Crescent Valley High will have to share.
With an opportunity to clinch the outright Mid-Willamette Conference title, the shorthanded Raiders couldn’t get their offense going Friday night against a tenacious South Albany defense. The Rebels returned a first-quarter interception to the end zone and popped a pair of long touchdowns late to seal a 21-7 victory at Field of Dreams.
South (5-4, 5-1) and CV (8-1, 5-1) are the MWC co-champions. Both football teams will be at home next week in the 5A state round of 16.
“I’d rather lose this one than the next one,” said coach Scott Sanders, who also led the Raiders to a shared MWC title in 2010. “This is a learning lesson and I don’t care what league you are in, what division you are in or how old you are, going undefeated is tough in any sport. We’ve had some close calls already this year and we didn’t come through in this one.”
Key injuries contributed to CV’s offensive woes.
Star wide receiver and defensive back Talanoa Hufanga sat out with a sore shoulder. The Raiders also lost offensive weapons Peyton McGiven (broken collarbone) and Tariq Harris (knee) during the game.
Hufanga said he took a couple of hits in the Raiders’ 31-21 win at Dallas that felt fine in the moment but left his shoulder feeling tender the next day. The senior missed the previous week against Forest Grove and only played on offense against the Dragons.
“I’m just doing everything I can to be ready for next week,” Hufanga said.
Sanders said Harris’ knee injury did not appear to be serious. McGiven will be out the rest of the season.
Sawyer Cleveland was 12 of 23 passing for 138 yards with a pair of interceptions for the Raiders, who had five giveaways to South’s one. Briley Knight was his favorite target, hauling in six passes for 97 yards.
Eli Nafziger had three receptions for 130 yards and a pair of scores to pace the Rebels. He also ran a touchdown back to the end zone.
“South played great tonight,” Sanders said. “I thought we shut them down defensively. Two blown coverages and a pick six, that was the difference in the game. But they had a great plan for us defensively and with us having Talanoa out and losing Peyton and Tariq, it was tough.”
With the game knotted at 7 late in the third quarter, Nafziger beat Sun Woo Kim on a slant-and-go for an easy 52-yard score from quarterback Jake Costello. The Rebels dialed up another sluggo in the fourth that went for 69 yards.
“It was the same route, and if it works, it works,” Nafziger said. “I knew our offensive coordinator was up there doing a really good job, putting me on the corner and setting up the play well.”
Costello completed 9 of 17 passes for 147 yards with two TDs and an interception. Ray Wilson got the bulk of the carries, running for 43 yards on 18 attempts.
CV turned it over on two of its first three possessions, including a Cleveland pick that was returned 15 yards for a touchdown by Nafziger. Cleveland threw high in the right flat for Ben Leid, who deflected the ball to a Johnny-on-the-spot Nafziger for the easy catch and score.
“I saw him go in for the bubble route and it was above his head,” Nafziger said. “So I just kind of stayed back, let it happen and took it in.”
A Knight 51-yard punt return closed the first quarter and gave CV terrific field position at the South 14. On-fourth-and-goal from the 3, Joel Alire reached the end zone on a toss sweep to tie the game at 7.
Alire finished with 12 carries for a team-best 60 yards.
Both defenses shined in the opening half as the Raiders compiled 66 yards of total offense while South had just 26. But the final 24 minutes belonged to the Rebels.