Gervais players celebrate forcing a turnover in their 24-12 first-round playoff win over Toledo. (Photo by Jeremy McDonald)
Gervais players celebrate forcing a turnover in their 24-12 first-round playoff win over Toledo. (Photo by Jeremy McDonald)

The Willamette Valley town of Gervais got to witness something Friday it hasn't seen since 1953 – the Gervais Cougars in a football state playoff game.

And the seventh-seeded Cougars didn't disappoint, defeating No. 10 Toledo 24-12 in a mud bog for their first playoff win since 1951. That's when they got their only two previous playoff victories and reached the B state championship game.

Two years removed from going 0-9, Gervais (9-1) has posted its first winning record since 2000 and set a school record for wins. The Cougars had never won more than seven games in a season since the program started in 1929.

They will play in the 2A quarterfinals against reigning state champion Oakland (9-1), the No. 2 seed.

“To make it happen, it's such a big accomplishment,” Gervais senior quarterback Eremay Avgi said of the breakthrough win. “We've tried to make it work the last couple of years and failing, now the success is finally coming in.”

Third-year coach J.J. Navarette has the Cougars thinking big.

"We're 1-0. This is a second season for us,” Navarette said. “We started all over and we went back to the basics, went back to everything again. ...We're going to prepare like we did at the beginning of the season for Week 2 (of the playoffs), but with a lot more experience."

Gervais built a 24-0 lead with 3:56 left in the first half, getting touchdown runs of 21 yards by senior Daniel Kuznetsov, 10 yards by sophomore Johnny Mariano and 73 yards by senior Gotti Ramon.

Toledo senior quarterback Christian Retherford tossed two touchdown passes to bring the Boomers within 24-12 with 7:54 left in the third quarter, but could get no closer as the Cougars' defense shut the door.

"We knew it was going to be a little muddy,” Kuznetsov said, “so we couldn't really pass and our offense wouldn't be as good, so we relied on our defense and we stepped up. We felt really confident and that's how we played better. Our chemistry keeps going and going.

“I heard (Oakland) has a good defense and we've got a good offense, so it should be a good game."

-- Jeremy McDonald contributed to this report

TRL flex

The power of the Three Rivers League was never more apparent than in Tigard's 17-0 win at South Salem in a 6A first-round game Friday.

The No. 11 Tigers (5-5), who went 0-5 in the TRL after a 4-0 start, shut down the No. 6 Saxons (9-1), the Special District 1 champions. South Salem entered averaging 50.7 points and 498.0 yards per game but couldn't get anything going against Tigard, which held the Saxons to 283 yards.

“If anyone follows the TRL closely, they know it's just different,” Tigard coach Ken Feist said. “If anything, I was telling the kids, the TRL battle-tested us for this moment. We've played five out of the top 10, so we're used to it..”

South Salem senior quarterback Athan Palmateer, who passed for 29 touchdowns and ran for 11 scores through nine games, went 16 for 35 for 165 yards with one interception (by senior Nicco Simonetti) and rushed for 82 yards on 26 carries.

“Just no big plays was the key,” Feist said. “We let the quarterback run a little bit more than we would have liked, but for the most part, a good pass rush kept him contained. Great coverage, and we just kept the ball in front of us.

“Our defense will always keep us in the game. I didn't expect a shutout, but it's the effort that the defense has given us all year. It's a very satisfying win.”

Saxons senior receiver Esteban Mendez, who had 1,238 receiving yards and 14 touchdown catches in the regular season, had two catches for 21 yards.

“We didn't allow him to get loose like he normally does,” Feist said. “We did a good job bottling him up.”

A steady rain didn't hurt, either.

“The elements weren't great for the passing game,” Feist said. “A lot of guys were dropping balls.”

Senior Roman Martin and junior Trevin Laird caught touchdown passes for Tigard.

Three other TRL teams – No. 1 West Linn, No. 2 Tualatin and No. 5 Lakeridge – also advanced to the quarterfinals of the 6A championship bracket. No. 9 Lake Oswego and No. 14 Oregon City dropped first-round games.

Physical Cougars

No. 12 Cascade used tough losses to No. 1 Henley, No. 2 Marist Catholic and No. 9 Junction City as fuel for a 32-8 upset of No. 5 Tillamook in a 4A first-round game Friday.

The Cougars (7-3) held the Cheesemakers (7-3), last year's 4A runners-up, to a season low in points. Tillamook averaged 43.9 points in the regular season.

“We were humbled being 6-3,” first-year Cascade coach Shane Hedrick said. “The three losses we had, we felt we were right in the game. One play here, one play there, maybe we could have turned those games around. They were a great wake-up call to us. I felt really good about how our kids responded.”

Sophomore Bryce Kuenzi rushed for 197 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries and senior quarterback Nolan Abrams ran for a score for the Cougars, who will play at No. 4 Scappoose (9-1) in the quarterfinals.

Cascade led Tillamook 16-8 at half, then turned a fumble into a touchdown to make it 24-8. The Cougars rode that momentum and their physical play the rest of the way.

“The physicality of the Cascade kids is second to none in any program I've ever coached,” said Hedrick, who has been a head coach at five schools since 1994. “Sometimes it kind of drives me crazy because they're always wrestling, or hitting each other in the head or something. It's like, 'Would you guys stop it?'

“But they just love to play the game. They really respond to each other.”

Hedrick said his defense “played lights out” in containing Tillamook senior dual-threat quarterback Tanner Hoskins. Senior linebacker Braden Johnson, senior free safety Karsten Sande, sophomore linebacker Matt Hinkle and sophomore defensive lineman Bryce May led the charge.

The 6-5, 315-pound May, who missed the first four games of the season while recovering from shoulder surgery, intercepted a screen pass and returned it to the two-yard line. Hedrick said that May reminds him of Philadelphia Eagles defensive lineman Marlon Tuipulotu, a player he coached at Central.

“He's every bit of Marlon Tuipulotu,” Hedrick said. “Just to see a kid that big and be that mobile and that athletic, it's pretty special. He just makes you block him with two people, and that really makes our defense better, frees people up.”

Lancers take down Kennedy

No. 13 South Umpqua produced one of the biggest surprises of the first round Friday by going on the road to knock out No. 4 Kennedy 22-21 in a 3A first-round game at Stayton High School.

Kennedy had advanced to the state championship game in each of the last four postseasons, winning the 2A title in 2018. The Trojans hadn't lost a first-round game since 2014.

“I was really happy with how we played,” Lancers coach Steve Stebbins said. “I thought defensively we were outstanding. We ran the ball a lot better than I thought we would going in. And we found a way to get a few things done in the passing game.”

After Kennedy (8-2) scored a touchdown to take a 19-14 lead, South Umpqua junior Drew Camp returned the kickoff 98 yards for a score and the Lancers (7-3) added a two-point conversion to go up 22-19 with 2:48 left.

“We've had some good returns this year, but we hadn't scored one,” Stebbins said. “We've been close all year, and we finally got one.”

South Umpqua stopped Kennedy and got the ball back with about 1:30 to go. On fourth down, the Lancers took a safety as time expired to account for the final margin.

Stebbins said that a 41-12 home loss to No. 2 Cascade Christian (10-0) in the regular-season finale helped get his team ready for the playoffs. The Lancers were within 14-6 of the reigning state champion Challengers at halftime.

“We thought we played pretty well in the first half and it kind of got away from us,” Stebbins said. “We lost the game, but it was great for us because we saw how we have to play, how we have to be focused in the playoffs.”

South Umpqua will play at Special District 3 rival Lakeview (9-1) in the quarterfinals. The Lancers lost at Lakeview 28-16 in Week 3.