HILLSBORO — All week long, Vandon Haugen and his Santiam Christian High teammates focused on executing the game plan.
A “great week” of practice had the No. 2-seeded Eagles ready to take control against No. 11 Rainier in Saturday’s OSAA 3A football semifinal at Hillsboro Stadium.
And if the Eagles had any doubts entering the game, they were squashed on the opening drive.
Santiam Christian ran the ball down the field for an early lead and never trailed in advancing to the 3A finals for the second time in three seasons with a 30-14 victory over the Columbians.
“It feels amazing,” said junior Jason Manzi, who had 119 yards on five receptions. “Our team has just been working so hard and all these guys are just putting in so much effort.”
The Eagles (10-2) will get another crack at No. 4 Cascade Christian at 4 p.m. next Saturday at Cottage Grove High the title game. The Challengers, who handed No. 1 Scio a 49-28 loss, shut out the Eagles 47-0 six weeks ago.
“That’s going to be a good football game,” coach Matt Bain said. “They whipped us once before so we’ll have to figure out how to play better.”
Saturday’s semifinal started about as well as the Eagles could have wanted.
SC went 69 yards in eight plays — with seven runs — with Luke Janssen going the final 24 yards for a 6-0 lead just 2:34 into the game. Janssen had six carries for 64 yards on the drive.
“To be able to do that and move the ball really helped build our confidence up,” Bain said. “That was a great way to start the game.”
Rainier was dealt a big blow on the ensuing kickoff as Dawson Carr was carted off with his leg in an air cast. Carr was the co-offensive player of the year in the Lewis & Clark League.
The Columbians drove to the SC 9 but the Eagles made back-to-back stops on third and fourth downs to stop the drive.
The Columbians moved to the 10 on their next possession but a sack on fourth-and-goal by Haugen and Jaxon Conner gave SC the ball at the 18.
The Eagles then went 75 yards in 13 plays, capped by Ivan Gilder’s 24-yard field goal for a 9-0 lead.
Another fourth-down stop, this time at the SC 26, gave the Eagles the ball back with 1:21 left in the half.
They needed just three plays and 25 seconds to make it 15-0.
Grant Carley connected with Manzi for 40 yards to the 34, and an 8-yard pass to Conrad Carter and a personal foul moved the ball to the Rainier 14. Carly then hit a wide-open Noah Hubele for the score.
“That started pushing up the score and getting us separation which we needed,” Bain said.
After stopping the Columbians three straight plays and using its timeouts, SC nearly scored again before the end of the half.
With 18 seconds left, Carley scrambled to avoid a sack and hit Manzi around the 10. But Manzi was tackled at the 4 as the clock expired.
All three of Rainier’s possessions in the first half ended on failed fourth-down attempts.
The Columbians had 94 yards total offense with Joey Tripp rushing 17 times for just 10 yards.
“The key for us defensively was just to keep (Tripp) contained and we repped that all week,” Hunter Fields said. “(Carr) and (Tripp) and (Jacob Bruce), have great players all around. You just have to keep those three (contained).”
Rainier showed life on its opening drive of the third quarter, going 80 yards in 16 plays and taking 6:42 off the clock.
Tripp capped the drive with a 2-yard run but his two-point conversion run was stuffed and the Eagles led 15-6.
Santiam Christian countered with a 16-play, 75-yard drive that ended in Fields’ 1-yard run. Carley hit Zach Watson for the two-point conversion and a 23-6 lead with 11:35 remaining.
“That’s always the things we look at is can we answer what the other team does,” Bain said. “… That was big because they are potentially getting back into it. They’re a good team. You give them a little bit and they’re going to take it.”
The Columbians kept the pressure on with a 20-yard pass from Tripp to Caymon Rea and a two-point conversion to made it 23-14 with 7:24 to play.
Rainier then recovered an onside kick but the Eagles defense got a stop and SC drove downfield and scored on a 7-yard run by Fields for the final margin.
“With that onside it was a little worrisome but we stopped them on defense and offense, our line just drove us down the field and we made it in,” Fields said. “Super proud of them.”
Carley finished 17-for-25 passing with 254 yards and one touchdown for the Eagles. Janssen had 110 yards rushing on 20 carries and Hubele had six catches for 58 yards and one score.
Now comes one more game for the Eagles, who will likely face their biggest challenge yet.
“We’re going to have to go back and watch our film from what we did wrong last game and we have to come out and have a great week of practice,” Haugen said. “That’s really what’s going to determine … I mean they have a lot of assets and so do we. We have to control their assets and what they do and enforce our game.”
Added Manzi: “Some things were left unfinished. We’re excited to play them again.”