WILSONVILLE – Entering the football season, Jayce Knapp was perfectly happy to be Wilsonville's backup quarterback after transferring back from Texas, where he played in the fall.
But after junior starter Chase Hix went out with a strained pectoral muscle in the second game, Knapp became the Wildcats' starter – the role he had in 2019 when he threw 30 touchdown passes – and he is settling into a groove.
Knapp played his best game Friday night against visiting Canby, completing 30 of 39 passes for 388 yards and five touchdowns – two each to seniors Josh McKenzie and Payton Dart – as Wilsonville (5-0) remained unbeaten with a convincing 37-14 win.
“When I went to Texas, I didn't have any plans on coming back,” said Knapp, who played nine games for Del Valle. “I didn't really like it in Texas. I begged my parents for me to come back. I'm thankful I was able to play.”
Dart, who caught 12 touchdown passes from Knapp in 2019, had a big night against the Cougars (3-2). He had seven catches for 150 yards and the two scores, including a picture-perfect 65-yard bomb.
“It was good to get him out here, and we finally started clicking,” Dart said. “It took a couple weeks to get back in the groove, but once we get in it, our whole offense is unstoppable.”
Knapp not only showed off his lively arm, but his legs and athleticism, too. Two of his touchdown passes came on scrambles, a 15-yarder to McKenzie and a two-yarder to Dart.
“Jayce is maturing into an all-around quarterback,” Wildcats coach Adam Guenther said. “I'm excited to see where he goes from here. He's going to be ready. He's going to take what he's learned at all his stops and find a way down the road.”
Knapp said that playing alongside five-star talent in Texas was eye-opening.
“Texas taught me a lot,” Knapp said. “The speed down there is insane. The competition down there was crazy. It gave me the confidence to come here and play well. I lived, ate and breathed football for four months. But once it was over, I was like, 'This is my home.' I just couldn't live there anymore. I had to come back.”
Knapp is part of a deep senior class that helped lead Wilsonville to the 5A quarterfinals in 2018. With 19 starters back, the Wildcats had high hopes for 2020, but their plans were foiled by the COVID-19 crisis.
“It's heartbreaking,” Knapp said. “I know we're a state-championship caliber team. I think we'd definitely make a run all the way to the state championship, and we'd have a good chance of winning it.”
Guenther, whose son Colby is a senior on the team, feels the players' disappointment. The Wildcats will end their season next week at 6A Barlow.
“I told them in the huddle after the game that it's unfortunate,” the coach said. “It's not fair that this group is going through the year they are. But I'm thankful we have six games. I've watched them grow from waist-high into men.”
Knapp threw touchdown passes of 19 and 15 yards to McKenzie as Wilsonville opened a 14-0 lead in the second quarter. After Canby senior Tyler Mead ran for a 52-yard score, Knapp connected on the 65-yard score to Dart to make it 21-7. Junior Joey Friedman added a 30-yard field goal for a 24-7 lead at half.
Knapp hit Dart for a two-yard touchdown in the third quarter and added a 12-yard scoring pass to Jack Kimball in the fourth quarter, pushing the lead to 37-7.
Canby finished with 231 yards, but more than half came on two touchdown runs – the 52-yarder by Mead and a 78-yard score by junior reserve quarterback Cameron Lee in the fourth quarter.
Otherwise, Wilsonville's defense dominated. Senior linebacker Chad Overholt repeatedly punished Canby runners and senior lineman Jake Moore had two of the Wildcats' five sacks.
“They play lights out,” Dart said of Wilsonville's defense. “Our defensive gameplan is amazing. We could shut a lot of teams out.”
Canby junior quarterback Mikey Gibson, who suffered a knee injury last week against Scappoose, came off the bench in the second quarter in relief of senior Zackary Markell but was clearly struggling with his mobility. Gibson completed 4 of 8 passes for 48 yards and Markell finished 3 of 10 for 16 yards.
“Mikey was a game-time decision for us,” Canby coach Jimmy Joyce said. “I think Zack did a great job managing the game, and we thought we needed a spark, and Mikey came in. But at the end of the day, he's very limited in what he can do right now. He's an uber-competitor, and it's a good lesson for him.”
Mead, who rushed for 207 yards and scored six touchdowns last week, finished with 72 yards on 12 carries before leaving in the second quarter with a head injury.
“He's probably out for the rest of the year,” Joyce said.
The Cougars, newcomers to the NWOC after dropping from 6A, had hoped to push the Wildcats in the first-ever meeting between the teams but never got their footing. The Cougars got a fumble recovery from junior Theo Netter and an interception by sophomore Davis Hagen but couldn't turn them into points.
“We've never been a fast-starting team, and we kind of fell behind the eight-ball and just never really got back up on it,” Joyce said. “We showed a lot of character tonight. We're getting thinner as the season goes.”
Wilsonville finished with 478 total yards. The Wildcats rushed for 81 yards, getting a team-high 67 yards on 12 carries from senior Lucas Graves.
Adam Guenther said that Hix, who did not dress for the game, will not play in the season's final game as he looks ahead to competing in track and basketball this year.