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Gresham celebrates its champions


The Gophers finished the 1982 season with a 13-1 record and the big-school state title — the last East County team to reach the championship game

by: THE OUTLOOK: DAVID BALL - Former Gresham High head football coach Gary Stautz holds a signed football from the 1982 state championship game. The Gophers beat Lebanon 13-12 to claim the crown in front of more than 15,000 fans at Civic Stadium.

It was two hours before the game, and the team bus had just arrived behind the center-field wall at old Civic Stadium in downtown Portland. But as the players filed off the bus, it quickly became apparent that this was no ordinary high school football game.

“I’ll never forget the roar of that crowd when we walked through the door,” Nagel said. “I had never played in front of a crowd that huge.”

Nagel is the Gophers head football coach and athletic director and has been a social studies teacher at Gresham High the past 16 years.

By kickoff more than 15,000 fans would be screaming from the bleachers — one of the biggest crowds ever to watch a big-school state title game in Oregon.

Gresham’s defense forced a three-and-out on Lebanon’s first possession, but the game was about to take an ugly twist for the Gophers. Gabe Gomez, a two-way standout for the team, received the punt and dodged a host of tacklers before being taken awkwardly to the turf.

“He was such a threat, no one kicked the ball to him all through the playoffs,” Gresham coach Gary Stautz says.

Stautz since retired, stays active as an assistant coach with the throwers on Gresham High’s track team.

Gomez ended up with a dislocated hip and a trip to the hospital. He didn’t know Gresham had won until Stautz and other members of the staff arrived at his room after the game.

With Gomez out of the picture, Gresham went to its bench asking jayvee player Sean Austin to take over at cornerback.

“I didn’t think I’d be stepping onto the field that day, but Gabe got hurt and there was some confusion on the sidelines,” Austin says. “The next thing I know, one of the coaches is shoving me out there, and I had to tell him we weren’t on defense yet.”

Austin lives in Albany and works in construction and as a dog trainer.

He didn’t take long to prove he was up to the task, chasing down a Lebanon running back from behind to save a potential touchdown.

“That was the highlight of the game for me — it was quite thrilling,” Austin says.

A pair of touchdowns by Gophers’ back Darrin Humphreys would give the Gophers a 13-6 lead in the third quarter after kicker Tod Ronson booted what would prove to be the only successful extra point of the day.

“It was just a routine thing, no different than any other kick,” Ronson said. “I just did what I was supposed to do. We were tougher than any team in the state — that was the difference.”

Ronson coached baseball at Gresham High for nine years and is an operations manager with Gresham Sanitary.

Lebanon’s Bo Yates, who would go on to star at the University of Washington, found the end zone midway through the third quarter, but his extra-point attempt sailed well wide leaving the score at 13-12.

“We knew right away it was no good,” Stautz said.

The Warriors wouldn’t cross the 50-yard line again.

The game ended with linebacker Jim Gosnell pulling down an interception on a Hail Mary at the final horn.

“I remember thinking there’s no way he could throw that ball to the end zone,” Gosnell said. “We were in perfect position, me in front of the receiver and one of our DBs behind him. The ball ended up in my hands, and I just took off running.”

He took the ball into the locker room with him before realizing it was Lebanon’s game ball. Gosnell returned it to the Warriors coach before leaving the stadium that night. He is an operations manager for a paper mill in Camas.

“There was never a panic or a thought that we were going to lose,” Gresham tight end Steve Belmore said.

Belmore sells real estate and competes in CrossFit events.

Gresham High will be celebrating the 30-year anniversary of its championship at halftime of the Gophers home game with Centennial tonight at Stapleton Field. Former players and coaches are flying in from as far away as Seattle and Los Angeles to Arizona and Pennsylvania.

“These kind of reunions are special,” Stautz said. “There’s just a tighter bond when you’ve shared emotions that are so strong.”