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Imblerís Joe Griffin breaks through the offensive line during the Class 1A state championship game against Lowell Saturday at Hillsboro Stadium. The Panthers won the game 88-76. (NANCY CAMPBELL photo)
Imbler, Lowell put on a track meet in the Class 1A title game bring home second state football championship
HILLSBORO — The Imbler football season ended the way every player dreams about — hoisting a championship trophy over their head, and being lost in a sea of family members after the game.
It took a while for that dream to become a reality. In part because Lowell would not fade into the cool late afternoon light until the fourth quarter. The Panthers put Lowell away in the fourth quarter to win their second Class 1A state title in four attempts. The latest coming with a 88-76 win Saturday at Hillsboro Stadium.
It was a record-setting night, well in the first half at least.
The track meet started on the second play of the game, a 46-yard touchdown run by the Devils’ Josh Cardwell.
From that point the teams combined for 1,345 total yards of offense in the first half, and 126 points. The halftime score set the state record for combined points in the championship game. Lowell also set the national record for points scored in a season in the first half, and finished with 946 points. The previous record for 8-man was 891, and 903 in 11-man.
I knew we both had good offenses,” Panther head coach Lee Lowe said. “I didn’t think ours was quite this potent though. The boys did a great job of executing the plays.
“But I thought our defense had been playing so well. I didn’t expect this. It wears you out on the sideline.”
The Panthers went about business on offense despite the Devils being able to answer.
Joe Griffin and Kyle Johnson put on an offensive clinic.
Griffin ran for 335 yards on 25 carries with four touchdowns, and finished with four receptions for 139 yards and three touchdowns. That alone would be an impressive day, but Griffin didn’t stop there. He returned kicks of 72 and 66 yards for touchdowns. His nine touchdowns was one shy of tying the national record.
“I owe it all to the offensive line,” Griffin said. “They are all amazing. And, Luke (Silbernagle) does a great job getting the lead block. It’s easy to run behind him.”
Johnson completed 7-of-12 passing for 167 yards and five touchdowns.
The senior quarterback knew his team would be in for a fight.
“We thought it was going to be a battle from the beginning,” Johnson said. “They have a lot of great players, and we knew we just needed to keep scoring and try to get a stop.”
There were two key stretches for the Panthers.
The first started by deflating the Devils sideline to end the first quarter. Following a touchdown by Lowell, Griffin returned his first kick of the game with three seconds left on the clock. Then a kick any golfer would be jealous of. Ben Kanoho kicked the ball down to the 10 yard line, and then it spun back to the four. The Devil return man put his knee on the ground when trying to pick the ball up, forcing Lowell to start the drive from the four yard line. Two plays later, Riley Merrigan and Cole Campbell pulled Cardwell down in the endzone for a safety. Griffin took the ensuing free kick back for another touchdown and a 48-32.
“I’m not used to people kicking me the ball,” Griffin said. “You don’t really have time to think about what to do, you just do it. I’m not sure if they thought about it too much, but they stopped after that.”
Those two scores and the first defensive stop of the game, gave Imbler the edge it needed.
“Cardwell is a slippery guy,” Campbell said. “He’s pretty good at what we does. Knowing that we could stop them gave us a huge boost. Plus, to have Joe return those two kicks, you couldn’t hear anything on the sideline for a while after that.”
Imbler forced one more big stop, holding Lowell to a four-and-out. Johnson connected with Clint Porter on a third-and-eight pass from 13 yards out, giving Imbler an 80-62 lead.
The Devils closed the gap one more time to cap a 13 play, 91 yard drive with a Matt Harvey touchdown.
Griffin slammed the door shut with a 53-yard touchdown run.
“It’s the ending you want as a senior,” Campbell said. “We wanted this trophy bad. It took a lot of hard work to get it. It just shows what a team mentality can do.”