COTTAGE GROVE, Ore.– Kennedy has never been known as a passing team. They’ve always had the horses in the backfield to never really have to turn to the passing game much outside of a few times a game.
But against Coquille Saturday afternoon in the 2A State Title Game, they went to the aerial attack. It was efficient and they kept going back-and-back again against the Red Devils 38 times in the 38-28 Coquille victory at Cottage Grove High School.
“It’s pretty cool. Kennedy, we’re not known for passing a lot. We’ve ran a lot and had a lot of running backs, so it was a blessing to have Riley (Cantu) as a quarterback. He has a helluva arm,” Luke Beyer said. “Coquille came out with a different look than what we saw on film, they had two high safeties so it was hard to throw stuff deep so we kept to our short stuff and it worked out for us most parts.”
Cantu and Coquille’s Gunner Yates put on a show. The seniors combined for 687 yards in their High School Swan Songs for their respective teams.
Cantu went 266 yards in the air on 25-for-38 passing for three touchdowns along with 33 yards on the ground. Yates, son of Southern Oregon University Hall of Famer Running Back Griff Yates, set OSAA records in rushing yards (388) and five rushing touchdowns.
“Oh it’s tough you know,” laughed Cantu of Yates. “He’s really explosive but we just had to contain him. We let him slip a couple of times, but in the end we played well on offense, we couldn’t pull through on defense.”
Both offensive juggernauts played defense in this one as well with the Trojans jumping out to a 14-0 first quarter lead, stemming off of two fumble recoveries by the Kennedy defense. Cantu threw touchdown strikes to Brett Boen (seven-yards) and Beyer (nine-yards) to establish the early lead.
Yates however, settled in after an early fumble that set up the Trojans first strike, and struck twice himself. Scoring from 55-yards and 26-yards as Coquille drew even going into halftime with the Red Devil defense halting two Kennedy redzone trips in the second quarter.
Coquille took a brief lead early in the third quarter before the Trojans marched back into the lead. Cantu hit Stephen Salinas on a wide-open seam route down the middle of the field with 4:05 left in the third quarter with Kennedy taking a 21-20 lead on the Red Devils.
Cantu connected with Beyer on a big fourth down play a play or two prior to set up the strike as the senior tried to be that calming force for his team through the battle.
“It was huge, you know. I had to get my guys hyped up, get them open on throws and things. Rally the guys up, coming back from behind but we came up short,” Cantu said.
But Yates was in the same boat. Two plays later after the PAT, Yates went 74-yards to put Coquille ahead for good with 3:52 left in the third quarter.
The Red Devils lead reached 17 behind two more Yates runs of 61 and 48 before William Schaecher punched it in from three-yards at the 6:34 mark of the game.
Schaecher, Boen and Beyer are just some of the athletes returning in 2022 as the Trojans graduate seven from their 11-2 State Runner-Up appearance. Setting the presence for them to possibly make it back to this point this time next year.
“It just all goes back into the offseason. I know guys are really hungry. There’s freshmen that I see, freshmen that are coming up that are going to be pretty good,” Beyer said. “It really comes down to who really wants it.”
Beyer finished with a game-high eight catches for 68 yards and a touchdown. Owen Bruner contributed five catches for 60 yards. Elijah Traeger picked up 36 yards rushing on 11 carries.
Boen led the Trojan defense with seven tackles, Elijah Traeger had six. Yates led all tacklers with ten.
Photos By Jeremy McDonald