SPRINGFIELD – Thurston and Springfield high schools are separated by less than six miles. The competitive distance between the programs, however, has been a virtual gulf since 2015, the last time the Millers beat the Colts in football.
Last Friday might have been Springfield’s best shot to take down Thurston since then, and both teams knew it.
“They have a good team this year and we knew they had a legitimate shot to take that thing away from us,” said Justin Starck, Thurston head coach. “So we made it a point to make sure those boys held serve and held on to that trophy for one more year.”
The trophy in question is a giant golden football, and the winner of the Springfield-Thurston game gets to keep it in a trophy case until the following season’s matchup.
Thurston has held it since that game in 2015, but both teams felt confident coming into the game after they had very different starts to the season.
Thurston played the two best teams in Class 5A to start the year, and lost both. Despite winning its next two games, there were questions to be answered about the squad. On the Springfield side, it took of business every week except one, falling to class 4A championship runner-up Marist.
Bragging rights for the best football team in Springfield were up in the air, and Thurston made sure those rights stayed with them as they beat Springfield 47-20 in front of a raucous home crowd at The Farm. Thurston had a slow start, but was led by a rushing attack that totaled 325 yards and four touchdowns.
“Just proud of them for responding,” Starck said. “They started pretty slow and were a bit sluggish, and really responded well.”
“I thought we made a lot of great plays tonight. I thought we proved to ourselves tonight that we can play with these guys,” said Miles Haley, Springfield head coach.
The game started well for the Millers as quarterback Caeleb Kasperek threw a 29-yard pass to Jackson Babbitt on the first play of the game. Five plays later Dwayne Fotta took a jet sweep and cut back across the field for a 33-yard touchdown run to put Springfield up 6-0 two minutes in.
“I think we were just getting our guys in space, which was the plan,” Haley said. “Obviously Fotta is a special, special player.”
Springfield would put a drive together on its second possession as well, but the Colts defense stopped the Millers on 4th-and-7 on the Colts 18-yard line to force a turnover-on-downs. The stop was the first of four the Colts defense got on fourth-down tries.
“We made some adjustments, we were getting outflanked on the outside,” Starck said. “We just made some adjustments to try and offset what they were doing, and our assistant coaches did a really nice job and the kids adapted and overcame.”
It would be all Thurston after that, with the Colts scoring 33 straight points, including a Will Dau 61-yard touchdown run and two Noah Blair touchdown passes.
“As the game wore on, they got more and more confident and just played better. And I was really proud of them,” Starck said.
“We know that if we put 48 together … we can play with anyone,” Haley said. “They just got the better of us in the third quarter. Their program is really established and good, and, kudos to them for finishing that third quarter.”
The Colts and Millers now find themselves at 3-2 and sit only behind Eagle Point in the Midwestern League standings.
Expectations aside, both teams should be happy with where they are heading into the final four games.
After a slow start, Thurston has hit its stride and looks like the contender everyone expected them to be. On the other side, Springfield looks poised to make the playoffs for the first time since that 2015 season.
And a postseason rematch isn’t out of the question.
Thurston top performers: Noah Blair, 7-for-12, 106 yards, 3 TDs; Will Dau, 12 rushes, 119 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT; Vaun Halstead, 10 rushes, 102 yards, 1 TD, 10 tackles; Darien Witham, 8 rushes, 74 yards, 1 TD; Luke Newell, 2 catches, 37 yards, 1 TD; Walker Bonar, 2 catches, 43 yards , 1 TD; Romynn Schaeffer, 4 tackles, 1 INT.
Springfield top performers: Caeleb Kasperek, 14-for-26, 191 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs, 15 rushes, 42 yards; Connor Dye, 16 rushes, 59 yards, 2 catches, 7 yards; Dwayne Fotta, 3 catches, 98 yards, 1 TD, 1 rush, 33 yards, 1 TD, 90-yard KR for TD; Zach Sherman, 3 catches, 46 yards.