The following article originally ran Saturday, Oct. 7, 1989.
His last pass of the game was just a prayer, West Albany quarterback Mike Sissel said, and it ended up with divine results.
A scrambling Sissel hit tight end Jeff Simon for a 14-yard touchdown with no time left on the clock to give West a stunning come-from-behind Valley League victory over South Salem at Memorial Stadium.
"I'm supposed to hit Jason Carter at the back of the end zone on that play, but I didn't see anybody," he said. "I just threw it. One guy missed his block and I was trying to get away. I just threw it up for a prayer."
The score touched off a wild melee among the Bulldog players and coaches, who moments before stood at the bring of defeat after South Salem scored with less than a minute remaining to go ahead 12-7.
As the officials signaled a touchdown, jubilant West coach John Olsen sprinted onto the field among a swarm of dancing, screaming West players and drilled Sissel with a perfect form tackle at the 12-yard line.
"I don't remember doing it," said Olsen, who was still trying to catch his breath long after the game ended.
What Olsen will remember is a victory that others in his career will be measured against. One that lifted West, 4-1, into a second-place tie with Corvallis behind league-leader Lebanon.
"This one is so much sweeter because I admire (South Salem coach) Randy Wegner a lot," he said. "He knows how to motivate his kids. Before the game, someone asked me what the toughest thing about South Salem was. I said it was that they never give up. For our kids to match that ... that's incredible."
As pumped up as Olsen was, Wegner was that much deflated and found it difficult to talk.
"There's just not much you can say," he said. "I told my kids to look at the good points of the game. But we didn't make the big plays when we needed them and West did."
Two big plays, to be exact, and two brand new plays -- perfect for a make-or-break situation.
"We added them after the fiasco with South Albany, where we couldn't score when we got to the goal line," Olsen said.
Trailing 7-0 with 1:43 remaining, the Saxons drove 80 yards in five plays for their final score, an 18-yard run by fullback Joel Hellerman.
The Bulldogs got the ball back at their 36 with 40 seconds left and went to work.
Sissel took a three-yard loss on the first play, then hit Brandon Kuebrich for 13 yards to the West 46. That set up the first new play.
The Bulldogs lined up in a run-and-shoot formation, with running back Doug Strickland at flanker. Sissel dumped off a short pass to him in the left flat and let the senior do the rest.
Strickland, who had been hampered by a foot injury throughout the week, showed he was in fine health as he streaked 39 yards up the sideline before being knocked out at the South Salem 14 with only five seconds remaining.
West took its last time out to set up the final play.
"I just told them some technical stuff," Olsen said. "I didn't give them any rah-rah."
At the snap, Sissel rolled to his right, mainly to escape the pass rush of hard-charging Hellerman, and fired. Jason Carter, the primary receiver, was covered deep in the end zone.
Simon snagged the ball, his only catch of the night, and found two yards and two Saxon defenders between himself and the goal line.
As Olsen put it, "He wasn't to be denied."
Simon turned toward the end zone and bulled his way in, taking both South Salem players along for the ride.
"I knew I wasn't in the end zone," Simon said. "I just knew I had to catch the ball and go. I just kept my legs driving and stuck the ball over the goal line."
West looked like it might dominate the game after driving 58 yards in six plays for a score on its opening series. Brian Eli took a pitch around the right end for the 19-yard TD, then kicked the extra point for a 7-0 lead.
Eli ran 90 yards on 11 carries. Strickland added 57 and Steve Belhumeur 53.
The Saxons, 3-2, were able to mix pass and run effectively, but had to settle for Mike Grimmer's 13-yard field goal in the second quarter and Joel Kuhl's 25-yarder in the third.
An apparent score by Erik Gilbert on a halfback pass from Hellerman was disallowed when the official ruled Gilbert was out of the end zone.
"That play and the last play of the game made all the difference," Wegner said.
Saxon quarterback Josh Smith went 10 of 21 passing for 145 yards. He was intercepted three times, two coming late in the first half when he and Sissel traded turnovers on three consecutive plays.
Mike Koch recorded two sacks for West.
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