CENTRAL POINT – The Vale football team’s run in the Class 3A state football playoff came to a heartbreaking end Saturday, Nov.11, in Central Point, with a 27-26 loss to second-ranked Cascade Christian. The Vikings missed a two-point conversion by inches as the game clock ticked down.
With both undefeated teams having not allowed an opponent to score since late September, the Challengers struck in the final seconds of the first quarter on a long pass.
Unphased, the Vikings marched the ball down the field in the second quarter, with Kase Shaffeld punching into the endzone.
The Vikings’ defense kept the Challengers scoreless for the rest of the first half. Vale’s Leland Tamez batted away a Challengers pass and then Damick Eddy blocked a punt to put the Vikings offense deep into Cascade territory.
With just over two minutes left to play in the half, Vale’s Brooks Haueter scored on a short pass and a two-point conversion put the squad up 14-6.
The Challengers scored first in the early going of the second half on a pass to Cascade’s wide receiver Luke Wilson, but Vikings defense stopped the Challengers on an attempted two-point conversion to hold onto a 14-12 lead.
Shaffeld then scored to insulate the Vikings lead, 20-12, heading into the game’s final quarter.
The Vikings’ defense continued to tame the Challengers for most of the fourth. Still, a 20-yard pass interference penalty on the Vikings on a long pass to Cascade’s Wilson with three minutes left to play put the Challengers within striking distance.
They scored and converted on a two-point conversion a few plays later with just over a minute left to play in the fourth quarter, knotting the score 20-20 and forcing overtime.
With each team getting a possession in overtime, Cascade, who won the coin flip and got the ball first, scored and kicked an extra point to go up 27-20. Vale quarterback Colten Stepleton, who had been out for part of the game with an injury, ran the ball for a touchdown, but the Vikings came up short just inches on an outside run at the goal line that would have provided a one-point margin for the win.
Until the quarterfinal playoff game, no team had scored more than 12 points against the Vikings. The Vale squad finished 9-1, outscoring their opponents 357-43.
After the game, Jeff Aldred, Vale’s head coach, told the team not to focus on the “ifs, and’s, or buts.”
“Just remember how you felt when you look back on your life,” Alred told his emotional team. “This team this year will always be a part of your lives.”
With Stepleton being hurt and the team learning a new offense it had never run before Saturday’s game, the Vikings stepped up, Aldred said.
He said, fortunately, the Vikings had the players on its roster to make the adjustments they did heading into the game. In the end, he said, it came down to a few critical plays throughout the game that did not go in the Vikings’ direction that made the difference.
Aldred said the Oregon School Activities Association’s ranking system, which uses mathematical equations that factor in a team’s winning percentage and its opponents’ records, is “extremely flawed” and lacks a “human element.”
Under the current ranking system, Vale, who went undefeated all season, was ranked No. 7. Aldred said he felt his team should have been rated higher than seventh.
In Class 3A, Alred said Vale and three other teams were undefeated. Those three teams were ranked first, second and third, while Vale was ranked seventh, due, in part, to the teams the Vikings faced on its schedule and when they began facing teams in its league. He said being in a border town, the games the squad played against Idaho teams impacted the school’s ranking. According to Aldred, it’s not just eastern Oregon schools but other border teams in the southern and northern parts of the state.
The top four highest-ranking teams are guaranteed home games in the playoffs, Aldred said.
“Vale to Medford is a long way,” he said.
Whether evaluating the conferences or adding a human element to the ranking system, he said it’s time for OSAA to reconsider its ranking system to make it an even playing field for other schools. He said the problem was across all divisions of schools this year, not just 3A.
He said having a committee review the rankings or a media poll might be a way to bring a human element to the system.
Nonetheless, Aldred said “he could not be more proud” of the team and his coaching staff in making the last-minute adjustments ahead of Saturday’s game.
Additionally, he said the seniors will be “hard to replace.”
“That was a fantastic senior class,” he said. “They were a lot of fun to coach and I’m really glad that they put in the effort they did for our program.”
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