Imblerís Garrett Bigej battles for the ball in the end zone Saturday in the Panthersí 40-12 loss to Camas Valley in the semifinals of the 1A state playoffs. NANCY CAMPBELL photo
Camas Valley overcomes early Imbler lead for 40-12 playoff win
HILLSBORO — The No. 2-ranked Imbler Panthers certainly had the momentum going their way early in their OSAA/U.S. Bank/Les Schwab Tires Class 1A eight-man football semifinal matchup versus the No. 3-ranked Camas Valley Hornets Saturday.
Imbler led 12-8 after one quarter and it appeared they had a good shot at beating the defending state champion Hornets.
The two-time Special District 4 champion Panthers (10-1), guided by longtime (34 years) coach Lee Lowe, weren’t able to sustain their offensive attack, though, as they were shutout in the last three quarters in a 40-12 loss to the Hornets (12-0) at Hillsboro Stadium.
Camas Valley advanced to the finals for a third straight year and will play the St. Paul Buckaroos (11-0) in the 1A championship game
“It was a real challenge for us facing the undefeated defending state champions and we knew that coming in here,” said Lowe.
“They’re a great team, they’re very physical and they have lots of talent at nearly every position. We hung in there with them for a while, but then we made a couple of mistakes which they were able to capitalize on and gain the momentum. Finishing as one of the the final four teams out of a total of 66 Class 1A schools is great, because there’s lots of teams that would love to be in the same position as we are.”
Imbler had a great start in the 11 a.m. matchup as the Panthers received the opening kickoff and marched all the way down to the Hornets 19-yard line. The nine-play, 40-yard drive stalled, though, on an unsuccessful Panther fourth-down conversion attempt as they turned the ball over to the Hornets.
Imbler junior Cole Campbell helped provide the Panthers with the early momentum when he recovered a fumble at the Hornets’ 17. On the very next play, sophomore running back Joe Griffin (15 carries, 37 yards, two TDs) scrambled around the right side to paydirt on a 17-yard touchdown run, giving Imbler a 6-0 lead with 8:25 left in the first quarter.
Camas Valley answered less than a minute later when Hornet senior running back Eli Wolfe (23 carries, 204 yards. rushing) scored on a 51-yard TD run. The Hornets added a two-point conversion for an 8-6 advantage with 7:27 on the clock.
Imbler responded as it again capitalized on a Camas turnover.
Imbler senior Casey Robertson recovered another Camas fumble at the Hornets’ 25. Two plays later, Griffin broke free up the middle on a one-yard run. The conversion run failed, but Imbler led 12-8, which was the score at the end of the first quarter.
The high-powered Hornets offense (66.54 points/game average) proved tough to stop, though, in the second for Imbler.
“They (CV) played a little more physically than we did and forced us to make some costly mistakes,” said Lowe. “The kids battled hard, they hung in there and did some good things. Being down two scores is not too large of a deficit to overcome.”
It certainly wasn’t an insurmountable advantage though for a tough Imbler defensive unit, led by Campbell, Robertson, Riley Merrigan and Ben Kanoho. Imbler held the Hornets scoreless in the third, keeping alive the Panthers chance for a possible comeback.
Imbler’s offense was stymied though as they couldn’t move the ball and failed to score in the quarter as it remained 28-12 after three. The Panther trio of Griffin, quarterback Kyle Johnson (three carries, 36 yds.) and running back Jaden Bales (seven carries, 25 yds.) combined for a total of just 95 yards rushing. The Hornets running game totaled 295 yards and CV outgained Imbler in total offense 484 yards to 219.
“We just didn’t have enough big plays to help swing the momentum our way,” said Bales. “We felt pretty good in the fourth and we still had a chance, but they’re (CV) a really physical team and that contributed to our tough second half. We just couldn’t get anything going offensively and that’s why the game turned out the way it did. Finishing with a 10-1 record is something not many teams get the opportunity to do, so that’s something to be proud of.”
Despite their struggles offensively, Imbler still had a chance in the fourth, trailing by just two touchdowns. The backbreaker came though when CV scored on a 12-play drive, making it 34-12 with 9:38 left in the game. The Hornets added another TD with 4:06 on the clock for the final margin.
“It’s always tough to lose, but looking at things positively, I was glad to see that we gave them (CV) a pretty good battle,” said Lowe. “We (coaches Todd Thompson, Dustan Adams, Jakob Evers) are so proud of the kids for having such a great season with a 10-1 record, which is something lots of teams would be thrilled with, so there’s no reason to be disappointed. We have a good group of seniors who stepped up and provided leadership for the younger guys throughout the season and they had a good career, so we’ll really miss them.”
For Imbler seniors Garrett Bigej, Jaden Bales, Rowdy Graves, Casey Rankin, Kain Shodin and Robertson, it marked the conclusion of their football career. They can certainly be proud of the fact that they ended it playing on one of the top-four teams in the state. The group had a phenomenal record too while accumulating a record of 35-7 in their four years on the football team.
“We came out and got off to a pretty good start, but then we had a little bit of a letdown and they (CV) took advantage of it,” said Graves, Imbler’s center. “We had a chance to win all the way until the end, but we just couldn’t capitalize on their mistakes. Our goal was to reach the finals, but it just fell short. I’m proud of what we accomplished this year. I hope they (CV) win the championship next week, so then we can say we lost to the state champions.”
Camas Valley 40, Imbler 12
Camas Valley 8 20 0 12 - 40
Imbler 12 0 0 0 - 12
I - Joe Griffin 17-yard run (run failed).
CV - Eli Wolfe 51-yard run (Joshua Garcia run).
I - Griffin 1 yard run (run failed).
CV - Joshua Mattox 11-yard run (Lindsey Caleb pass from Mattox).
CV - Mattox 1-yard run (pass failed).
CV - Weston Tilton 59-yard pass from Mattox (pass failed).
CV - Wolfe 11-yard run (pass failed).
CV - Lindsey 43-yard pass from Mattox (run failed).