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Irish eyes are smiling, and wet, after 6A football win

I got my first Gatorade shower on the pitch at Jeld-Wen Field Saturday afternoon, courtesy of jubilant members of the Sheldon Irish.

I’m guessing it was the first one received by Lane Johnson, too, though in the pandemonium following Sheldon’s 13-6 victory over Lake Oswego, I didn’t get the chance to ask.

Such are the dangers these days of interviewing a head coach immediately after winning a Class 6A championship. I’ll guarantee you Johnson was happier about it than I was.

“It was perfect. Absolutely perfect,” Johnson said of winning the rematch with Lake Oswego after the Lakers beat the Irish in last year’s title game. “Two really good defensive teams. We knew it was going to be in a battle. It was nice to come out on top for once.”

Johnson is being modest. Sheldon has come out on top more than anyone in the state’s 6A ranks, winning crowns in 2002, '07 and '09 with Johnson’s brother, Marty, at the helm. Lane Johnson was an assistant coach on those teams before taking over for Marty last season.

Winning a state title is never old hat, though. And Johnson was emotional as he spoke about his players and even the family coaching legacy started by his father, John, a long-time coach at Marshfield.

“It’s a pretty neat deal,” he said, tears welling, his voice choking. “My dad had his hip replaced the week of the Southridge game (two weeks ago). He wasn’t here today, but big fella, that was for you.”

It didn’t take long after the final gun for the Sheldon players to crank out the state championship baseball caps that would have turned into wonderful gifts for the kids from Cambodia had the Irish lost Saturday.

The winners were thrilled, none more than than quarterback Taylor Alie, the senior quarterback who used his arm, his legs and his brain to full advantage when it mattered most.

“It’s the best feeling in the world,” Alie said. “Losing last year (to Lake Oswego) was not fun. Going out this year 14-0 — I can’t complain at all.”

Alie completed 21 of 26 passes for 138 yards in Sheldon’s horizontal passing game, ran for 79 yards more — minus 17 yards in losses — and kept Lake Oswego defenders clutching air throughout with his moxie in quarterback draw and scramble situations.

“He’s elusive as heck,” Lake Oswego coach Steve Coury said. “A couple of times we hit him and I thought we’d break him, but he’s a nice player.”

Indeed Alie — listed at 6-1 and 170 — admitted to me he weighs 160. He’s not going to outphysical anybody, but football is about so much more than that.

“He’s close to a 4-point student, and it shows the way he plays,” Lane Johnson said. “Mistakes don’t bother him a whole bunch. They bother me.

“But Taylor has a great tenacity for coming back after a poor decision. Against Jesuit (in the semifinals), he threw an interception on the second play of the game. He came to the sidelines and said, ‘Next time we get it, let’s score.’ It’s a great mentality to have as a quarterback.”

Alie has had a state championship in mind since first grade, when he began his career playing flag football with many of those kids who comprised Sheldon’s roster this season.

“This is something we’ve been thinking about and working toward and dreaming of since then,” Alie said.

The other Sheldon stick-out Saturday — versatile Connor Strahm — went to a neighboring grade school and didn’t hook up with Alie and the others until sixth grade.

“But it took off from there,” Alie said with a smile.

The 6-2, 225-pound Strahm caught eight passes for 74 yards, ran for the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter, made 10 tackles and intercepted two passes in as good a Rod Woodson impersonation as the state championship game has seen in years.

“Strahm was all over the place,” Coury said. “That’s what great players do, especially on the big stage.”

Yet it was Strahm’s third-quarter fumble deep in Sheldon territory that nearly turned nirvana into Hades for the stud senior.

The Irish were clinging to a 3-0 lead but had just made a goal-line stand, stopping Lake Oswego on fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line. On first down from the Sheldon 1, Strahm got loose for a nice gainer but fumbled, the Lakers’ Jack Anderson recovering at Irish 12.

Strahm’s knee may have been down before he fumbled, but as the replay showed on the Jeld-Wen scoreboard, Johnson huddled his team in emphatic fashion.

“All our kids wanted to watch the replay board and say it wasn’t a fumble,” the Sheldon coach said. “I said, ‘Hey, we haven’t worried about officiating the whole year.’ I didn’t even watch the replay. I don’t know if it was a good call or not.

“All I know is, they gave Lake Oswego the ball. I’m not spending any time worrying about it. We just tried to rally the troups.”

The ball “came out,” Strahm said. “I’m not going to say anything. Doesn’t matter — we came out on top.

“I was scared it was going to be the end of my high school career and my mistake was going to cost us. But our team came back from that.”

Anderson scored the go-ahead touchdown for the Lakers, but the extra point was blocked, leaving their lead at 6-3. On their next possession, the Irish marched 75 yards in a dozen plays for the touchdown that proved to be the game-winner.

Ironically, it was turnovers — five of them, four interceptions and a fumble — that spelled Lake Oswego’s doom.

“We turn the ball over four times, they score 13 points and we don’t win,” Coury said with a shrug. “We just didn’t do enough offensively. It felt like we moved it between the 20s, but we turned it over in the scoring area.”

It was the end to a 27-game win streak for Lake Oswego, which had marched through consecutive unbeaten seasons until Saturday. Sheldon is 52-2 over the last four seasons, losing only to the Lakers — 45-14 in the 2010 quarterfinals and 47-14 in last year’s finals.

“They’re a classy program,” Coury said. “A good team was going to lose today, and that happened to be us.”

Odds are the Lakers and Irish — who have met nine times over the last decade, with L.O. holding a 5-4 advantage — will square off in the playoffs again next year. Maybe even in the finals again.

If it happens, I’ll keep my head on a swivel afterward. No more Gatorade showers for this scribe.

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Twitter: @kerryeggers