By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes

Claggett Creek football got its storybook ending.

All tied with nine seconds remaining, running back Aron Montoya found a hole and out-ran the Whiteaker defense for a 60-yard touchdown as the Panthers won the battle of Keizer middle schools 44-38 on Wednesday, Nov. 1 under the lights at McNary High School.

“You can’t really ask for a better ending for all the hard work,” CCMS head coach Aaron Carr said.

Before the final play of the game, Carr asked Montoya if he could take it to the house and the eighth grader in his first season ever playing football replied “yes.”

“I was running it and I saw an open hole so I cut in and I took it,” Montoya said. “It was very exciting because everybody is going to know me for that now and I’m just happy that we won against our other school in Keizer.”

Trailing 38-22 with 33 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Whiteaker had to score two touchdowns and convert two 2-point conversions to even tie the game.

Axel Zapien, in his first game back after suffering an injury at the start of the season, broke free for a 59-yard touchdown run and then also ran in the 2-point attempt to get the Wolverines within 38-30.

After getting a stop on defense, Whiteaker then went on an 11-play, 58-yard drive, capped off by a Carson Long 1-yard touchdown run to make the score 38-36 with 18 seconds remaining in the game. Zapien then added another 2-point conversion to tie it.

“I told the boys I’m not going to remember the last play because that kid (Montoya) deserved it and we got beat by a kid who was beating us all night,” Whiteaker head coach Tom Larimer said. “I’m going to remember coming back from two scores in the last few minutes of the game. I’m going to remember converting two 2-point conversions and I’m going to remember what it felt like to take a bunch of kids that have never played football before and have that feeling that they earned when they tied the score with 18 seconds to go.”

When Whiteaker defensive lineman Laz Chavez then sacked CCMS quarterback Nathan Allen, the game appeared to be heading to overtime. However, Montoya had other plans.

“He’s got the ability to put it in the end zone from anywhere on the field,” Carr said.

The game-winning score was Montoya’s third touchdown of the game. The first came on a 28-yard run to give the Panthers an 8-0 lead with 2:16 remaining in the first quarter.

Rudy Garcia, Claggett’s power back, then added a 9-yard touchdown run to stretch the lead to 14-0 with 7:22 remaining in the second quarter.

Long gave Whiteaker a spark with 5:20 left to play, returning an interception 80 yards for a touchdown.

After CCMS receiver Evan Cornell caught a 55-yard touchdown pass over a Wolverine defender, Long answered with a one-handed grab on the sideline for a 26-yard gain and then broke a tackle for a 7-yard touchdown to get Whiteaker within 20-14 with 10 seconds remaining in the first half.

“Carson is super versatile,” Larimer said. “He plays a bunch of different portions and he’s been a real leader. He’s a great athlete on a team that has a lot of kids that haven’t played team sports before and they needed to be led and Carson meant a lot to them, by leading by example and being very positive with them.”

Cornell scored a 28-yard touchdown on a reverse and Montoya added a 20-yard touchdown run to stretch Claggett’s lead to 32-14.

But Whiteaker kept fighting as Zapien got around the edge of the Panther defense for a 50-yard run and then Long capped the scoring drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to keep the game within reach.

“These kids love each other on this team and it matters when your teammates want you to succeed and you saw it out of these kids, they want it so badly for each other,” Larimer said.

After the game, McNary football coaches spoke to players on both teams.

“I hope all these kids keep playing football,” Larimer said. “The Claggett kids showed great sportsmanship and I think playing for your school matters and I think this rivalry matters and I think it matters for every middle schooler in this district and I’m really grateful for middle school football.”

Claggett Creek also won the JV football game earlier in the day, defeating Whiteaker 28-16.