COTTAGE GROVE, Ore--- Mazama head coach Vic Lease walks the sideline before kickoff at the 4A State Championship Game. He looks down where the chopped-up rubber meets the green turf and takes in a deep breath.
His Mazama Vikings are about to take on Marist Catholic after the most bizarre season in high school sports history. However, there is a lot more on Lease's mind than just that.
Memories and regrets of Dallas's 1988, 28-21 state championship loss to Philomath is looming in the mind of Mazama's coach.
Lease has come a long way since then. He is not walking the sideline with thoughts of avenging his loss. Instead, he is here to make sure that his players do not experience the same 33-year regret.
"This has been a long journey. You know, all football coaches you know have fond memories of their days back in high school," said Lease. "You know, a long time ago in my senior year, I lost a state championship by a touchdown."
At kick, Lease does not realize how identical to his state championship loss the game is about to be. There will only be a couple subtle differences. Those subtle differences will complete the path of his championship journey.
In 1988, according to Lease, Philomath and Dallas entered the half tied at 21. Only one Philomath touchdown in the 2nd half determined the state champion. The senior center and linebacker left empty handed that day.
Lease spent the last 33 years regretting possibly not doing some things that may have changed the game.
As the halftime horn sounds, Lease looks up to see an identical score. It is 21-21. Lease's walk to the locker room is a trip of deja vu.
Instead of coming up with a movie-like script for his halftime speech, Lease is just honest.
"I felt like reflecting that maybe I didn't do some of the things that I could have done as a high school senior to help us have success," said Lease. "I didn't want any of these boys, especially the seniors, to have any regrets at all. You know, lay it all out on the field. You have two quarters left. You know, it's an even ball game. We are starting from scratch. You got two quarters. Leave it all out here. Play your butts off."
Just like in 1988, only one touchdown will be scored in the final half of the season. This time, it is Lease's team that does the scoring.
With 7:01 left in the 4th quarter, junior Zeke Heaton explodes for a touchdown run and puts the Vikings up by a score.
With 2:24 left in the game, senior Cole Brosterhous intercepts a Marist Catholic pass and puts the final marks on Lease's journey.
"I knew that once he had his hands on that ball, it was ours."
Even as the Vikings' celebration begins, Lease still has something or someone on his mind.
"My head coach Ron August at Dallas High School, he was the greatest mentor football wise I ever had. I love that man. He was like a father figure to me. He has just... he has been on my mind. He has given me the drive to be the football coach I am today. He passed away some years ago. I spoke at his funeral and he has just been on my mind."
For 33 years, Lease felt like he had let the Late Ron August, a state champion coach of Dallas High, down by not winning that championship game. Now, Lease does not have to feel that way anymore.
Emotion is something rare at Mazama football practice, especially from Vic Lease.
"I have seen Coach Lease emotional like, twice in my life and that was in like, the past two days honestly. Last practice and then this big win," says Brosterhous.
Without the two players talking to each other, Zeke Heaton is asked about the emotion coming from his head coach. Like the 1988 and 2021 state championship games, his response is nearly identical to Brosterhous.
"This is like, the second time and it's been like twice in two days and that is about it."
Every parent or coach wants something better for their kids. That is all Vic Lease wants for his players.
As Lease holds the championship trophy, he looks over his players who are sitting on one knee. He wipes a tear off of his left cheek and says "I love you."