By Mike Weber
For the Baker City Herald
HILLSBORO - After Baker High School won the Class 4A Football State Championship with a 52-22 win Saturday over North Bend, there's no doubt the Bulldog Dynasty is alive and well.
Playing in their third state title game in the last four years, the three-time Greater Oregon League Champion Bulldogs (11-1) dominated the game from start-to-finish in defeating North Bend (11-2) to capture the championship trophy at Hillsboro Stadium.
The quartet of quarterback Braden Phillips, receiver Dane Bachman (seven receptions, 163 yards, three touchdowns), running back Trent Taylor (12 carries, 63 yards rushing) and defensive lineman Danny O'Neal (nine tackles) combined to help lead Baker to the impressive victory over a North Bend squad playing in the finals for the first time ever.
"I can't find the words to describe how happy I am," said an emotional and smiling Bachman. "These are the kind of moments to cherish with friends and family members. Winning the championship is something that I'll remember for the rest of my life."
Phillips (12-for-20 passing, 211 yards, 3 touchdowns), the GOL Offensive Player-of-the-Year, had a fantastic performance in expertly guiding the Baker offense that outgained North Bend 377 yards to 203.
"It's unexplainable how I feel right now and I really don't know what to say other than it's just an amazing feeling," said the 6-foot-4, 200 pound Phillips. "For all of our seniors (14 total), we played on the championship team two years ago as sophomores. This is so much better though, because we were not starters back then and we didn't really get much playing time, so this is really our state championship."
Baker, the 2010 champions, has won state titles two of the last three years, which is a truly phenomenal achievement for coach David Johnson and his Bulldogs.
"After losing in the quarterfinals of the playoffs last year, the very next day these guys decided that their goal was to get back to the finals," said Johnson, who has led Baker to the state playoffs 11 straight years. "It's absolutely amazing to see how hard this tremendous group of kids worked to accomplish their goal. They were well focused and they did everything they needed to do."
Neither team was able to move the ball on their opening possessions of the 1 p.m. contest. On its second possession, Baker took advantage of a North Bend miscue to gain great field position. Following Baker's first offensive series, Bachman boomed a 35-yard punt to the North Bend 19.
North Bend went three downs and out and attempted a punt by Michael Hobson. Baker junior Lukas Huggins tackled Hobson at the 14 yard line after the attempt went awry, with Baker gaining possession.
On the next play, Phillips broke through North Bend's defensive line and ran for a 14-yard TD. Taylor, the GOL Defensive Player-of-the-Year, bulled ahead into the end zone for the two-point conversion run, giving Baker an 8-0 lead with 7:46 on the scoreboard clock and it was the same score at the end of the first quarter.
"Winning the championship was our goal at the beginning of the season and it just feels like a dream come true," said Taylor. "Being on a championship team two years ago was great, but this is like icing on the cake, especially for all of the seniors."
After North Bend responded and scored, making it 8-7 with 9:42 left in the second quarter, Baker answered just 22 seconds later on its fifth possession of the first half.
Junior Ben Baxter had a fabulous 62-yard kickoff return to the North Bend 29. Taylor scrambled through the line, broke a couple of would-be North Bend tacklers and sprinted to paydirt on a 29-yard TD run. Senior placekicker Jeffrey Craibill booted the PAT and Baker led 15-7 with 9:20 on the clock.
Baker's outstanding defense, led by O'Neal, Jake Grammon, Tyler Talbot, Zach Cook and Zach Shively forced a punt on yet another unproductive North Bend offensive series. Baker then took possession at its own 34 and its offense was in high gear now. Baker proceeded on a quick three-play, 66-yard scoring drive, highlighted by a 67-yard TD pass from Phillips to Bachman with 7:31 left in the half. Baker certainly had the momentum now as they took a 21-7 halftime advantage.
"I'm so excited, because this is just a great accomplishment and nice way to conclude my football career," said Shively. "Our front line came together and did our job by providing good pass protection for Braden. We communicated real well, we picked up the blitzs and we made room for the running backs too."
Baker took the second half kickoff, but North Bend stepped up defensively and forced a punt. Baker took advantage of North Bend turnovers to regain possession though. Baker intercepted passes on back-to-back North Bend possessions to stop potential scoring drives. Taylor picked off a pass thrown by North Bend quarterback Hamilton Mateski and returned it 20 yards to the Baker 28 to thwart a drive.
Baker then proceeded on a nine-play, 52-yard drive, highlighted by a 21-yard run by Baxter (19 carries, 69 yards rushing) and scored on 13-yard pass from Phillips to Bachman, making it 27-7 with 4:49 left in the third.
North Bend trimmed the margin to 27-15 late in the third, which was the score after three. Baker took control of the contest in the fourth with four unanswered scoring drives. After getting the kickoff, Baker extended its lead to 33-15 on a seven-play, 66-yard drive, capped by a 20-yard TD toss from Phillips to Bachman with 9:51 remaining in the game.
"Braden just throws the ball up there and I just try to put myself in the right spot to make a catch," said Bachman, who also had two interceptions at his safety position. "A lot of people on our team took it really hard last year after we lost in the quarterfinals. I felt that if we worked hard during the offseason, that we would have a good chance to get back to the championship game."
Baker then capitalized on three key off target throws by Mateski as Bachman, sophomore Thomas Hamilton and senior Darren Dolby each had interceptions to stop three consecutive North Bend offensive series. Baker capitalized on each of the costly turnovers and scored on all three possessions. A two-yard Taylor TD run, followed Hamilton's 15-yard interception return for a score and a one-yard Phillips TD run gave Baker a 52-15 lead with 3:05 left in the game.
The game marked the third straight week that Baker traveled more than 320 miles one way to Western Oregon for three playoff contest's and they're well deserving of the nickname "Road Warriors."
A crowd of over 300 Baker fans celebrated the huge win with the Bulldogs after the game.
"Traveling is not a big deal for us and the kids understand that too," said Johnson. "Going to Pendleton or Boise for games is no problem either. Rural America is just great and our guys take pride in bringing a little bit of country to the city. It's a great experience for the kids to play in such a nice facility like Hillsboro Stadium and the OSAA does a great job of organizing everything. It's such a thrill for these kids to win the state championship and they'll have great memories of it."
Baker - 8 13 6 25 - 52
North Bend - 0 7 8 7 - 22
B - Phillips 14 run (Taylor run)
N - Lucero 4 pass from Mateski (Hobson kick)
B - Taylor 29 run (Craibill kick)
B - Bachman 67 pass from Phillips (Kick failed)
B - Bachman 13 pass from Philips (Kick failed)
N - Lucero 60 punt return (Hobson kick)
B - Bachman 20 pass from Phillips (Kick failed)
B - Taylor 2 run (Craibill kick)
B - Hamilton 15 interception return (Kick failed)
B - Phillips 1 run (Kick failed)
N - Laird 10 run (Hobson kick)