INDEPENDENCE — Monroe High coach Bill Crowson reminded his players beforehand Saturday afternoon that they could expect some hurdles to be put in their path.
Crowson likely didn’t know that the Dragons would place many of those barriers in front of themselves throughout the first half, but they were there, nonetheless, as he predicted.
Early mistakes put Monroe in a three-score hole 18 minutes into the game.
But the Dragons rallied, eventually took a lead in the fourth quarter behind the hard running of Zach Young and held off Knappa for a 47-42 win in an OSAA 2A football semifinal at Central High.
“We believe in adversity,” said Monroe senior lineman Keith Saito. “Overcoming obstacles. That’s what we do, we overcame obstacles.”
It was Saito’s strip sack of Knappa quarterback Kaleb Miller that helped give the Dragons the ball deep in Knappa territory and set up the winning touchdown, a 1-yard QB keep by Kairen Garber with 1:35 left.
But Knappa (10-1) wasn’t done. The Loggers went 73 yards in four plays, closing back within five points on Braeden Eltagonde’s 9-yard touchdown catch from Miller with 54 seconds remaining.
Brian Goracke recovered the ensuing onside kick for Monroe (10-1). Young’s two runs for a first down sealed a victory for the Dragons in the program’s first state semifinal in 47 years.
Monroe will play Santiam, a 23-22 winner against St. Paul, in next week’s state championship game. Monroe will make its first state championship game appearance since 1962.
Crowson said he never saw any quit in his team, even with a 28-7 deficit after Miller’s third rushing touchdown of the game with 5:40 left in the second quarter.
“They’re a gritty bunch. I don’t know if they really think that way,” he said. “They just go out and play. They’re pretty loose and they just went out and did it.”
Monroe’s Parker Wynn hobbled off the field after running the ball midway through the third quarter with Knappa ahead 36-28. Wynn had run the ball well — 14 times for 74 yards — but was suddenly on the sideline with a lower leg injury.
The game was in the hands of Young, a sophomore standout, and the starting offensive line of Saito and Jorge Sanchez at guards, Christian Garcia and Henry Koch at tackles and Gavin Bayliss at center.
The Dragons would turn the ball over on downs soon after, but then stopped the Loggers on a fake punt near midfield.
A 39-yard pass from Garber to Trent Warden set up a Young 10-yard touchdown pass. A failed two-point pass left Monroe two points down.
The Dragons’ defense forced a punt and then drove for the go-ahead score.
Young ran seven times on a 14-play drive. Garber was sacked on a third down from the Knappa 7 before hitting Brodey Lynn in the back of the end zone on a 16-yard touchdown completion.
A two-point pass failed, but the defense came up big again.
Saito sacked Miller on a fourth-down play and Sanchez fell on the ball.
Young finished with 253 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 35 carries.
“With Parker going out, I knew that I was going to get a little more carries,” said Young, who got the Dragons on the scoreboard with an 80-yard kickoff return for a score late in the first quarter. “I just tried to put my team in position to win. We’ve got a great line, making holes for me every play, working their butts off. It was a great feeling.”
Warden led the Dragons with nine tackles, including nine solos and a fumble recovery. Dylan Irwin added eight tackles and Young seven.
Crowson said his team may have gotten too “cute” with some early play calling.
The game plan was to make Knappa stop the run. The big plays started to come in the second quarter and the Dragons decided to stick with it until the Loggers made adjustments to slow it down. The adjustments never came.
“I think we did great. We hammered down and we controlled the line,” Saito said. “We ran the ball and we minimized mistakes.”