By Mike Weber
For the Baker City Herald
HILLSBORO - In an amazing Class 4A state semifinal football playoff game Saturday night, the Baker Bulldogs pulled out a thrilling 35-29 triple overtime win over the Cascade Cougars on a five-yard game-winning Braden Phillips touchdown run.
Cascade (10-2) overcame a 29-13 deficit in the knockdown, drag-out battle to force overtime. The Oregon West Conference champion Cougars scored two touchdowns in 25 seconds early in the fourth quarter for the deadlock.
Following Baker's remarkable victory, one thing is certain: A group of Bulldogs will win the state championship Dec. 1. That's because Baker and its championship foe, North Bend, share a mascot.
Baker (10-1), guided by coach David Johnson, will face the North Bend Bulldogs (11-1) in the OSAA/U.S. Bank/Les Schwab Tires championship game Dec. 1 at 1 p.m., again at Hillsboro Stadium.
North Bend advanced to the finals after a 29-8 semifinal win over Ontario (9-3) Saturday.
"This was quite an accomplishment to get a win in triple overtime against a very good Cascade team that showed that they're also a championship-caliber squad too," Johnson said Saturday.
"They (Cascade) made some great plays and obviously they're a well-coached and good football team. I really thought we were in pretty good shape up by 16 points. Then all of a sudden it's tied at 29 and headed into overtime."
"I was pretty worried near the end after Cascade tied it, but I'm sure glad we won," said Ben Baxter, Baker's junior running back who had 99 yards on 19 carries.
"I think we're going to beat North Bend next week and win the championship."
Saturday's game started with an exchange of possessions as neither squad was able to move the ball in its first offensive series.
But Phillips (19-for-32, 302 yards passing) expertly guided the Bulldogs on a long scoring drive on their second possession.
The nine-play, 76-yard drive that included impressive runs (18 and 20 yards) by Baxter was capped by a two-yard Phillips TD scramble. Following a two-point conversion run by Phillips, Baker led 8-0 with 4:22 left in the first quarter.
Cascade responded with a scoring drive on its ensuing possession to make it 8-7 after one quarter.
Baker then had consecutive scoring drives in the second to extend its advantage.
A seven-play, 87-yard drive, highlighted by a 28-yard pass from Phillips to Dane Bachman (10 receptions, 162 yards, TD) gave Baker a first down at the Cougars seven-yard line. Phillips followed with a TD pass to Dan Stinson, and after Bachman's extra point kick, Baker led 15-7 with 9:01 left in the quarter.
Baker's defense stopped a Cougar possession on a fourth down play as the Bulldogs took over at their own 24. The Bulldogs proceeded on a seven-play, 76-yard series, highlighted by a 32-yard pass from Phillips to Bachman to the Cascade nine-yard line.
Three plays later, Phillips tossed a six-yard TD to Bachman, making it 22-7 with 1:32 left until halftime. Cascade came back and scored with 34 seconds on the clock, narrowing the margin to 22-13 at the break.
"We knew coming in that we would have to stop their (Cascade) running game, because that's their team strength," said Bachman, referring to the Cougars rushing attack that totaled 264 yards. "We stepped up and made the key plays at the end to help shut them down."
Baker appeared to take control of the contest in the third quarter. After an exchange of possessions, Baxter intercepted a pass by Cougar quarterback Cody Crawford in the end zone for a touchback, giving Baker possession at their own 20.
An eight-play, 80-yard drive followed, capped by a 53-yard scoring strike over the middle from Phillips to senior receiver Darren Dolby. Bachman's PAT made it 29-13 with 3:12 left in the third.
Cascade came back with a scoring drive early in the fourth, trimming the margin to 29-21 with 9:24 on the clock. Cascade then took advantage of a turnover on Baker's ensuing possession. A second-down running play went awry with a Bulldog fumble that was picked up by Cascade's Justin Kruse, who returned it 42 yards for a TD. After the Cougars two-point conversion, it was knotted 29-29 with 8:59 left in regulation play.
On Baker's final offensive possession of regulation, the Bulldogs proceeded all the way to the Cascade 7.But they were unable to convert a fourth-and-seven play.
Cascade took over with 1:37 remaining and ran out the clock to set up overtime.
"We probably should've kicked a field goal at the end of regulation," Johnson said. "We went for it on fourth down, but it didn't quite turn out the way we wanted it to, but that's OK.
"Our defense was outstanding and the kids fought hard all the way. We believe that defense wins championships," he said. "That's the way we start playing at every practice and it sure proved to be the key to our win tonight. We're very excited to be playing in the championship game."
Both teams failed to score in the first two overtime sessions after they each started possession at the 25-yard line. Baker senior linebacker Tyler Talbot, who had a team-leading 10 tackles, intercepted a Crawford pass to thwart a potential Cascade scoring threat in the first overtime. Bachman helped stopped a Cascade threat in the second OT when he intercepted a Crawford pass.
"Coach Jason Ramos told me that we had to find a way to get the ball," Talbot said. "I was just playing my spot in the zone where I thought I should be and then the ball just kind of fell into my hands.
"Braden and Dane both did a great job in helping lead our team to the win," Talbot said.
Baker had a fourth-down conversion attempt fall short in the first OT, and the Bulldogs missed a potential game-winning field goal in the second OT. The third OT started with both teams getting the ball at the 10. Baker took possession first and scored on a third-down run by Phillips from the five, making it 35-29.
"The credit for the winning TD should go to Trent Taylor, who made a big block to help provide me with a wide open running lane," Phillips said. "Everyone on the offensive line did a great job with blocking to help us pull out a win.
"We knew it would be a tough game against a real good team. It's pretty crazy right now and it's just an unbelievable feeling to be in the championship game," he said. "We've worked hard all year and we deserve to be in it."
The Bulldogs defense then took control, led by seniors Trent Taylor, Zach Cook, Jorden Osborn and Danny O'Neal as they stopped the Cougars on four consecutive plays inside the 10-yard line with the game concluding on an incomplete Crawford pass from the 7.
"This was an unbelievable game and our defense played just remarkable in the fourth quarter and in overtime," O'Neal said. "None of us have ever played in an overtime game, so it was a new experience for everyone. We were playing with a high-confidence level and we knew we could stop them (Cascade).
"Our goal all year was to play in the state championship game and now we've made it."
An on-field celebration followed for Baker as their large group of fans in the grandstands cheered wildly along with yelling, screaming, hugs and high fives among players, coaches and fans.
The three-time Greater Oregon League champion Bulldogs, who won the 2010 state title, will try to duplicate that feat next Saturday when they make another long road trip to Western Oregon for a third consecutive week. The long bus ride probably doesn't bother them at all.
Baker 8 14 7 0 6 - 35
Cascade 7 6 0 16 0 - 29
B - Braden Phillips 2-yard run (Phillips run).
C - Cody Crawford 7-yard run (Lucas Bjorklund kick).
B - Dan Stinson 7-yard reception from Phillips (Dane Bachman kick).
B - Bachman 6-yard reception from Phillips (Bachman kick).
C - James Vettrus 41-yard reception from Crawford (kick failed).
B - Darren Dolby 53-yard reception from Phillips (Bachman kick).
C - Crawford 2-yard run (Vettrus pass from Crawford).
C - Justin Kruse 42-yard fumble recovery (Josh Schnepp pass from Crawford).
B - Phillips 5-yard run (kick failed).