Behind three interceptions and a fumble recovery by junior defensive back Connor Dunlea, Lost River boat-raced Saint Paul 43-0 at Cottage Grove High School on Saturday afternoon to claim the Class 1A football state championship.
In front of a well-traveled crowd, Dunlea recovered two onside kicks in the first six minutes of the game, both of which the Raiders punctuated with touchdowns. With four minutes and 35 seconds to play in just the first quarter, Lost River already possessed a 20-point lead they would never relinquish.
“I’m just really proud of our kids and happy for them,” Raiders head coach Dennis Dunlea said. “I’ve had to go through this before, so it’s a sense of relief from the coaching perspective, but very excited for our kids.”
After St. Paul’s first drive was halted on fourth down at the Lost River 40, a double-pass from quarterback Chase McAuliffe, to Connor Dunlea, back to McAuliffe resulted in a tone-setting 42-yard touchdown.
Dunlea’s first sprinting onside kick recovery immediately gave the Raiders the ball back at the Saint Paul 44, and McAuliffe would find a wide-open Isaac Hernandez down the sideline for a 31-yard score.
Already leading 14-0, Lost River would attempt another onside kick just moments later, as Codey Lyman dribbled one down the sideline to a streaking Dunlea yet again. While the Raiders possessed the ball three times in the first six minutes, the Buckaroos drove only once.
“We tried to do it all year but we didn’t quite do it,” Dunlea said. “(Lyman) did great kicks and they bounced straight to where they needed to be, and I just happened to be there.”
Dunlea proceeded to set up his own 24-yard rushing touchdown with a 22-yard reception on third-and-15, and the Raiders swiftly led by three scores in the first quarter.
“I’m thankful for my coaches because they planned in practice for the quarterback to pull it and pitch it really fast because they knew it would be open,” Dunlea said. “It’s the coaches and their game-planning that helped us a lot — and we played well too.”
The junior’s magical afternoon continued just moments later, as he picked off St. Paul quarterback George Pohlschneider and returned the ball 14 yards to the opposing 49.
The Raiders would quickly be stymied on fourth down, granting the Buckaroos an opportunity to punch back, but Dunlea kept his foot on the gas.
He made his second interception of the game after a painful pass interference call, turning back another St. Paul drive on first-and-10 from its own 15.
“I think he just played really well,” Dennis Dunlea said. “His brother got hurt last week, and that was pretty emotional for him, and he just showed up and played out.”
After some offensive struggles from both sides, the Buckaroos would travel into the red zone once more before halftime, failing to find the end zone on a fourth-and-six pass from the 14 yard line.
Lost River took their 20-point advantage into the half and never looked back, as fullback Nathan Dalton ran the ball on the third play of the third quarter 72 yards to the house.
“I think that we were just really prepared,” Dunlea said. “Our kids knew what they were going to do, and we just did a good job of playing within ourselves and doing our own job.”
St. Paul continued to struggle offensively in the second half, as the Bucks were forced to punt, recovered a muff by Connor Dunlea, and turned the ball over again.
This time, McAuliffe intercepted Pohlschneider before the Raiders were forced to punt, sending the ball back to the struggling Buckaroos.
Then, Pohlschneider was intercepted a fourth time, as Dunlea snagged an arrantly thrown ball at his own 26.
On three straight drives, St. Paul crossed the Lost River 35-yard line and ultimately came up empty handed.
“I did fine I guess,” Dunlea said. “I’m more thankful for the defensive line because I’m not getting three picks if they don’t sack the quarterback and he has to feel pressure.”
Dunlea and the Raiders’ onslaught continued, as McAuliffe found Isaac Hernandez for a 41-yard, ankle-breaking touchdown down the sideline. Up 36-0 late in the third quarter, Lost River induced a running clock.
Dalton provided the final score of the game on a two-yard plunge, and the Raiders ultimately completed a title-claiming shutout.
Dunlea finished with 111 all-purpose yards, two total touchdowns, three interceptions, and a fumble recovery in the win.
NEW SUBSCRIBER BENEFIT: The Oregonian/OregonLive is offering a new perk exclusively for subscribers: Log in, click on the photo gallery to see if we photographed you or your favorite high school athlete, and choose “Get Photo” to download free print-quality images.