Crane corrals North Douglas in 1A semifinals
BEND — A team mourning a teammate, killed in a traffic accident on Thursday, could easily be forgiven for starting slow two days later.
And that’s a part of what happened Saturday evening at Summit High School, where the Crane Mustangs walked somberly onto the football field carrying two jerseys, then taped them to the back of the bench for the duration of the OSAA Class 1A championship semifinal.
In the end, North Douglas didn’t have an answer for the Mustangs’ speed or experience as Crane rallied with three fourth-quarter touchdowns to punch its ticket to next weekend’s championship game via a 36-24 victory over the Warriors.
Crane will make its second straight title game appearance. The Mustangs (11-0) will face Dufur (11-1) in a rematch of last season’s championship game.
“We knew Crane was tough and they came out inspired,” NDHS coach J.J. Mast said. “If it wasn’t us, boy they’ve been through a tough 48 hours, I’m glad it was them. They deserved it.
“Our kids played hard and we came up a little bit short. Sometimes that happens,” he added.
North Douglas (11-2) had its most successful season in 44 years end because the Warriors couldn’t get their running game going and Crane forced Riley Swafford into three interceptions.
“I think we might have the best two corners in the state,” Crane coach Stub Travis said.
Those corners — Cashe Davis (2) and George Balowski (1) — came up with the interceptions against Swafford, who had thrown only one all season entering the game.
“When you look at when those are thrown, our backs are to the wall and we need to make a play,” Mast said. “They were getting pressure on us a lot and they just made things extremely difficult on us. We didn’t have as much time as we were used to having in the passing game. Their defensive backs were fast and were all over us in the passing game.”
Still, the third-ranked Warriors were within a quarter of reaching their first state championship game, leading 16-14 entering the final period.
It was a great place for the Warriors to be, and put Crane in a position it hadn’t faced often in a season that featured just one game decided by less than a touchdown.
David Steeves led all rushers with 106 yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries, while Balowski added another 105 yards and a TD on 10 carries. The Mustangs were able to control the line of scrimmage much of the game despite a size disadvantage. They galloped their way to 300 yards of total offense on 52 plays — an average of 5.2 yards a snap.
North Douglas found its potent running game bottled up. Dominic Aguilar managed 42 yards on 17 carries and didn’t find the end zone. Swafford finished with 46 yards on nine carries and two TDs, but 49 yards came on one keeper in the second quarter that tied the game 8-8.
Crane’s Sam Williams and Jacob Dunn combined for 25 tackles. Williams in particular was hard on the Warriors with 13 tackles, a sack and three tackles for losses. The Mustangs had seven tackles for loss in the game.
“They were really good, our line couldn’t hold them,” N.D. senior Jayce Ellis said. “No. 44 (Williams), he was a beast.”
The Mustangs started a bit slow, but led 14-8 at the half when quarterback Miles Maupin hit Davis with a 25-yard scoring pass with 1:14 to go.
“It’s probably the best team in the state,” Ellis said. “I feel like we limited our mistakes in the beginning — we made some big ones at the end — but early, yeah, I feel like we were handling them pretty well.”
That didn’t last, and neither did the 16-14 lead the Warriors seized on Swafford’s 1-yard run and Ellis’ conversion reception with 4:31 left in the third period.
Steeves broke a 37-yard TD run and Balowski dashed 30 yards in the first 4:30 of the fourth quarter as Crane surged in front 28-16.
“They were really fast all around the board,” Ellis said.
North Douglas fashioned one more scoring drive, as Swafford found Sean Keenan running alone behind the secondary for a 27-yard score. The two-point conversion made it a four-point game at 28-24, but Crane put together another scoring drive, with Steeves going in from the 19. The two-point conversion made it 36-24 and a deep kickoff saddled the Warriors with poor field position.
Swafford had to chase down a bad snap in his own end zone, scrambled to escape pressure, and lofted a floater up the right sideline and into Balowski’s hands with less than 1:25 to go, and that was the ball game.
For the Warriors, 10 seniors played their final football game in black and red, though several key athletes will return next season, including Cal Parks and Dominic Aguilar.
North Douglas 0 8 8 8 —24
Crane 0 14 0 22 — 36
C — Steeves 2 run (Maupin run), 8:20
N.D. — Swafford 49 run (Swafford run), 5:32
C — Davis 25 pass from Maupin (run failed), 1:14
N.D. — Swafford 1 run (Ellis pass from Swafford), 4:31
C — Steeves 37 run (Steeves run), 11:08
C — Balowski 30 run (pass failed), 7:32
N.D. — Keenan 27 pass from Swafford (Keenan pass from Swafford), 3:20
C — Steeves 19 run (Balowski run), 2:00