Despite a slew of injuries, the Cougars advanced to the state semifinals for the seventh time in school history.
The Canby football team was trailing Jesuit by 25 points late in the fourth quarter of the state semifinals, its season essentially over.
But the Cougars didnt plan on going quietly.
Backup quarterback Nico Tellache dropped back, evaded oncoming defenders and threw a near-perfect pass across the field to senior Noah Kyllo, who scampered into the end zone to cap a highlight-reel 69-yard touchdown.
It just shows, we keep our heads up and keep fighting, Kyllo said afterward. Were not going to give up.
It was a sentiment that succinctly summed up Canbys unforgettable season. In the face of myriad injuries to key players, the Cougars reached the semifinals for the first time in coach Mike Vaughts four-year tenure and for the seventh time in school history.
Although they finished with a relatively unimpressive 7-6 record and a 2-3 mark in the Three Rivers League their first sub-.500 tally in conference play since 2005 they defied outside expectations by playing in the penultimate round Nov. 30 at Jeld-Wen Field as the 12th-seeded team in Class 6A.
Well look back in a week or two or whatever and realize what great accomplishments we made, Vaught said after his teams 35-17 loss to the Crusaders. Theyll have some great memories of what happened over the last month. Our kids competed so well. They held together all year. With five losses, with all the injuries, they made it to this game.
To say injuries plagued Canby this season would probably be an understatement.
At the end of last year, Vaught said it was arguably the programs unluckiest season in history due to weekly health woes. But what happened this season almost made 2012 seem painless.
Timmy Johnson was the probable starting quarterback, but he had offseason surgery to repair a heart defect and missed the entire football campaign to recover for track and field in the spring.
Devon Fortier was expected to be a major contributor in the backfield, but he blew out his knee at a summer showcase and missed the football season to recover from surgery.
That was all before the Cougars took a snap.
In their conference opener, just as they seemed to be rounding into form, they lost Sam Bodine for the rest of the year after the senior linebacker grotesquely broke his left fibula and ankle late in the first quarter.
In the same game, senior running back Dominic Shorter broke a bone in his left foot and was unavailable in the backfield for much of the rest of the year.
The following week, Canby was dealt injuries to standout junior Jace Cates and senior lineman Craig Fobert.
Senior fullback Keltin Boykin, senior lineman Chad Coon and junior tight end Braxton Ennes were among the others sidelined during the course of the season.
Those injuries were huge, Kyllo said. I think, in a way, they helped us get the wins in the second half of the season.
Weve all known each other since kindergarten. Were a family. That helped us. We all picked each other up. I think were all proud of what weve done. I still think we had a great season. For everything weve gone through, we were outstanding.
The Cougars certainly had their share of outstanding moments.
They rallied after Bodines injury to defeat Oregon City for the 10th-straight time in a series streak that began in 1992.
They rushed for a whopping 502 yards in their dismantling of West Linn, 362 of those coming from Kyllo in a school-record performance.
They gave up just 14 points combined in their first two playoff games against Newberg and Beaverton, shutting out both teams in the first half.
They strung together a 16-play, 99-yard drive to highlight their upset of defending state champion Eugene-Sheldon in the quarterfinals.
And they topped the 300-yard rushing mark seven times, a testament to the size, experience and work ethic of a powerful offensive front made up of Zach Kraus, Craig Fobert, Kyle Rademacher, Nick Kraxberger and Alejandro Sandoval.
Our line was just phenomenal, Vaught said. They put us on our back through the playoffs. They said, OK, it doesnt matter what defense theyre going to run against us.
Canby had its moments of disappointment and agony, too. It struggled mightily against eventual semifinalist Tigard and Washington state power Camas in preseason play. It ceded the final 21 points of the game its seventh-straight series setback against Lake Oswego. It was hampered by turnovers in a close tilt against Lakeridge. And it was dealt a loss to Clackamas, 42-41 in overtime, for the first time since 1988.
Vaught said the adversity heightened his appreciation for what A.J. Schlatter, Cole Thompson, Trey Bellmore, Austin Taylor and the other seniors accomplished this year.
Every season is special, but this year Im just so happy for the seniors that they got this run, he said. That core group of seniors, they were playing every down and giving everything theyve got. They were getting up limping, coming off tired and saying, Oh well, just keep playing.
Walking off the turf at Jeld-Wen Field after the loss to Jesuit in the semifinals, Sandoval was visibly upset. But he allowed himself to acknowledge what a special season the Cougars had fashioned out of challenging circumstances.
With the injuries we had, we knew we had to step it up, he said. Its good that we made it here. We played hard to get here.
AT A GLANCE
CANBY FOOTBALL 2013
Record: 7-6 (2-3 in the Three Rivers League)
Playoffs: Lost to Jesuit in the Class 6A state semifinals
Key facts: Made the semifinals for the seventh time in school history; averaged 293.8 rushing yards per game; played without injured senior Sam Bodine for the final eight games
Best win: 24-17 over defending state champion Eugene-Sheldon in the quarterfinals
Toughest loss: 42-41 to Clackamas in overtime in the conference finale