The Wilsonville Wildcats are hoping the third time will be the stimulus.
The Wildcats will play in their third Class 5A state championship game in six years after defeating Bend 23-14 in a semifinal game.
Wilsonville reached the championship game in 2018 when they lost to Thurston 30-27. In 2016, the Wildcats lost to Lebanon 34-17.
If the No. 2-seeded Wildcats are to finally break through and win the title, they must defeat the No. 1-seeded Summit Storm in Friday’s championship game at Hillsboro Stadium.
The Wildcats (10-2) have seen the storm before. The Storm achieved a 33-21 win over the Wildcats in Week 4 of the regular season. That game seems a long time ago, and Wilsonville coach Adam Guenther expects his team to perform better in the championship game.
“We made a lot of mistakes in this game. But you have to take your hat off to Summit, they are a great team,” said Günther. “I think we’re where we want to go in Friday’s game.”
Gunther’s optimism comes from the way the Wildcats played during the playoffs, particularly during their win over the Lava Bears.
The Wildcats’ defense was the catalyst behind the win. They made two passes, including one from junior defenseman Mason Seal, late in the fourth quarter to seal the win. Junior defenseman Gavin Waddell also had an interception in the game and the defense forced turnovers on downs in three series.
“They bent but didn’t break. Our kids just have natural athletic abilities and speed governs a lot of things,” said Günther. “We don’t have the biggest team in the world, but we’re pretty fast. Our defense believes they can stop anyone.”
Senior defenseman Jonatan Lazaro-Hampton, who was game-high with 19 total tackles, forced a fumble that was caught by senior cornerback Cooper Hiday, who returned the fumble 70 yards for the score. Guenther said the senior, who did not play in the Wildcats’ Week 4 loss to Summit, will play on Friday.
“He’s an old-school defender. He’s quiet and not one of those screamers or rah-rah types. He just does his job,” said Günther. “He’s a violent kid when it comes to football. He adds a new dimension and we’re excited to see what he can do on Friday.”
The defense picked up the offense, which was struggling with just 211 total yards. The offense needs to be more efficient against the forward, and junior quarterback Kallen Gutridge will be key. Gutridge, throwing in windy conditions, completed 7 of 23 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown against Bend.
Gutridge, who has thrown for 2,249 yards with 32 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions, started Week 4 in his fourth varsity game against Summit.
“Kal just has to be Kal. That’s all he has to do,” said Günther. “Kal is a natural athlete and he won’t let the emotion of the game get the better of him. He just has to get the ball where it needs to be and let the playmakers get it.”
Günther knows that the storm is likely to win the title, but he has faith in his team and concedes nothing.
“Our boys realize that good things can happen if we take care of ourselves and take care of each other and take care of each other,” Günther said. “There’s a reason we don’t just wrap it up and give them the championship. You have to play the game on Friday. As long as we are still standing, there will always be shooting.”