JOHN DAY - Grant Union rode the throwing arm and kicking leg of senior Toby Thomas to a 13-0 lead in the first quarter and went on to defeat Regis 34-14 in the opening round of the OSAA/US Bank/Les Schwab Tires Class 2A football playoffs on Saturday, Nov. 13.
With the victory, the Prospectors (8-2) advance to the second round of the state playoffs and will face Vernonia, the No. 1 team from the Northwest League, at 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 20 in Vernonia.
The win also erased a year of frustration for Grant Union, which was eliminated in last year's opening round of the playoffs by Regis.
Thomas connected with Joel Silva on a 24-yard halfback option pass for the first touchdown of the game at the 8:31 mark and then booted a pair of field goals, the first one a booming shot from 47-yards out that had plenty of distance to clear the cross bar, with room to spare.
"We made a lot silly mistakes today, but it shows we're a pretty darn good football team when we can beat somebody in the playoffs and still make mistakes," Grant Union coach Monty Nash said. "I'm real proud of the kids. They came back after a real tough loss and performed pretty darn well."
Regis narrowed the margin to 13-7 when Brian Free caught a 28-yard touchdown pass from Nathan Keudell with 1:11 remaining in the first quarter, but that was the final time the Rams would score until late in the game.
The tough Grant Union defense held Regis to a mere 36 yards in rushing offense and although Keudell passed for 160 yards, the senior quarterback was under fire most of the game from the hard-charging Prospectors.
"I got a couple of good shots on him, I only wish I could have had a few more," senior defensive end Isaac Moore said.
Grant Union upped the lead to 20-7 at the 10:46 mark of the second period when quarterback Trey Mascall threw a lateral pass to Thomas who then connected with Bryce Bartlett on a 55-yard scoring strike.
A 46-yard burst off left tackle by fullback Chance Johns accounted for the Grant Union's third touchdown, giving the Prospectors a 27-7 halftime advantage.
In the third quarter senior defensive back Sterling Horn picked off a Keudell pass, turned on the speed, and returned the ball 46 yards to pay dirt for the Prospectors' final touchdown and a comfortable 34-7 lead.
"Coach Nash was making fun of me because I'd dropped a couple, so I figured I'd better catch one," Horn said.
"We told him he should put some pine tar on his hands," senior Adam Kowing said.
Trailing by 27 points Regis went almost exclusively to a passing attack for the remainder of the game.
"We haven't had to deal with that spread offense they were running for most of the year and that was a challenge for us," Nash said. "We knew if we could put pressure on the quarterback it would help us a lot and the kids did a real nice job."
Middle linebacker Dillon Pendleton came on the blitz on several occasions forcing Keudell to get rid of the ball quickly and miss his receivers.
"Coach called it and I'd go," Pendleton said. "I got in his face a couple of times."
Keudell finally made a connection with wide receiver Morgan Kauffman after scrambling around and nearly getting sacked at the 6:45 mark of the fourth quarter for the Rams' final touchdown of the game.
Grant Union had a balanced offensive attack gaining 176 yards rushing and another 153 through the air.
Thomas led the rushers with 62 yards on 16 carries. Johns carried the ball twice for 47 yards and Justin Bartlett gained 36 yards on 10 attempts. Bryce Bartlett had 34 yards on seven attempts.
Silva caught three passes for 68 yards and a touchdown.
Keudell was 16-for-32 in passing with one interception for the Rams and carried the ball eight times for 24 yards.