In a hard-fought back and forth game, The Sheldon Irish have managed to keep their undefeated record and their now 5-0 performance in OSAA semi-finals intact with the 18-9 victory over the Central Catholic Rams.

photographs courtesy of Jon Morgan for Sheldon Athletics

The Irish have also kept alive the prospect of a Lane County OSAA State Championship. The Irish will battle perennial championship bridesmaids the Lake Oswego Lakers next Saturday at Jeld-Wen Field. Bridesmaids yes, but creampuffs, no; the Lakers put the Irish out of contention last year during the quarter-finals at Ludwig field with a 45-14 blowout.

Portland’s Central Catholic Rams were the underdogs going into the semi-final game, but there is no question they deserved to be there, serving up the toughest game to date for the Irish. The two teams last met in 2009 in a non-league contest where the Irish came away with a 49-13 win. Yesterday’s game was a different story with a Sheldon margin of victory of only 9 points – 39 points fewer than their highest scoring game against the North Medford Black Tornado in September, and 7 of those points coming in the final seconds of the game. Sheldon has scored the most points (594) and allowed the fewest (120) of all 43 teams in the OSAA 6A Division.

The stats coming out of this matchup were nearly identical with the Irish putting up 300 yards of offense, the Rams 286; both teams with 94 yards rushing. Ram quarterback Ben Cook completed 13 of 19 pass attempts with one interception, the Irish’s Dillon Miller threw 17 completions out of 38 attempts with 2 interceptions. The first half of the game saw strong defensive play by both teams resulting in no touchdowns and two field-goals for each team.

photographs courtesy of Jon Morgan for Sheldon Athletics

The Ram’s Mitch Seeley kicked a 42 yard field goal near the end of the first quarter. The Irish’s Sean Bellotti answered with a successful 30 yarder to tie the game at the end of the quarter. Seeley put the Rams ahead with a 32 yard kick midway through the second quarter, Bellotti put up 3-points near the end of the half after a stalled Irish effort putting the Irish in a rare tie going into half-time. The Rams had an opportunity to take the lead in the final seconds of the first half, but a 39-yard field goal attempt by Seeley was blocked by Sheldon’s Dylan Lewis.

It was clear that Sheldon had made adjustments in both attitude and execution during half-time. During the first minute of the second half Sheldon’s Sam McCaskill was untouched as he brutally sacked Central Catholic quarterback Ben Cook in the end zone and forced a fumble that was recovered by linebacker Dawson Housely for a touchdown to put the Irish ahead for the first time at 12-6.

photographs courtesy of Jon Morgan for Sheldon Athletics

Undaunted the Rams drove to the Irish 4-yard line before QB Cook was sacked on third down forcing another Seeley kick from 32 yards putting the Rams within 3-points at 12-9. The Rams continued the onslaught with outstanding athletic play from Cook and runningback Hayward Demison returning to the Irish 7 yard line where Cook was sacked by Sheldon’s #10 Conner Strahm forcing a fumble which Strahm recovered. Central Catholics hopes were put to bed when Bellotti intercepted Cook and brought the ball back to the Rams 31-yard line with 2:41 remaining. The Irish capped the game with a Strahm three yard dash for a touchdown with 35 seconds on the clock.

Ultimately the game was decided by mistakes; high snaps, miscues, missed blocks and the ability to capitalize on them. Both teams clearly wanted the win, but as has been the story all year, the Irish were more than their opponents could handle. Professional games should be this good.

The OSAA State Championship Game between our Sheldon Irish and the Lake Oswego Lakers is this Saturday, December 10 at 1pm up at Jeld-Wen field.  You may decide to catch the Ducks at the Rose Bowl on television, but plan on watching this one in person.