COTTAGE GROVE – The Mazama Vikings had come too far to let the opportunity of a lifetime slip away Saturday at Cottage Grove High School.
So with a potentially historic season on the line, the top-seeded Vikings came through with two big plays to turn back No. 2 Marist Catholic 27-21 in the first-place game of the 4A Football Elite 8 Showcase.
Junior Zeke Heaton blasted through the middle of the defense for a tiebreaking 57-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter, and senior Cole Brosterhous provided the game-clinching interception as Mazama completed the shortened season 6-0.
It may not be an official state championship, but for the Vikings, who have never won a state title, it was every bit as meaningful.
“One hundred percent, we're treating this like we're state champions,” senior quarterback Tristan Lee said. “This is the first one for Mazama football, so we're going to live it up.”
In 2019, the Vikings won their sixth consecutive Skyline Conference title but exited the state playoffs with a first-round loss to Tillamook. They came back hungry to prove themselves this season.
“We've been in the playoffs year after year, and we just couldn't get over the hump,” senior tight end and defensive back Alex Hayden said. “We finally did. We had enough time to bond as a unit. That's really what it is. It's just being together, working together.”
Mazama coach Vic Lease said Saturday's win should end any argument about 4A's top team. His team came a long way after losing at Marist Catholic 55-21 in a nonleague game in 2019.
“This season basically put our program on the map,” Lease said. “We've had success over the last years … but this shows, COVID, all the adversity and everything else, we rose to the top. And we're on top.”
Mazama and Marist Catholic (4-2) traded blows in a back-and-forth first half that ended 21-21. The defenses tightened in the second half, though, as each team failed to score on its first three possessions.
The Vikings finally struck when Heaton – who had been held to 25 yards on his first nine carries – found a crease in the middle of the Marist Catholic defense and bolted 57 yards to the end zone. After the extra-point attempt failed, Mazama led 27-21 with 6:52 left.
“Everybody just made perfect blocks,” said Heaton, who finished with 109 yards on 15 carries. “I looked up and I just saw a gap to run through. I looked back, kind of, and there was nobody, so I just ran as hard as I could the rest of the way.”
It was the eighth touchdown run of the year for Heaton, who finished the season with a team-high 570 rushing yards.
“He had an open lane, and he's got the speed, man,” Lee said of Heaton's run. “He's fantastic. I knew he was going to take that one.”
Marist Catholic had two more possessions to answer. On the first one, the Spartans got to the Mazama 47-yard line before turning it over on downs. On the second series, they got as far as the Mazama 36 before Brosterhous intercepted a deep pass at the 11-yard line with 1:53 left.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Brosterhous, who has signed with Western Oregon, showed his athleticism on the interception. Spartans senior receiver Hagan Stephenson had broken free behind him, but Brosterhous was able to make up the difference and steal the ball away as it arrived.
“He got me on the route, and I just knew I had to sprint,” said Brosterhous, who played the game with a bloody nose after an early hit on Marist Catholic senior quarterback Joey Laing. “I had to make a play. I had to recover.”
Brosterhous' effort even surprised Hayden, who was near the play.
“I thought Hagan Stephenson caught that ball, but then Cole came out with it,” Hayden said. “I knew we had it at that point. It was over. Wonderful play. Hagan's a phenomenal receiver, and that was just great for Cole to get it from him.”
Lease raved over the raw ability of Brosterhous, who played only one game as a junior due to a broken collarbone.
“It pays to have athletes,” Lease said. “There are a number of Division I schools that missed the boat on that kid. He's a Division I kid, and Western Oregon got a steal there. He's one of the best athletes, not only in the 4A level, but in the state of Oregon. And they missed on him.”
The interception came two plays after Stephenson caught a 32-yard pass against Brosterhous. After that play, Brosterhous recalled the advice of defensive coordinator Beau Fullerton.
“He always says that five bad things are going to happen to you in a football game, and it's how you respond that's going to determine your success,” Brosterhous said. “Something bad happened to me, and something bad almost happened again, and I made a play.”
Mazama got one first down to run out the clock and seal the win.
The Vikings took home the Showcase trophy. What does it mean to them?
“This is the cap, this is the icing on the cake,” Lease said. “This season, everything we've done over the last years, this was the exclamation point. This group of young men bought in when they were little.”
Mazama rushed for 214 yards and outgained Marist Catholic 334-316. Lee completed 8 of 11 passes for 120 yards, including touchdowns of 22 yards to Brosterhous and nine yards to junior Aidan Kindt. Brosterhous finished with four catches for 58 yards. Senior Colby Anderson rushed for 44 yards and one touchdown on 11 carries.
Spartans junior Lucas Tuski rushed for 124 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries and Stephenson caught three passes for 103 yards, including a 60-yard score. Senior Luke Patterson had four catches for 81 yards from Laing, who went 9 of 18 for 195 yards and one touchdown with one interception.
“They made plays, we made plays, they just made one more at the end when they needed to,” Marist Catholic coach Frank Geske said. “Hats off to them on that. It was a great football game. I hate to say that, but it really was.”
Said Patterson: “We threw punches, they threw punches. We were right there, and we knew it. I think it goes either way, if we play a bunch of times.”