EUGENE — What might have been one of the greatest comebacks in Crescent Valley High football history fell 10 yards and two plays short on a dark and stormy night at Floyd Halversen Field.
Poised to score the winning touchdown or field goal in the final 30 seconds, the Raiders instead had their hearts ripped out when Churchill recovered a fumble with 15 seconds remaining to preserve a 24-22 victory in a thrilling OSAA 5A quarterfinal playoff battle.
CV had a second-and-2 at the Churchill 10-yard line, with two timeouts remaining, when disaster struck. An apparent miscommunication between quarterback Sawyer Cleveland and tailback Cam Sanders on a running play up the middle resulted in a fumble.
Cleveland appeared to fall on the ball. But it was wrestled away from him in the ensuing scrum and the Lancers advanced to the semifinals by the slimmest of margins.
“Sawyer said he had it, but it got ripped away at the end,” CV coach Scott Sanders said. “It is what it is; it was a judgment call by the officials.
“Our plan was to run the ball and call timeout after second down,” he added. “We had one timeout saved in case we fumbled the snap," on what would have been a 27- or 28-yard field goal try, well within placekicker Briley Knight’s range.
CV dug itself a 21-0 first-half hole thanks to three interceptions and several defensive miscues that enabled the Lancers to parlay big plays into touchdowns. However, Sanders scored on a 1-yard run and tacked on a two-point conversion run to draw the Raiders within 21-8 at halftime.
The game turned on its axis in the third quarter when CV’s Talanoa Hufanga returned an interception 43 yards to pay dirt to further trim the deficit to 21-15. Churchill converted a fumble into a field goal to take a 24-15 advantage with 11:54 to play, but Hufanga housed another interception on a 32-yard play with 8:29 left to pull CV within 24-22.
CV’s final drive began at its 48 with 4:20 to play following Connor Spevacek’s interception of a tipped pass. A fourth-down roughing the passer penalty kept the offense on the field and moved CV to the Churchill 32 with 2:56 remaining.
An interference penalty moved CV to the 18 with 53 seconds to play. Sanders gained eight yards to the 10 on first down before the decisive fumble.
CV lost the turnover battle 6-3, as it had four passes intercepted and lost two fumbles.
“They are undefeated for a reason,” coach Sanders said. “I don’t know if we made mistakes, or if they just exposed us in some areas. We just turned the ball over too many times.
“They had a great pressure package, which caused Sawyer to rush and make some early throws. My hat is off to them and their coaching staff. But we played our hearts out.
“To spot a team as good as Churchill 21 points and to then come back and have a chance to win it at the end … it’s just really unfortunate for our kids. I feel awful for them.”
The Raiders held Churchill to a field goal over the final 35 minutes.
“We had to play more physical,” CV linebacker Trevor Adams said. “We started slow but as we got the hang of what they were doing we were more physical, and that was the difference.
“We had to step it up a notch, wake up a little bit, and we did. We outscored them 22-3 the rest of the game, an outstanding job. It was a fun game; it sucks it’s over, but we played our butts off.
“It was a great season, maybe one of the best in CV history. I feel bad for the seniors, they are great guys and I wouldn’t have wanted to play with anyone else.”
Churchill (11-0) now plays top-seeded Mountain View in the semifinals. CV ended its season 9-2; its only other loss was to South Albany on Oct. 27.