Forest Grove's undefeated record melts away behind an offensive onslaught from the Grants Pass Cavemen
Three weeks into the 2006 prep football season, Forest Grove was one of the year's biggest surprises with a perfect 3-0 record and an average margin of victory of 33.7 points. On Friday night, the Vikings got their first real test when No. 5 Grants Pass came to town.
For the players and coaches, it was a chance to see if they could hang with one of the top teams in the state. The answer, unfortunately, was 'not quite.'
Forest Grove gave Grants Pass all it wanted for two quarters, trailing 17-13 at halftime before succumbing to four second-half turnovers and the Cavemen's overpowering ground game, led by senior tailback Craig Dolmage.
Grants Pass (5-0) rushed for 314 yards and added two defensive touchdowns in a 45-20 win over the previously unbeaten Vikings (3-1). Dolmage, the state's leading rusher heading into the game, established his dominance behind a powerful offensive line, rushing for 227 yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries. He also had a fumble recovery and an interception, which he returned 66 yards for a touchdown with 6:47 remaining to put things to bed for good.
Dolmage scored on runs of 55, 2 and 1 yards while bobbing and weaving through the Forest Grove defense all night.
'He's for real,' Forest Grove head coach Mike McCabe said of Dolmage, who tortured the Viking defense in the second half. 'He's the state's leading rusher and that's why. He hits the hole hard and just accelerates. (Grants Pass coach) Tom Blanchard was saying that he's probably the best running back he's ever had from 0 to 60, and I can see why now.'
The game stayed close in the first half with the teams trading touchdowns early. Grants Pass took a 17-13 lead into the locker room on a Spencer Fogelquist 37-yard field goal with 15 seconds left in the half.
The momentum turned in the second half, however. Grants Pass came out and scored on an 80-yard drive to open the third quarter, culminating with a 1-yard touchdown run by Dolmage. Forest Grove then turned the ball over on its first offensive play and the Cavemen marched right back down the field, this time getting a 2-yard scoring plunge from Dolmage to stretch a 4-point lead into an 18-point lead.
The Vikings never really recovered from that. Quarterback Brooks Baumgartner was intercepted on a tipped pass near the end of the third quarter, and Dolmage took a handoff on the first play of the fourth quarter and busted it 55 yards for a touchdown and a 38-13 Grants Pass lead that would not be threatened.
Forest Grove scored on a 1-yard dive by Matt Winterbourne with 6:58 left to make it 38-20, and the Vikings recovered a perfect onside kick by Joey Flanery to keep hope alive. Unfortunately, Baumgartner was hurried on a blitz and Dolmage stepped in front of the pass, taking it 66 yards in the other direction for his fourth and final touchdown of the night.
'It would have been real easy for us to fold, but we mounted a nice comeback and got the onside kick and it was like, 'OK, maybe we're still in this thing.' But then we threw a pick here and there and it was pretty much over,' said McCabe. 'We gave them two scores defensively. That changes the outcome significantly.'
Still, there were positives for Forest Grove to take away from the loss. Both of the Vikings' scores in the first half came on passes from Baumgartner to Jake Freeman, who finished with seven catches for 57 yards. The Forest Grove defense also forced three turnovers in the first half that kept the Vikings in contention.
Forest Grove jumped on top early, taking the opening kickoff and moving 56 yards in three plays for a touchdown. After a nice runback by Flanery, Winterbourne burst through the line and rumbled 46 yards down to the 9-yard line. Two plays later, Baumgartner fired a dart over the middle to Freeman, who hung on and bullied his way into the end zone for a 6-0 Forest Grove lead.
Grants Pass responded with a more methodical approach, going 80 yards in 12 plays and melting almost six minutes off the clock to take a 7-6 lead on Page Morgan's 5-yard touchdown run and Fogelquist's extra point.
Forest Grove would keep the Cavemen at bay by forcing turnovers on two straight possessions, the second one a Sidney Soto interception that the senior returned to the 9-yard line. The Vikings' first play was a touchdown pass from Baumgartner to Freeman that put Forest Grove on top 13-7.
Dolmage fumbled on the Cavemen's next drive, giving Forest Grove excellent field position, and it appeared as if the Viks would punch it in again for a two-touchdown lead. That changed in a hurry, however, as junior tailback Jake Toll fumbled trying to get around the corner and Fogelquist scooped up the ball and raced 65 yards for a touchdown. The winded senior added the extra point, and then tacked on the field goal with 15 seconds left that gave Grants Pass a 17-13 lead at halftime.
'The first half we played real well,' said McCabe. 'We were coming out in the second half and looking forward to making a stop, and I think it kind of deflated us when they drove it down (and scored) on us.
'You hate to make excuses, but that was sort of a turning point in the game. It's hard to overcome that and get your intensity back.'
Baumgartner completed 12 of 23 pass attempts for 101 yards and two touchdowns. He was intercepted three times, but two of those came late in the fourth quarter when the Vikings were passing on nearly every down.
Winterbourne had nine carries for 71 yards, while Toll added 44 yards on nine carries.
Despite being saddled with their first loss of the season, McCabe said his team gained some confidence by seeing that they could compete with a highly-ranked opponent.
'In the first half I think we showed that we can hang with a team that's No. 5 in the state, which is big. And I think a nice fact for us is that our kids won't be satisfied with that,' he said. 'We've come a long way from our jamboree to now, and we've got a lot of ball left to be played.'
The Vikings will now prepare to open Pacific Conference play on Friday with a home game against McMinnville (2-2).
'I think the kids, they feel somewhat like, 'OK, now we know what we're capable of,'' said McCabe.