Questionable to play because of a knee injury, Salmon River standout Canyon Harper decided to suit up Saturday for a 1A Division II state championship battle with Kendrick.
And battle he did.
Fighting through knee pain, muscle cramps and even vomiting, Harper carried the Savages with 173 rushing yards and three touchdowns in a 30-20 victory at Middleton High. The sophomore added 44 receiving yards and scored three two-point conversions as Salmon River captured its fourth state title in five seasons.
Harper will sleep well for a few days — and he’ll sleep as a state champion.
“Most people don’t get this chance,” Harper said. “I wasn’t going to miss it, and I wanted to make something out of it.”
Playing on the 17th anniversary of its first state championship victory, Salmon River (11-1) set the tone early with a long, methodical drive capped by Harper’s 1-yard touchdown run.
Kendrick (9-2) responded with touchdown runs by Mason Hewett and Blake Marker, the second coming after Salmon River threw an interception.
Down 14-6 and needing a spark, the Savages turned to Harper, who delivered by eluding multiple tackles and blasting down the sideline for a 47-yard TD. He added the two-point conversion to tie the score — and Salmon River would not trail again.
“I laid it down pregame in the locker room. I told him he was going 100 percent, or he wasn’t going at all,” Salmon River coach Charlie Shepherd said of Harper, whose injury didn’t allow for any hard running until Friday’s practice. “And it’s a good thing we had him, because him going all-out is pretty effective.”
Harper added a 5-yard TD run and two-point play just before halftime as the Savages took a 22-14 lead into the locker room.
In the second half, Salmon River’s offense took a backseat to a swarming defense led by linemen Gabe Gonzalez, Keith Conner and linebacker Peyton Baugh. Kendrick scored on its first possession of the third quarter, but the Tigers — who averaged 48 points per game coming into the contest — were stymied after that, punting once and turning the ball over on downs thrice more.
“Keith was a big factor,” Gonzalez said. “When they would double-team me, he’d make plays, and when they would double-team him, that would leave me open.”
Kendrick managed just 190 yards, including 63 after halftime. Gonzalez, a senior, and Conner, a freshman, combined for five quarterback sacks as the Savages held the Tigers to 4 yards passing.
“They weren’t able to pass the ball because of our defensive line play, and that sunk their boat,” Shepherd said.
Salmon River senior quarterback Tucker Boyd had an efficient game, completing 11-of-18 passes for 115 yards. His third-quarter TD pass to fellow senior Clayton Shepherd provided the final margin.
Marker led Kendrick with 80 rushing yards and two TDs, while Hewett added 78 yards on the ground. Salmon River racked up 306 yards, with Harper pushing his season yards-from-scrimmage total to 1,981 with 28 TDs. It is Salmon River’s second championship repeat — the Savages also went back-to-back in 2012 and 2013.
“It’s so hard to win a state title, and to do it back-to-back twice now is pretty unbelievable,” Shepherd said. “It never gets old.”