all through school. It’s definitely going to be a group that I’ll remember.”
The Spartans came into Friday night’s game at Cougar Stadium still flying high from their 41-21 victory over Southridge the previous week, and they kept the ball rolling as they jumped out to a 14-0 lead on the legs of running backs Jaden Echeverria and Skyler Salzman.
“We obviously struggled in some key areas, one of the biggest being sustaining momentum,” Canby head coach Jimmy Joyce said. “Hillsboro is a team that thrives on momentum, and we struggled sustaining momentum. Early on, we had several chances to score but struggled in the red zone.”
But the Cougs refused to quit, showing a toughness and resiliency that Ackerman felt the team had gained from the adversity they experienced over the course of the season.
“We had some injury problems this year,” Ackerman said. “I sprained my left ankle in Week 3, and my right ankle in Week 7. Some other guys got injured, but we never gave up. We knew we had to pick up some slack for guys that were out. We always came ready to play hard and do our best.”
Canby actually tied things up in the second period, led by their own star runner, Tyler Konold, who was among the casualties in the Cougs’ injury-plagued season but returned to full action a couple of weeks ago.
Konold scampered into the end zone from the 14-yard line on a third and 7 to put Canby on the board, then caught a 47-yard bomb from Ackerman to knot the game at 14.
But the Cougs, who fielded one of the youngest 5A squads in the state this year, failed to hold on in the second half.
“We miffed the opening kick in the second half and could not find our game after that,” Joyce admitted.
The Spartans especially capitalized off of Cougar miscues, scoring 21 of their 28 points off of three Canby fumbles.
It was a particularly emotional season-ending game for Joyce, as he said goodbye to one of the smallest senior classes he’s ever coached — and one with whom he had a special connection.
“The message I wanted to share was about how proud I was of all of them, but especially this senior class who were my first freshman class at Canby,” Joyce said. “It has never been a large class. Always around 12 to 14 kids, but they are a committed group and have stuck with it.”
Of course, the benefit of having a young and inexperienced team one year is bringing back talent the next, and Joyce is excited about his team’s prospects for 2023 and beyond.
“With all the injuries this year, we were able to find a lot of depth,” he said. “We will return 20 players who started at least one game just on offense.”
That includes Konold, who finished the season leading the Northwest Oregon Conference for the second straight year with 1,019 yards on 96 carries (10.6 yards per) and eight rushing touchdowns — despite missing four of nine games due to injury.
Budding stars like Ackerman, Andy Soles, Liam Steele, Jackson Doman, Ben White and Gideon Noss will be back, along with the likes of Gage Millar and Cohen Hall, who were injured much of this season but are expected to be back at 100% next year.
Revelations like sophomore quarterback Kellen Oliver and running back Taeler Pfenning, who took on larger-than-expected roles in the Cougar offense this season because of injuries, will also be back in the Cougar blue and gold next year.
“But, right now, it’s about the seniors who have put their blood sweat and tears into the program,” Joyce said. “Guys like Landon Sprague, Davis Hagen, Braden Snoderly, Seth Squire, Silas Wood, and all that have helped revitalize this program. We owe them a lot, and they will be missed.”
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