By James Day
HILLSBORO – The Silverton High football team raced out to a 23-0 lead Saturday against Thurston and then held on in resilient fashion to take a 26-20 victory against the Colts and earn the Foxes’ first state football title since 1991.
Silveton also got payback for 2019, when Thurston dominated the Foxes 44-14 in the semifinals. The Colts took state titles in 2018 and 2019.
“Doesn’t this feel better than you did two years ago?” Foxes coach Josh Craig asked his squad in their post-game huddle.
“A feeling like this doesn’t go away in 10 years. This matters. You don’t quit, you don’t back down and you keep fighting.”
Especially when that 23-0 lead turned into a 26-20 nailbiter after Colts QB Alex Boring hit Micah McGillivray on a 35-yard TD pass with 8:06 left in a game played in light to moderate rain at Hillsboro Stadium.
The Foxes were stopped 1 agonizing yard short of a first down on their next possession and punted the ball back to Thurston. The Colts took over on their 30 with their first opportunity of the game to take the lead. Didn’t happen. Gavin Knights was dropped for a yard loss on first down by Keegan Walter and Nolan Meyer, Samuel Willis sacked Boring on second down and Meyer sacked him on third down. On 4th-and-26 at their 14 the Colts had no choice but to punt, with Vandon Fessler of the Foxes returning the kick 19 yards to Thurston’s 30.
Victory was 4:26 away. The Colts never got the ball back. Silverton QB Jordan McCarty sneaked 3 yards for a first down on 3rd and 2 to the 19, but Silverton went backward on its next 3 snaps, leaving the team with 4th and 17 at the Thurston 26 with 12 seconds left.
Do you take a knee and give Thurston one shot? Do you have McCarty run around in the backfield, hopefully for 12 seconds? No, you do what you have done best all year. You have McCarty throw it to Fessler, who went up and outfought the Colts’ Darien Witham for the ball and made the game-clinching first down at the Thurston 5. The chains were reset and the final 6 seconds ticked off. The Foxes were champions.
“We knew we just needed a first down,” Fessler said, “and we decided to go for it.”
Fessler, who finished with 10 catches for 145 yards and a TD and rushed for 10 yards in addition to his punt return, was named player of the game for Silverton.
“Vandon played a helluva game,” said wide receiver Austin Ratliff, who made his lone reception count with a 15-yard score that gave Silverton an early 14-0 lead. “We came out hard and stayed on ‘em.”
Indeed. Foxes LB Walter fell on a Thurston fumble on the game’s first offensive play and Alex Briseno scored from 1 yard out 6 plays later. On the next Colts series Reece Groom forced a fumble that Meyer picked up and ran to the 12. Three plays later McCarty hit Ratliff in the end zone for a 14-0 lead.
Thurston’s next drive ended with a bad punt snap that resulted in a safety and a 16-0 lead. Foxes’ return man Riley Sinn returned the free kick 30 yards to the Colts’ 35. Four plays later McCarty found Fessler open down the middle and delivered a 25-yard TD pass on 3rd and 18 with still 4:19 left in the first period.
The Colts cut it to 23-7 early in the second period when Knights hit McCarty as he threw and Kellen Humphries picked off the pass and raced 48 yards for a score.
Silverton extended the score to 26-7 with 27 seconds left in the half on Benjiman Roythorne’s 27-yard field goal that capped a 10-play, 57-yard drive that featured a 19-yard swing pass from McCarty to Walter.
Thurston produced the lone score of the third period on a 39-yard pass from Boring to Jacob Newell on the quarter’s final play. The scoreboard read 26-14 Foxes, but there still was a lot of football left to play.
“We kind of knew that they were going to bounce back,” Fessler said. “We’re the best two teams in the state.”
“We put in the practice every week and kept fighting and we got it done,” said McCarty, who finished with 183 yards passing and the 2 TDs.
Linebacker Carlos Recendiz led the Foxes with 8 tackles, while Walter, Ratliff and Willis had 5 apiece and Meyer was credited with 4.
How they got there
Silverton came into the championship game with an 11-1 record. The Foxes were a perfect 7-0 in Special District 3 (Mid-Willamette Conference) play. The lone loss was to Class 6A power Tualatin, which will play for the state title next Saturday against Central Catholic. Silverton advanced to the 5A championship game with playoff wins vs. McKay (42-7), North Salem (22-0) and West Albany (44-14).