South Albany High wanted to make some noise in the 5A state football playoffs.
After Friday’s first round, the Rebels are off to a resounding start.
Ozzie Ramirez booted the go-ahead field goal with 0.8 seconds remaining and South’s kickoff coverage team tacked on an extra score, lifting the sixth-seeded Rebels to an improbable 23-16 home victory over No. 11 Crater. South (6-4) will head east next week to face No. 3 Hermiston (8-2) in the state quarterfinals.
“Our team does not give up,” said senior Gunner Teem, who caught a desperation lateral by Crater (5-5) in the end zone on the game’s final play. “We’ve been doing it all season, down late in the fourth quarter and our team isn’t giving up.”
It’s the first quarterfinal appearance in school history for South, which trailed 16-14 with 34.7 seconds to go after Trever Davis connected with a wide-open Noah Cline over the middle for a 24-yard touchdown. The Comets were facing a fourth-and-5.
South, co-champion of the Mid-Willamette Conference, blocked the ensuing point-after attempt to give itself a chance for a game-winning field goal.
Sophomore Camren Hemzacek gave the Rebels excellent starting field position, returning the kickoff 37 yards up the right sideline to the Crater 48.
“What a huge return by Camren Hemzacek to set it all up,” Rebels coach David Younger said. “For him being a sophomore, that’s a big-time play in that position. He hits the wedge and pops it outside; that kickoff return helped win the game for us.”
Quarterback Jake Costello then completed passes to Anthony Pulido (five yards) and Eli Nafziger (13) to set up a first-and-10 at the 30.
With 9.8 seconds remaining, Nafziger drew a pass interference call in the end zone that moved the ball to the 15. One Costello keeper set up Ramirez’s 28-yard attempt from near the left hash.
The kick was perfect.
“One of the craziest moments of my life,” said Ramirez, a junior. “It was very nerve-wracking and something I’ve never had to experience before. I don’t think I’ve ever had so much pressure on me, but at the end it went well.”
Crater used several laterals on the ensuing kickoff before Teem ended the show with his second score of the game. The senior also caught a TD with 2:14 to go in the fourth that put South up 14-10.
On third-and-goal from the 8, Costello hit Teem on an arrow route for the go-ahead score.
“I just act like I’m blocking and I slip out to catch it,” Teem said. “I’m usually wide open, which I was.”
The score capped an 18-play, 77-yard drive that chewed up nearly 9 minutes of clock.
Crater, which defeated South 34-21 in Week 2, picked up a huge first down at the Rebels' 29 with 1:06 remaining. Following a timeout, South blew a coverage on fourth down as Cline secured Davis’ pass and tumbled into the end zone.
But the Rebels didn’t give up.
“It just shows you our kids’ heart,” Younger said. “They just never quit and it’s awesome to see that type of fight in our football team.”
Costello finished with 21 carries for 113 yards while completing 8 of 16 passes for 47 yards with a TD. Ray Wilson ran for 57 yards on 19 carries and a score.
Davis was 8 of 22 for 109 yards with a TD and an interception. He also led the team in rushing with 89 yards on 10 attempts.
Following a Costello interception, Crater marched 62 yards on 10 plays to grab a 7-0 first-quarter lead. Tony Flores punched it in on third-and-goal from the 1 to cap a scoring drive that featured nine rushes and one pass.
South punted on its next three possessions before driving to the Crater 10 late in the second quarter. A costly personal foul stalled the drive, which ended on another Costello pick.
Pulido jump-started the Rebels by intercepting a Davis pass and returning it 59 yards to the Crater 6 with 28.6 seconds left in the half. Davis threw behind his intended target over the middle, and Pulido followed a cadre of blockers down the left sideline.
“We start slow and we need a big play to create some momentum, and we have kids step up,” Younger said. “That was a huge play for us. Instead of going down 7-0 we go in 7-7 and it’s a brand-new ball game.
Two plays later, Wilson scored from 4 yards out to tie the game.
Costello was 0-for-6 passing in the first half with two interceptions. Davis was 3-for-9.