Many fans considered Saturday’s Class 1A eight-man football matchup between Dufur and the Adrian/Jordan Valley Antelopes as the unofficial state championship game. Few would argue, as both were undefeated and considered the two best teams in the state.
The contest pitted the past two 1A champions; Dufur won the 2018 title and Adrian/Jordan Valley won the 2019 championship. The game didn’t disappoint the several hundred fans in attendance, as the host Rangers won a thriller over the Antelopes, 40-38, on Senior Day at Dufur High School.
“This was an amazing game between what was clearly the two best eight-man football teams in the state,” said Dufur Coach Jack Henderson. “It was really a showcase game for both teams, and it was the best game here since 1995. It was a great experience this year and I’m so happy that we were able to play football this spring, because there were so many questions about this season before it even began.”
Senior quarterback Cooper Bales helped lead Dufur (5-0) to victory with a phenomenal performance of 492 all-purpose yards. Bales had 217 yards rushing on 24 carries, he was 9-for-15 passing for 89 yards and he had 186 yards on kickoff and punt returns.
“It sure was an awesome game and it was so fun to be a part of for sure,” said Bales. “It’s just a blessing to be out here and we’re so lucky that we got to play a football season. We’ve all grown up watching Dufur Ranger football and I just love playing for this team. I’m just lucky and blessed to be a part of it and it was a great opportunity to play this year.”
Bales threw a game-winning, 33-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Ben Schanno (four receptions, 57 yards) to give Dufur a 40-38 lead with 1:13 remaining. It capped a six-play, 60-yard Ranger scoring drive. The drive started after senior defensive back Jacob Peters intercepted a pass thrown by Antelope quarterback Conley Martin, giving Dufur an possession at the Ranger 40-yard line with 3:45 left in the game.
“It was a great game and it was fun to be a part of it and it’s been super fun all season,” said Schanno. “It really felt like a playoff game and if there was a state championship game, these two teams would’ve been in it. I knew when I scored that we would win the game because at that point we had all the momentum. Cooper Bales just threw a perfect pass to me. It felt good to come back and beat them (Adrian/Jordan Valley), because the last time we played them, we got beat badly.”
The trio of Bales, Schanno and Peters were joined by seniors Parker Wallace, Hunter Wagonblast, Trey Darden, Josiah Dave and Caleb Olson and honored along with their parents in a pregame ceremony.
“These seniors are just a great group of kids and they’ve been playing football here for four years and they helped us win two state championships (2017, 2018),” said Henderson. “I’m so happy for these kids and we got as much out of this group as we could ever hope for. These kids love to play football and we (assistant coaches CS little, Arthur Smith, Hollie Darden, Jason Walters) love to coach them.”
The game was a seesaw battle with seven lead changes between two highly prolific offensive squads, with both teams averaging nearly 50 points per game. The Antelopes (4-1), who traveled six hours from near the Oregon/Idaho border, took the initial lead at 6-0 with 3:14 remaining in the first quarter.
Adrian remained on top 6-0 at the end of the first quarter, but Dufur responded quickly to get its first lead early in the second quarter. Dufur scored on a six-play, 65-yard drive, highlighted by a 19-yard run by Bales to the Antelopes 5-yard line. Bales then scrambled into the end zone on a five-yard touchdown run, which was followed by his two-point conversion run, putting Dufur up 8-6 with 11:54 left in the quarter.
Adrian regained the lead at 12-8, but the Rangers again answered with a score. A seven-play, 50-yard drive was capped by a Bales five-yard TD run to help Dufur take a 14-12 halftime lead.
The Rangers then built a double-digit third quarter advantage, 22-12, when Bales scored on a 35-yard TD run. The Antelopes fought back and trimmed the margin to 22-18 with 7:20 left in the quarter. Bales then returned the ensuing kickoff 41 yards to the Antelopes 45-yard line. A seven-play, 45-yard scoring drive was capped by a Bales four-yard TD toss to Schanno, giving Dufur a 28-18 lead with 4:27 left in the third. The Antelopes responded with two quick scores to regain the advantage at 30-28 at the end of the third quarter.
“We always played Saturday afternoon state quarterfinal playoff games here in the fall and that’s exactly what it felt like today,” said Bales. “I love the atmosphere we had, and I was glad to see so many of our fans here too. It was a good opportunity to play a great team. I hope our younger guys get a chance to play for a state championship soon. I was just happy to be here and I’m so thankful that our coaches helped make this season happen. Honestly, I feel like we should have playoffs, but since that’s not possible, I’m so glad that we had an undefeated season and I’ll have great memories of my team from this year.”
After Adrian took the lead, Dufur responded with a six-play, 56-yard scoring drive, highlighted by a 23-yard pass from Bales to Olson at the Antelopes 15. The drive was again capped by a Bales TD run of 15 yards and the Rangers were up 34-30 with 10:19 left in the game. Just 64 seconds later, the Antelopes regained the lead, 38-34, after a TD and two-point conversion with 9:15 left in the game.
After an exchange of possessions, Peters then made the defensive play of the game with his interception to put the Rangers in position for their game-winning scoring drive.