COTTAGE GROVE — After the season Coquille’s football team had, including a break of several weeks due to COVID-19 in the middle of the season, a 14-0 deficit in the championship game was a small hurdle to overcome.
The Red Devils did that behind a state championship game record rushing effort by senior standout Gunner Yates, beating Kennedy 38-28 for the Class 2A state title Saturday.
“It’s really amazing bringing this home for the community,” Yates said after rushing for 388 yards and five touchdowns.
Coquille’s huge crowd, which more than filled the west grandstand at Cottage Grove High School, had a lot to cheer about after a pair of fumbles early helped Kennedy to its 14-0 lead.
Kennedy couldn’t keep up with Yates when he got to the sideline, a scene played out over and over during the game.
His two first-half touchdowns went for 55 and 26 yards. A stop inside the 10-yard line just before half by Coquille’s defense preserved a 14-14 tie at the break.
“They had momentum,” Coquille defensive coordinator Jake Cochran said of the Trojans. “It was good to get to half with a little momentum (of our own).”
Coquille got the ball first in the second half and marched down the field, with Brock Willis breaking a tackle and going through a gaping hole 10 yards to put the Red Devils in front for the first time. The run capped a drive that took up more than 5 minutes.
“It was a good hole,” Willis said. “They were after Gunner (on the play).”
Both Willis, who finished with 116 yards, and Yates took time to praise the effort of their line up front.
“I give it all to my linemen,” Yates said. “My lead blockers put me in position to do what I do.”
Coquille’s line was undersized compared to Kennedy, but was more than up to the task to create the holes.
“It’s all heart,” Willis said. “That’s what got us here.”
Patrick Adams, the leader on the line, said the guys up front have a big heart to counter the lack of size.
“We have a belief in each other,” Adams said. “We look to the man to the left and the right to do their job.”
The touchdown by Willis put Coquille up 20-14, but Kennedy went in front one more time, with quarterback Riley Cantu completing a fourth-and-10 pass to Luke Beyer to keep the ensuing drive alive. He found Stephan Salinas open behind the defense for a 32-yard touchdown the next play.
Charlie Beyer’s extra point kick put Kennedy up 21-20, but the lead lasted just seconds.
Yates burst around the left end on Coquille’s first play following the score, a 74-yard touchdown run that put Coquille back in front.
Then the Red Devils came up with another big stop on defense. They didn’t often get pressure on Cantu, but did on fourth down, forcing an incomplete pass and intentional grounding penalty.
“That was huge,” Yates said.
Two plays later, he was in the end zone again, breaking a couple of tackles at the line and sprinting 61 yards for another score.
Coquille then forced the only punt of the game, early in the fourth quarter, and a 48-yard touchdown by Yates put the Red Devils up 38-21.
Kennedy got another touchdown, on a 3-yard run by William Schaecher with 6:34 to go, but the Red Devils recovered the onside kick and then ran out the clock, setting off a huge celebration that included Coquille head coach David Thomason and Cochran getting doused by their players with a water bucket.
“This is a really big deal — not just for our players and our coaches, but for our community,” Thomason said.
He pointed out the comeback after the early fumbles, including one by Yates and one on a center-quarterback exchange, showed the team’s personality.
“It shows you what kind of team we’ve got,” he said.
Kennedy got the first touchdown on a 7-yard pass from Cantu to Brett Boen and the second on a 9-yard pass from Cantu to Luke Beyer.
“Senior Grady Arriola said to me after we got down 14-0, ‘It just makes a better story,’” Thomason said.
One a lot of years in the making.
Coquille won its only other state title in football in 1970, also the only other time the Red Devils reached the championship game.
And they did it this time without any passing yards.
The only pass thrown by Coquille quarterback Bryce Poston was a two-point conversion to Yates after the second touchdown.
Cantu, on the other hand, completed 25 of 38 passes for 266 yards.
But Coquille made the big stops when it needed to.
“They did a great job of attacking our zones,” Cochran said. “We kind of made some adjustments. The kids just battled.”
And Coquille shook off the early offensive mistakes.
“We knew once we got into a rhythm and did what we had to do (we would be OK),” Adams said.
The 505 rushing yards Coquille amassed was a championship game record among the 11-man classifications.
Adams had strong words for both Coquille’s featured backs.
As for Yates’ record performance and the line’s role in it, Adams said, “It feels awesome. It’s my highest honor to be his teammate for the last six years.”
And as for Willis, he added, “Brock is amazing. Brock’s a stud.”
Thomason also was asked by reporters to assess the performance by Yates, but he didn’t talk about the game.
“He’s a complete player,” Thomason said. “He’s got ability. He’s got character. He’s not just a ball carrier — he’s a blocker.”
He was just one piece of a big puzzle in Coquille’s win, one with the big offensive plays and the big defensive plays — and the big celebration at the end.
“It’s a great story,” Thomason said.