Remembering Siuslaw vs. South Umpqua round one

Siuslaw faced South Umpqua at state in 1981 at Autzen Stadium, ultimately sharing the win. (Siuslaw News file photo)

Vikings faced Lancers for a state title in 1981

Nov. 27, 2021 — When Siuslaw and South Umpqua take the field on Saturday morning, it will be the second time these two teams play for a state title. On Nov. 28, 1981, the Viks and Lancers met in the final of the AA state playoffs. In what now seems like an antiquated turn of events, at the end of the game, both teams went home with the state title. 

The Vikings and Lancers both came into the 1981 Oregon AA State Football Playoffs as league champs — Siuslaw of the Far West and South Umpqua from the Skyline — but by no means were either team one of the favorites to advance to the championship game. Both teams had tough roads to the title game. 

Siuslaw’s journey was not quite as daunting as South Umpqua, who went through #1 ranked Henley and #2 Cascade to get a chance to play the Vikings. 

Siuslaw didn’t face the top ranked teams in the state, but still had a few challenging games to reach the final. SHS came back from 17 down to upset #4 North Valley in round one. After that, they overcame two fourth-quarter fumbles to squeak by #10 Central Linn in the quarterfinals 12-6. In the semifinals, Siuslaw blew out #8 Central 28-7 to earn the trip to the championship game.  

As is the case in 2021, it seemed the entire town of Florence had been overtaken with “Viking fever.” Siuslaw’s coaches and players also had high hopes to bring home the school’s first ever state championship, in any sport. 

“The whole town is excited,” said Viking Head Coach Len Lutero. “We would sure like to bring the state championship to Florence.”

On the morning of the game, Coos Bay’s The World had a headline across the sports page that read, “Only One Cinderella Team Can Survive.”

How wrong they would be. 

The game was held at University of Oregon’s Autzen Stadium in Eugene. In 1981, it was a smaller and less sophisticated facility than it is today, but still was the “big time” for any Oregon high school football player.

This was the third trip to the title game for South Umpqua in the last six years. The Lancers had won one, tied one and lost one.

Siuslaw had never won a state title in football but finished second to Pleasant Hill in 1974.

Though both teams played hard smash-mouth football, neither team could do much offensively. SHS 1,000-yard rusher Scott Parker only had 19 yards on 11 carries and the entire Viking team only had 138 yards. The Lancers didn’t do much better with only 189 yards of their own.

South Umpqua had a handful of chances to put points on the board. In one missed opportunity, Siuslaw’s Todd Dodson, brother of starting quarterback and future SHS head football coach Tim, intercepted a Lancer pass in the Viking endzone. The Lancers also missed three field goals. 

Siuslaw got the ball with 2:24 remaining in the game. It appeared Coach Lutero had resolved to make a priority of not losing the game instead of trying for a win, as his squad ran the ball three times and punted with six seconds left in the game. South Umpqua hoped to attempt one last play, but the time ran out as the Viking punt sailed through the air. 

The game ended in a 0-0 tie.

So it was that the 1981 AA Football State Championship was shared by the Siuslaw Vikings and the South Umpqua Lancers.

The players on both sides were disappointed by the result, while the coaches were able to look at the tie with the perspective of two men with a little more life experience. 

According to Don Hunt’s “History of Siuslaw Viking Football,” Lutero told a Eugene Register-Guard reporter, “It’s like John Keats once wrote, ‘Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter.’ The players are unhappy now, but I think they’ll realize that they were champions. Those melodies unheard will come in time.: 

South Umpqua coach Ken Wigle had a similar sentiment about his second co-championship in the last five years. 

“If two teams are even for 48 minutes, they should be co-champions,” said Wigle. “I felt that way in 1976 (when the Lancers tied Gold Beach 8-8 in the title game) and I feel the same way now. We would have felt a lot worse if it had gone into overtime and been decided on a fluke play.”

So, the current all-time championship game series standings between Siuslaw and South Umpqua sits tied, both teams 0-0-1 against each other. 

That tie will be decided this Saturday afternoon when these same two teams meet in Cottage Grove, this time for the 3A title.

In 2021, if regulation time ends with a tie score, overtime is played until a resolution is attained. Unlike 1981, only one team will be named football champion of the state of Oregon.

The 2021 OSAA 3A Football State Championship Game between #3 South Umpqua Lancers and the #1 Siuslaw Vikings will be held at Herald White Stadium at Cottage Grove High School on Saturday, Nov. 27, at 11 a.m. For tickets, visit osaa.hometownticketing.com/embed/event/387?es=8khsi8alfksrtr2cn4bofu18m2.

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