The Roosevelt Roughriders defense bent repeatedly in Friday night’s showdown with Grant in North Portland, but it never did break and made a second-quarter field goal hold up as the only scoring in a 3-0 victory over the Generals that was heavy on drama if not offensive fireworks.
In earning its sixth straight victory — and first win against the Generals in 22 years — Roosevelt (6-3 overall, 6-1 PIL) earned a share of the league title with Grant (6-3, 6-1) and Jefferson (6-3, 6-1), which beat McDaniel 56-0 earlier Friday.
Roughriders coach Ryan McCants jumped around jubilantly with players and fans in the aftermath.
“The emotion comes from the blood, sweat and tears that have been put in since quite literally last January,” McCants said of the joyous scene. “This is something they’ll be able to take with them for the rest of their lives. The excitement comes from knowing how hard we worked and that this was the exclamation point for all of it.”
“(McCants) is the best coach I’ve ever had,” said Roosevelt junior Dexter Foster, who rushed for 63 yards and caught two passes for 36 yards. “He pushes us in practice and keeps us accountable. He helped us see what we could do better and we fixed it and got a six-game winning streak. It feels good.”
The Generals came into the game needing a win to wrap up an outright PIL championship and the accompanying automatic berth into the 16-team Class 6A state championship playoff bracket. But the loss left Grant stunned and needing help from the OSAA rankings to stay ahead of Roosevelt and Jefferson.
Because each team went 1-1 against the other two, the OSAA rankings became the tiebreaker that determined which team heads to the main playoff bracket that crowns the state champion. The other two will play in the second-tier Columbia Cup bracket, which is new this season.
“I’m going to say some prayers and hopefully we’re still the top team in the league and get to represent the PIL in the championship bracket,” Grant coach Alex Melson said.
Melson’s prayers were answered, as the final OSAA rankings showed Grant ranked 19th, just ahead of No. 20 Jefferson. Roosevelt is ranked 24th. This means Grant will head on the road for a meeting with No. 1 West Linn, while Jefferson and Roosevelt will host Columbia Cup games. Fellow PIL team Ida B. Wells will play at Oregon City in the first round of the Columbia Cup.
The Generals will have to shake off Friday’s disappointment to face their stiffest challenge of the season.
“We just weren’t all on the same page offensively today,” Melson continued. “I think the elements got in our head a little bit. They were playing a bit faster than us and more physical in the interior. Our defense played pretty solid, but we had opportunities to score the ball and didn’t take advantage.”
While Roosevelt won’t make the championship bracket, the win gave them enough of a rankings boost to earn a home game against Clackamas in the Columbia Cup first round.
“I’ve never been prouder of a group of young men than maybe in this moment,” said McCants. “I’ve been coaching for almost a decade and love the resilience they showed, after we were down and had people doubt us and question us.”
Roosevelt started the season 0-3, scoring just 12 points during the losing streak. McCants said he had players leave the program following the rough stretch.
“You look at our sideline and there’s not more than 30 guys, right?” he noted. “We’re a small group that comes to work. It was looking bad after Jefferson (a 9-2 loss), and I think we were all questioning if we were doing things the right way, but we kept our head down and kept grinding and we were able to pull of six in a row.”
The only scoring Friday came with two seconds remaining in the first half. Roosevelt recovered a Grant fumble at the Generals’ 42-yard line with 4:22 left in the quarter, then used eight plays to advance to the five-yard line — none longer than eight yards.
Senior Peter Iongi booted a 22-yard field goal through the uprights to give the Roughriders a lift at the end of a half that was mostly a slog for both teams.
After compiling just 50 yards in the first half, Grant drove 44 yards in three plays to the Roosevelt 3-yard line on its first possession of the third quarter. But the Roughriders hung tough, forcing the Generals to attempt a 22-yard field goal that went awry with a high snap.
Grant again drove inside the Roosevelt 10, but a key holding penalty on the first play of the fourth quarter pushed the Generals back and they came up short on a fourth-and-19 situation.
And when it seemed like the Generals might finally break through, the Roughriders produced one last huge stop. Grant went from its own 25 to the Roosevelt 23 with less than two minutes remaining in the game, but Generals quarterback Kellen Segel — who had come up with multiple drive-saving runs and throws on the drive — had the wet ball knocked out of his hands on a running play and recovered by a Roosevelt defender.
Roosevelt’s Foster, who had dropped what looked like a sure touchdown pass earlier in the quarter, broke off a 35-yard run on the next play.
“I knew I had to get it,” said Foster. “I couldn’t stop. That was my hardest run of the night.”
Then, on third-and-eight, Robert Anthony ran 15 yards for a first down with Grant out of timeouts. The Roughriders went into victory formation and celebrated a gutsy win.
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