Imblerís Joe Griffin dives into the endzone for a touchdown Saturday against Perrydale. The Panthers won the quarterfinal contest 34-14 and were led by Griffinís 142 yards rushing. CASEY KELLAS - The Observer
Imbler pounces into football semis against undefeated Hornets after burying Pirates
IMBLER — On a day when it took the Imbler offense a little while to find its rhythm, it was the defense who had one of its best efforts of the season in a 34-14 victory over Perrydale in a quarterfinal showdown Saturday.
With the win, the top-seeded Panthers will face off with No. 2 Camas Valley in the semifinals Saturday at Hillboro Stadium.
The usually potent Panther offense was held in check early by the fourth-seeded Pirates, as the teams played to a scoreless draw after the first 12 minutes.
“We’re almost identical in a lot of different areas,” coach Lee Lowe said. “As far the things that we do and the talent that we have, it’s pretty comparable.”
That was evident early on as neither team could find the end zone until the second quarter.
Imbler put together a 10-play drive that ended on a one-yard keeper by quarterback Kyle Johnson to get the Panthers on the board. A catch by Joe Griffin on the two-point try made it 8-0 with 11:11 left in the first half.
But right when Imbler was starting to dial in its offense, Perrydale found a spark.
On its ensuing possession the Pirates put together a seven-play scoring drive. A 20-yard scamper by Josh Hiebenthal finished the drive before Cody Halverson’s two-point catch evened the score at 8-8.
“The bottom line was gonna be who executes better and who performs better,” Lowe said. “At times we did and at times they did.”
Griffin returned the following kickoff for a touchdown only to have it called back on a block in the back penalty.
Not that it mattered, as early on in the possession a swing pass to Jaden Bales went for 60 yards to pay dirt to put Imbler back on top 16-8 after Garrett Bigej’s catch on the two-point attempt.
But the defining drive of the game came at the end of the first half.
After exchanging the ball back and forth on a couple of possessions, the Panthers took over at the Perrydale 43 with a minute to go in the half. Johnson orchestrated a textbook drive that ended on a bobbling catch by Bigej with just 12 seconds left in the quarter to make it a 22-8 Imbler lead after the two-point try failed.
“We had a big drive early. And then to put that one in to give us a little bit of breathing room. That was a big drive for us. We used the clock pretty well and the kids executed and made good choices,” Lowe said.
Perrydale never seemed to recover from that drive, and Imbler carried the momentum over to the second half.
The Panthers scored six plays into their opening drive of the third quarter and extended the lead on a short touchdown run by Griffin to make it 28-8.
Perrydale cut into the lead on its first possession of the quarter — a five yard run by Hiebenthal — to get it to 28-14 with 7:06 left in the third.
But that would be as close as the Pirates would get.
Imbler added one more touchdown on a 15-yard run by Griffin with 3:36 left in the fourth quarter to round out the scoring, advancing the Panthers into the semifinals for the first time since 2009.
“Coach Dugan does a really good job, we always have battles every time we play Perrydale,” Lowe said. “So hats off to Perrydale, they’re a class operation, good kids and quality coaches. It’s a big win for us.”
Johnson completed seven of 11 passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 44 yards and a score. Griffin had 142 yards rushing on 27 carries and two touchdowns, while Bales ran for 92 yards and caught a score.
Bales added 71 yards receiving on three catches. Bigej caught three passes for 26 yards.
The Panthers had 387 yards of total offense.
The defense forced Perrydale to punt four times and forced a fumble.
“We kept (Perrydale) on the field a little too long in the second half, but they responded,” Lowe said of his defense. “We bent a couple times, but we seemed to keep them out of the end zone for the most part. The defense stepped up. We challenged them at halftime to be a little bit more physical.”
The Panthers will need another valiant effort this Saturday against the defending state champions from Camas Valley. The Hornets (11-0) defeated Sherman 48-6 in their quarterfinal game.
The winner of that game will face off with the victor in the other semi-final game between St. Paul and Lowell for a state championship Dec. 1.