JOHN DAY - The opening game of the OSAA/US Bank/Les Schwab Tires Class 2A football playoffs at Three Flags Field on Saturday, Nov. 9, was a matchup between two teams which were familiar with one another.
Grant Union and Clatskanie had met in non-league games during previous seasons when both squads were Class 3A schools, but this game took on a greater importance.
The winner of Saturday's game between the seventh-ranked Prospectors, the No. 1 team from the Wapiti League, and the unranked Tigers from the Northwest League, would advance to the second round of the playoffs to meet Myrtle Point, which was a 33-24 winner over Lost River.
Clatskanie came out strong in the first quarter to take an early lead, before Taylor Schmadeka took the game over for Grant Union.
The senior end/defensive back ran a kickoff back 79 yards for a touchdown to tie the score in the first quarter, caught a 10-yard scoring pass just before halftime which gave Grant Union the lead, and intercepted a pass in the fourth quarter, returning the ball 73 yards to set up the Prospectors third touchdown, as the Prospectors dumped the Tigers 21-7.
"Taylor played one heck of a game," Grant Union coach Monty Nash commented. "In fact, all of them did. Taylor made the most of his opportunities. Whenever he gets the opportunity, either offensive, defensive or in the kicking game, he makes the most of it."
Clatskanie took the opening kickoff and drove the ball to the Grant Union 32-yard line before Tigers' quarterback Derek McMann fumbled the ball away and Devin Burril fell on it for a Prospector recovery.
Unable to do anything on offense, the Pros punted the ball and the Tigers went to work once again.
On the second play from scrimmage with 6:48 remaining in the opening quarter, McMann hit Brandon Hill with a 55-yard scoring strike and Miles Johnson added the extra point for a 7-0 Clatskanie lead.
As things turned out, that would be the last points the Tigers would put on the board for the remainder of the game.
On the ensuing kickoff, Clatskanie made the mistake of trying to kick the ball deep.
Schmadeka gathered the ball in around the 21-yard line and started back up the middle of the field.
He slipped on the muddy turf as he crossed the 30-yard line and nearly fell, but managed to keep his feet, swing to the outside, and return the ball 79 yards up the sideline in front of the Grant Union bench for the score.
Toby Thomas added the extra point and the score was tied at 7-7.
The remainder of the first half was a defensive struggle by both teams until the Prospectors took the lead for good with three seconds remaining before the break.
A punt pinned Clatskanie back at their own 14-yard line and the Prospector defense stiffened, holding the Tigers to three plays and out.
Tiger punter Chris Mooney shanked a kick for a 17-yard punt, and Grant Union was in business at the Clatskanie 25-yard line.
Coach Nash had made judicial use of timeouts earlier in the game; with time running out in the half, quarterback Trevor Simmons hit Schmadeka with a 10-yard scoring pass in the left corner of the end zone with 3 seconds showing on the clock.
Thomas's conversion kick was good to put the Pros up 14-7 at halftime.
The rain began to come down as the second half began, and most of the third quarter was a defensive struggle by both squads as the field began to get slippery.
After a squib kickoff gave Grant Union the ball at its own 37-yard line to open the half, and the Pros drove the ball to the Clatskanie 9-yard line before turning the ball back to the Tigers on downs.
"We shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times but I have to give Clatskanie credit, they have a good team," Nash said.
The Tigers then put together a 17-play drive midway through the third quarter and appeared to be headed for the tying touchdown before the Prospectors made a defensive stand inside the red zone, taking over on downs at their own 6-yard line.
In the fourth quarter, the Tigers again appeared to be headed for a game-tying touchdown before their fortunes were reversed.
On a second-and-13 situation at the Grant Union 32-yard line, Schmadeka picked off a McMann pass and took the ball back to the Clatskanie 3-yard line before being dragged down from behind.
Brandon Hueckman punched the ball in from two yards out on the second play from scrimmage with 4:12 remaining in the quarter, and that was the game.
"We got the job done today," Nash said.
Cody Frazier led Prospectors' rushing attack with 50 yards on six carries. Hueckman gained 41 yards on nine attempts, and Simmons was 12 of 22 in passing for 127 yards.
Miles Johnson led Clatskanie with 42 rushing yards and McMann threw for 182 yards on 13 of 26 attempts. Hill had three catches good for 88 yards and a touchdown.
Grant Union travels to Coos Bay on Saturday, Nov. 16, to take on the fifth-ranked Myrtle Point Bobcats (9-1) from the Big Fir League, which are also playing their first season in 2A. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. at Marshfield High School.