An all-Southern Oregon Conference state championship game.
I loved it.
I had watched one in 1989, when Ashland edged Roseburg 24-22 at Autzen Stadium in one of the best high school football contests I’ve covered for The News-Review.
Six years later, second-ranked Roseburg advanced to the Class 4A final against No. 7 Eagle Point. That game was also held at Autzen.
The Indians were favored in this one — they had handled the Eagles 35-13 during the regular season. Roseburg was dominant in its previous four playoff games, outscoring its opponents 112-21. The Indians eliminated No. 1 Marshfield, guided by Kent Wigle, 35-7 in the semifinals.
But Roseburg had to overcome a 12-point deficit to beat the Eagles 17-12 to earn its third state championship under Thurman Bell.
Roseburg finished with its second 14-0 season in school history, matching the 1981 club. Eagle Point (11-3), coached by Mike Johnston, was playing in its first state title game.
It wasn’t a vintage Roseburg performance. The Tribe was limited to 284 yards total offense and committed four turnovers, throwing three interceptions and losing one fumble. The Indians entered averaging 30 points a game.
Fortunately, the defense came to the rescue. Eagle Point only managed 130 yards total offense, losing three fumbles and gave up a pick-6.
A 40-yard interception return for a touchdown by cornerback Tim Stewart late in the third quarter gave the Indians the lead for good. The Eagles had an opportunity to win the game on their final possession, but Roseburg linebacker Brad Loomis stripped E.P. quarterback Dan Woodward of the ball and lineman Garrett Heselius recovered at the Eagle 45 with 1:57 left and the Indians were able to run out the clock.
“Probably the ugliest performance of my life, but we won the game,” Roseburg quarterback Gary Vance told me afterwards. “I’m just happy we won the state championship.”
“We didn’t play near as good football as we were capable of, but battled hard and came back,” Loomis said. “We finally proved we’re the best team in the state.”
Center Jamie Wilde added, “This team hasn’t quit all year. In this game, it took everything we had to stay in it. We pulled together and hung in there.”
The Eagles picked off two Vance passes in the first quarter, one going for a touchdown and the other setting up a score. The Indians found themselves trailing 12-0 eight minutes into the contest.
“We didn’t take Eagle Point lightly,” Bell said. “We made a bunch of mistakes early and they capitalized on them.”
The Roseburg defense shut out the Eagles the rest of the way. A 1-yard TD run by Vance pulled the Tribe within 12-7 by halftime.
Stewart provided the play of the game in the third quarter, stepping in front of a Woodward pass intended for Scott Horn at the E.P. 40 and taking it the distance for a TD with 2:48 left.
Kevin Hunt provided the final points for the Tribe, kicking a 26-yard field goal with 4:11 to go in the fourth quarter. It was his first attempt of the season.
“Somewhere along the line you’re not going to play a great game and you still need to survive,” said Bell, who had his head shaved by the players during the post-game celebration.
Joel Hardage was the game’s top rusher with 128 yards on 27 carries, and had a 24-yard TD run in the third quarter nullified by a clipping penalty. Loomis ran the ball 15 times for 95 yards.
Roseburg stuffed the Eagles’ running game, holding them to nine yards on 20 attempts. Loomis led the Tribe with seven tackles and Heselius was in on six stops.
“We’ve been undefeated all season and have never been considered No. 1 until now,” Stewart said. “This is the best day of my life.”
You can listen to a TV broadcast of the 1995 state final at 7 p.m. Friday on The Score, 1490 (AM) and 92.3 (FM). It’s among several Classic Roseburg games that will be featured on the station this fall in place of the Tribe’s 2020 season that has been moved to March because of the pandemic.