Leading the way

Senior Trenton Storns airs out a pass during Gold Beach’s 1A playoff game at Dufur.

The No.-9 ranked Gold Beach High Panthers came into an OSAA/OnPoint Community Credit Union Class 1A football first round state playoff game Saturday versus the Dufur High Rangers with the momentum of a four-game win streak.

The Panthers (6-3) appeared to be headed toward an upset win over the No. 8 ranked Rangers (6-4), the Special District 2 West Division champion. The Panthers, guided by Coach Chris Higgins, led most of the first half and were deadlocked with Dufur early in the third quarter. The Rangers came back though, outscoring the Panthers 26-8 in the second half for a 58-40 win at Dufur High School in Eastern Oregon.

"We had a good time, we had good team building, which is what we've had all season long," said Higgins. "This is just a great group of kids and I'm just blessed to be a part of it. We're a very young and I know we'll be back in full force next year and we'll be ready to go. We had a real fun season and it was just tremendous to have a 6-2 record and make it to the playoffs for the first time in four years. I love all these kids with all my heart, I would do anything for them and it's an honor to be their coach."

The Panthers traveled to The Dalles Nov. 5 and stayed overnight there prior to Saturday's game. They traveled the 15 miles to Dufur and then practiced for an hour prior to the 1 p.m. kickoff.

The Rangers advanced to the Nov. 13 state quarterfinals against the No. 1 ranked and defending champion (2019) Adrian Antelopes (10-0) at Adrian High School. It marks the 10th straight year that Dufur has reached the quarterfinals. The winner moves on to the Nov. 19 semifinals.

Dufur took the game opening kickoff from Gold Beach junior placekicker Austin Westerman and scored on its first offensive possession for a 6-0 lead with 10:58 left in the first quarter.

Following an exchange of possessions in which both teams had turnovers with fumble, the Panthers gained control at their own 40-yard line after junior Landyn Miller recovered a Dufur fumble. The Panthers capped an eight-play, 60-yard scoring drive with a five-yard touchdown run by senior quarterback Trenton Storns (9-for-19 passing, 147 yards), tying it 6-6 with 1:41 left on the clock and it remained that score at the conclusion of the first quarter.

"I thought we did OK, but it was a good, well fought game by both teams," said Storns, the Panthers only senior, who played the final game of his Gold Beach High School football career. "It felt good when we were tied in the third quarter, and I thought maybe we would get a little bit of a run going, but it just didn't happen. We definitely had a good season. Prior to this year, we had won only two games in the previous three years. So, going 6-3 was a good turnaround season. It's definitely an emotional day for me in my last game, because I've been playing football with these guys since I was a little kid."

Dufur responded on its ensuing possession to go up 12-6 with 11:18 on the clock. A seven play, 64-yard drive, highlighted by a 28-yard run by Dufur senior Jacob Jones, concluded with a Ranger TD, making it 12-6 with 11:18 remaining in the first quarter.

"It was a very tough game, they (Panthers) played hard and we played a little harder, so it was just a good overall game, we both fought and in the end it just came down to a couple of touchdowns," said Jones.

Gold Beach answered and scored on its ensuing possession, just 58 seconds later. A four-play, 71-yard drive was capped by a 45-yard pass from junior Landyn Miller to Storns, knotting it 12-12 with 10:20 left in the second quarter.

The Rangers had a turnover (fumble) on their ensuing possession and Panthers sophomore Nelson Wilstead recovered the ball and returned it 61 yards for a TD. Storns tossed a two-point conversion pass to sophomore Tanner Wright, giving Gold Beach a 20-12 lead with 9:57 left in the quarter.

Dufur responded with an 11-play, 75-yard drive, capped by a Cody Phillips (34 carries, 242 yards rushing, 2 TDs) five-yard TD run, trimming the margin to 20-18 with 6:40 left in the quarter.

An onside kick by Dufur was then recovered by the Rangers at the Panthers 45-yard line. The Panthers defense, led by sophomore defensive lineman Korben Storns, stopped the Rangers on the possession and forced them to punt. The Panthers then took over control at the their own 23-yard line. A four-play, 77-yard scoring drive was capped by a 28-yard TD pass from Trenton Storns to junior receiver Chase Sprinkle (nine receptions, 147 yards receiving), putting the Panthers in front 26-18 with 4:30 on the clock.

"We were very inspired and the energy with this team was so good, that it's hard to describe and it's just great to play with my friends that I now know as like my brothers," said Korben Storns. "We really did believe at one point that we had it and that we could win. Things just didn't go in our favor in the second half. It felt great to be in the playoffs. The trip coming up here included some very beautiful scenery and it was heart-warming. It's a great experience for all these sophomores (12) and for me and my friends to get to the playoffs so early in our football career."

The Rangers came back and scored on their next possession, trimming the Panthers lead to 26-24 with 2:10 left.

On the Panthers ensuing possession, Taylor intercepted a pass thrown by Trenton Storns, giving Dufur possession at its own 24-yard line. The Rangers then proceeded on a five-play, 76-yard scoring drive, lifting Dufur in front 32-26 with 20 seconds left, putting the Rangers on top at halftime.

The Panthers knotted it again for a third time when Wilstead returned Dufur's second half kickoff 76 yards for a TD, making it 32-32 just 16 seconds into the third quarter. The Rangers then took control of the contest from that point, outscoring the Panthers 26-8 over the remainder of the game.

The impressive Wilstead touchdown seemed to give the Panthers some much needed momentum, but it was short lived. After the Gold Beach kickoff, the Rangers proceeded on another scoring drive to go ahead for good 38-32 with 7:51 left in the third quarter.

On Gold Beach's ensuing possession, Dufur capitalized on a turnover, recovering a Panther fumble at Dufur's 16-yard line. The Rangers then proceeded on their longest scoring drive of the game of 84 yards and scored a TD and a two-point conversion, making it 46-32 with 2:20 left in the third and it remained that score after three quarters.

On their  ensuing possession, a Gold Beach fourth quarter drive stalled when Dufur stopped a fourth down conversion attempt and the Panthers turned the ball over on downs to the Rangers at midfield. Dufur responded with another scoring drive, to go up 52-32 with 8:48 left in the game.

The Panthers never gave up though and they still had chance, despite the large deficit. A nine-play, 55-yard drive was capped by a Trenton Storns five-yard TD run, followed by his two-point conversion run, which trimmed the margin to 52-40 with 5:29 left on the clock.

"Trenton has really been an absolutely true leader this year on and off the field and we're going to miss him for sure," said Higgins.

Dufur then recovered a Gold Beach onside kick at the Panthers 49. The Rangers utilized the clock more on their final drive and scored another TD to make it 58-40 with 1:16 left in the game. Dufur outgained Gold Beach in total yardage, 559 to 310.

The contest marked the Panthers first playoff game since 2017 when Gold Beach was in Class 2A. A large group of 120 Panther fans traveled nearly 400 miles on a seven-hour road trip to attend the game in Dufur.

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