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by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Roosevelt's James Schell-Buchanan celebrates the Riders' hard-fought, 38-35 home playoff victory Friday over Marist.Last Monday, the Roosevelt Roughriders gathered for their first video session in preparation for one of the biggest football games in the school's recent history.

The opponent: traditional power Marist.

The first thing they watched: the furious ninth round of the 2002 boxing match between Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward, a brutal exchange that sent both combatants to a trauma center in what is considered one of the best fights of all-time.

Roosevelt coach Christian Swain said he had his players watch that because "we knew it was going to be a war" against Marist.

"And that's how we were tonight," Swain said Friday. "Like the fighter up against the ropes."

Swain's Riders kept fighting till the end, though, and wound up knocking out the Marist Spartans with a 38-35 home victory in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs — the first postseason Roosevelt win since 1995.

"This is one of the biggest wins in Roosevelt football history," said junior quarterback Kimane Domena, who was moved to tears as family and friends celebrated with the Roughriders on their field after the game.

Swain, in his fifth season at the North Portland school and the longest-tenured coach in the PIL 5A, had played against Marist's veteran coach, Frank Geske, when Geske coached at Franklin.

"This is the top of the mountain right now," Swain said, "beating a team of Marist's caliber."

The win put fourth-ranked Roosevelt (9-1) into next Friday's 5A quarterfinals against No. 5 Ashland, which beat visiting Pendleton 54-9 on Friday.

Marist finished its season with a 6-5 record.

Roosevelt will get to host another playoff game by virtue of its slim, higher ranking. A victory would put the Roughriders into the state semifinals for the first time, presumably against No. 1 Sherwood, which beat Churchill 55-0 on Friday and will play host to Crescent Valley this week.

Riders senior wideout/free safety James Schell-Buchanan said his team believes it can go all the way.

"Oh, yeah, we're looking forward to seeing Sherwood in the semis," he said. "First we're looking forward to Ashland. They have the fastest team in the state, and they want to run a track meet with us."

Against Marist, big plays on defense by Schell-Buchanan and junior two-way back Billy Nelson helped propel Roosevelt to the win.

Those plays came after the Riders had scored with 1:02 left in the first half to take a 19-14 lead to intermission at the end of a seesaw opening two quarters.

Roosevelt opened the second half by trying to assert its well with its huge offensive line and backs such as Nelson — and the Riders did just that. They went on a 13-play, 82-yard drive, all on the ground. Domena scored from the 1 to give Roosevelt a 25-14 lead.

Swain credited assistant coach Neil Lomax, the former NFL and Portland State great, for planning that drive.

"Coach Lomax has done an amazing job getting our offense ready to play," Swain said. "I knew he would put together a drive."

Then it was time for Schell-Buchanan to make his move, defensively.

Marist, which blends the run and the pass but likes to put the ball in the air, went to one of its familiar short patterns one time too often. Schell-Buchanan intercepted QB Brody Cooper and raced 58 yards to the Marist 7.

"They were throwing out routes the whole time. It was easy," Schell-Buchanan said. "I just jumped that one."

From there, it took the Riders only two plays to take their largest lead, 32-14, on Nelson's 4-yard run.

The Spartans weren't done, though.

They put together an eight-play, 52-yard drive to close to within 32-21 late in the third quarter.

And then, after a defensive stop, Marist got into the red zone on Andrew Park's 49-yard, tackle-shredding run to the Roosevelt 9 on the final play of the third period.

But then it was time for Nelson to make his move, defensively.

On second-and-goal, Marist QB Cooper tried a long throw to the sideline, near the goal line. Nelson stepped in front of the receiver, picked off the pass at the 2 and dashed down the sideline, in front of the excited Roosevelt bench, with nothing but green artificial turf in front of him.

His only thought: "I hope I don't cramp up."

Nelson, who had come out of the game earlier with a cramp, easily made it the 98 yards for the defensive touchdown that put Roosevelt in the lead 38-21.

Schell-Buchanan was on the sidelines at the time, having come out with a cramp of his own.

"But as he (Nelson) was running, I got up and started running down the sidelines, too, I was so excited," Schell-Buchanan said.

But the "ninth round" had yet to come in this fight of the century at Roosevelt. The Spartans kept punching.

Marist coolly churned out a 10-play, 58-yard TD drive, making the score 38-27 with 7:49 left.

Roosevelt's offense began to stall, and the Spartans went 61 yards in eight plays and scored on Josh White's 3-yard plunge.

All of a sudden, or so it seemed, Marist was down only 38-35 with 3:31 remaining.

When the Spartans held Roosevelt on downs, they had their final chance, although it was a long one — Marist took over, after a Riders punt, on its 22 with 2:26 left.

The Spartans just missed on a couple of medium-length passes, then completed a throw for nine yards.

On fourth-and-1, they went to the air — and the pass was incomplete.

Roosevelt ran two plays for a first down and then was able to run out the clock.

"I knew we were going to come out and fight," said Domena, who ran for two touchdowns and completed 9 of 13 passes for 84 yards and another score.

The passing game was important, but secondary on this night. Roosevelt wanted to rely mainly on the run, and the Riders piled up 252 yards rushing on 51 carries.

"We just had to come out and execute, and we did," Domena said. "We followed our coaches' game plan."

Roosevelt did it in part by shuffling offensive linemen in and out of the game.

"We try to keep 'em fresh," Swain said.

The yardage and first downs and touchdowns — two on the ground by Nelson — "are because of our line," he said.

Marist moved the ball well much of the game. The Spartans finished with an edge in total offense, 408 yards to 336, as they rushed 29 times for 147 yards and Cooper hit 18 of 36 passes for 261 yards. But Marist didn't have the key turnovers and runbacks and explosion plays that Roosevelt used to gain control of the scoreboard.

Nelson broke loose on a patented 76-yard run on the first play of Roosevelt's second possession, as the Riders gained a 6-0 lead. He started inside, got to the left sideline, then cut back against the grain and darted diagonally, past the Marist secondary and to the end zone.

Marist led 7-6 after one quarter, with Cooper capping a 79-yard drive with a 14-yard TD pass to Austin Owen.

Domena's 1-yard run at the start of the second quarter put Roosevelt back on top 13-7. The Riders got help on their 77-yard drive when Marist was called for both a personal foul and unsportsmanlike conduct (30 yards in penalties) on one play.

The Spartans answered with Cooper hitting Austin Tyner from 38 yards for the TD that gave the visitors from Eugene a 14-13 lead.

But Roosevelt went 76 yards in nine plays before the end of the half to take its 19-14 edge to the locker room.

This war was far from over, though, and it took some big blows by the Roosevelt defense to help decide the outcome.

Nelson's 98-yard interception return was the biggest.

"It's a kill shot," Swain said. "A momentum-changer. That's what great teams do i that situation. They find a way to make a play."

Schell-Buchanan said the Riders came into the game upset that some had predicted them to lose, even though Marist was only the state's 18th-ranked team.

"We felt disrespected," he said. "They were coming into our house, but people said they had the tradition so they thought they were going to win.

"We knew we were the better team. This game makes a statement to people that we're here to win."

And keep winning?

"I like our chances," Swain said.

As he told his team, "it's amazing what you guys have done, what you seniors have accomplished in four years."

Could the Riders go all the way?

"Why not?" Swain said. "If not us, who?"

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