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It was a very different Canby Cougar football program when the Class of 2022 first came onto the scene four years ago.
Their freshmen campaign was a brutal slog in which they were outscored 334-60 over the course of nine games — all losses — and ended with parting ways with longtime head coach Mike Vaught, who was only the third man to lead the program in 40 years after Mike Doty and the legendary Erv Garrison.
First-time head coach Jimmy Joyce was brought on the following season, and though the team culture and enthusiasm showed immediate improvements — results in the win-loss column took a little longer. But the Class of 2022 was there for the watershed moment when the Cougs finally snapped a 22-game losing streak at home against rival Oregon City.
Then came a move to 5A, Covid-19 and an uneven, 3-3 campaign that happened earlier this spring — just a couple months before that year’s crop of seniors marched in graduation.
Now, the transformation appears complete, and a remarkable, four-year turnaround it has been as this year’s seniors are leading a fifth-ranked Cougar squad that is only a field goal away from an undefeated record, powered by a nigh-unstoppable offense that is one of the best in the state.
That offense was on full display Friday night as the Cougars hosted the visiting McKay Royal Scots, running up a 33-6 lead in the first quarter en route to an easy 53-12 victory in the Northwest Oregon Conference West matchup.
It was a very memorable showing for Senior Night, and Joyce was quick to give credit where it was due.
“When I got here, they were sophomores, and they have helped get our program back to where it should be,” Joyce told The Canby Current. “They didn’t do it by talent; they and the other classes have accomplished it through hard work.”
The Cougs wasted no time in getting the rout started as the opening kick was returned to the house by super sophomore Tyler Konold. Konold, fresh off of a 257-yard, three-touchdown performance against St. Helens last week, made it look easy as he flew 89 yards, untouched, for the score.
Canby was up 6-0 and their offense had yet to take the field.
They would get their chance just a few plays later after a quick Scot three-and-out, and they took full advantage, with Konold taking the hand-off from senior quarterback Mikey Gibson and dancing through the McKay defense 63 yards to the end zone. It appeared that Konold had scored twice on two touches, but the TD was erased by a holding penalty.
No matter. Gibson and senior receiver Joe Brauckmiller — who’d apparently had enough of the sophomore getting all the glory on Senior Night — connected on the very next play to put Canby up 13-0 after only two minutes of game time.
It would take almost another 60 seconds before the Cougs found the end zone again, this time on the legs of Konold, who sprinted 41 yards for his second official touchdown of the day.
“We really put an emphasis on starting quick and finishing fast,” said Joyce. “The focus and effort these boys have are showing in practice is really inspiring.”
The Cougars capped their masterful first quarter with two more touchdowns, one a nine-yard run by senior Bryce Oliver, the other a 40-yard pass from Gibson to Parker Ackerman. It was Canby’s highest-scoring first period in at least a decade and, leading 33-6, the game was essentially over with three more quarters to play.
But the Cougars refused to coast, scoring on two more big plays: a 29-yard run by Konold, his third and final TD of the game, and a 58-yard pass from Gibson to senior Matthew Soles. Canby entered the locker room with a 45-6 halftime lead and five plays of 40 yards or more. The Cougs’ offense would finish the game with eight plays of 20-plus yards.
“One of the things I really like about how our offense has evolved is we have multiple ways to be successful,” said Joyce. “We can grind it out in the trenches sustaining long drives, but we haven’t lost that big-play possibility.”
A running clock in the second half saw seniors get their chance to get on the field. Backup QB Cameron Lee got the crowd going with a 55-yard run in the fourth. It was the senior’s third consecutive game with a touchdown.
On the extra point, kicker Cohen Hall handled a bad snap and hoisted up a 25-yard prayer that was emblematic of the Cougars’ night. The pass was caught by senior Jacob Strand — primarily a lineman, but who can also slot in at tight end — for the two-point conversion.
Gibson, who came into Senior Night second in 5A for passing touchdowns behind only Wilsonville’s Chase Hix, added three more to his magnificent season Friday for a total of 12. That puts him, at least temporarily, on top after North Salem forfeited its Week 5 tussle with Wilsonville. He finished 10 of 14 for 293 yards and three touchdowns — his third straight game with three scores through the air.
Overall, five seniors were able to find the end zone for the Cougars. Konold, who is also at or near the top of the 5A leaderboards for rushing yards and touchdowns, finished with 189 yards on 12 carries, scoring three times. The Cougs have averaged 50 points and 276 rushing yards over the last three contests, led by the two-headed backfield monster of Konold and Oliver and a hard-working offensive line.
The game left future Oregon State Beaver Jacob Strand, who has primarily played tight end this season for the Cougs, excited and hungry for more.
“I truly believe in our dedication to our team, our champion mentality and our trust in one another,” Strand said. “I believe that we can do something special this year.”
Both Strand and Joyce recognize that the war is far from over — and the toughest challenges still lie ahead. With the win, the Cougs improve to 4-1 overall and 3-0 in league play. Up next is a Thursday Homecoming game against the Hillsboro Spartans. Kick-off is at 7 p.m.
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