NORTH BEND — Divenson Willis was tired.
After carrying 22 times for 208 yards and three touchdowns on Friday night, his fatigue was well-earned. North Bend scored 41 unanswered points, turning a 22-14 deficit into a 55-22 victory over visiting South Eugene in the Class 5A Special District 2 crossover game.
The win, North Bend's second this season over the Axe, put the Bulldogs in the playoffs. North Bend, seeded 10th, visits No. 7 Lebanon in the first round of the playoffs.
For the second straight week, Willis had extra work because fellow running back Jake Posey was nursing an injury and played sparingly.
“Jake, yeah he’s my right-hand man, but when he’s not there I gotta do what I gotta do,” Willis said. “The most beautiful thing about tonight was we battled through the night.”
But after the first half, the win wasn't guaranteed.
Behind fast-running and, to that point, accurate-throwing quarterback Bryce Boettcher and athletic and tough running back Isaac Reyna, South Eugene racked up 335 yards of total offense in the first half and led 22-20.
Boettcher was 8-of-13 for 154 yards and a touchdown — with a heavy chunk coming on a 74-yard bomb to Josh Paul — and Reyna and Boettcher each had rushing touchdowns and were flirting with the century mark running the ball.
North Bend forced a punt after a 10-play drive to open the game, then scored six plays later when Coleman Compton ran inside the tackles, churned through having his jersey pulled from behind, then popped outside and, with a burst, scored a 42-yard touchdown for a 7-0 lead..
Then South Eugene’s offense got explosive.
Paul beat the North Bend cornerback on a straight go route and caught the perfectly thrown pass from Boettcher for the long score.
South Eugene was penalized 15 yards for a sideline warning on the play, its second of the night, starting a trend.
South Eugene had 14 penalties for 120 yards, many of which killed its own drives or extended Bulldog ones. Even in the first half, which South Eugene led most of, the Axe had seven penalties for 60 yards.
But, somehow, those penalties failed to make a huge impact in the first half.
“Those guys came out here and played a really good first half,” North Bend coach Gary Prince said of the Axe. “They kinda put us back on our heels a little bit. Credit to them. They seemed well-prepared, had some different things ready for us that we weren’t ready for.”
North Bend went four-and-out following Paul’s long touchdown reception, then South Eugene got a 37-yard pass from Boettcher to Chris Alvarado to set up a 9-yard touchdown run by Reyna.
South Eugene then surprised everyone when holder Noah Hardy pulled the ball back and ran into the end zone for a two-point conversion and a 15-7 South Eugene lead.
Willis pulled North Bend back within a point with a 31-yard score in which the junior jumped through a non-existent hole and exploded into the end zone.
But then South Eugene came back itself, using eight plays to go 77 yards, capped by a 9-yard score from Boettcher, one play after the drive was extended on a pass interference call when Boettcher tried to find Paul on a slant route and safety Teron Catanzaro drove on the inside route and appeared to arrive at the same time as the ball, breaking it up and forcing a possible field goal.
Willis powered in a 2-yard score after a protracted 14-play drive, but the Bulldogs missed on a two-point attempt, leaving South Eugene still up 22-20 with 1:44 to go to hafltime.
The Axe quickly got down the field, heavily aided by a swerving 49-yard run from Boettcher, and had a chance to extend the lead just before half, but Elijah McFarlane bounced the 26-yard field goal off the crossbar, and North Bend went into the locker room with a shred of momentum.
“I think the thing that changed was our kids have been in these types of games before,” Prince said. “So they just kind of kept their composure and kept battling and kept trying to make plays best they could.”
North Bend got the ball first in the second half and Willis scored on the quarter’s first play, a 51-yard touchdown set up by a 24-yard Posey kickoff return that gave North Bend its first lead since the first quarter.
“That got the momentum going right off the bat like that,” Willis said.
It started not just a string of good offense for North Bend, but a string of dominant defense.
After allowing 335 yards of total offense in the first half and 181 yards on the ground, North Bend held South Eugene to 82 second half yards and 48 rushing yards with just three first downs. Boettcher was 2-of-10 in the second half for 34 yards. South Eugene had 62 second-half penalty yards.
“I think we had better communication,” senior end Garrett Christensen said of the second half. “We decided to look at how they were lined up and our (line)backers made better decisions of what to call.”
North Bend scored on every second half drive but one, when Compton got picked off by Andrew Joseph at the South Eugene 9 yard line.
Other that than, North Bend’s offense chewed through the Axe defense. Compton scored his second touchdown of the night from 3 yards out with 3:26 to go in the third, then added a 4-yard plunge on the Bulldogs next drive with 7:46 to go in the fourth.
Luke Oman scored two touchdowns (21 and 2 yards) to close out the scoring as North Bend punched its ticket to the 5A playoffs emphatically.
“I don’t know what else to say,” Christensen said. “We get another shot at a state title.”
That route through the 5A bracket starts next week at Lebanon. The winner gets the Parkrose-Churchill winner in the quarterfinals.