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Corvallis returns to the top after move to Class 5A.

Byline: Steve Mims The Register-Guard

Corvallis was arguably the state's top prep football program in the 1970s and '80s.

The Spartans won four state titles under coaches Chuck Solberg and Gary Beck and advanced to three other championship games while winning eight league titles from 1969-86.

Then in a 19-year span from 1987-2005, Corvallis made the playoffs three times and won one playoff game as the Valley League became dominated by Salem schools.

Now in the first year of prep reclassification, the Spartans are not only back in the playoffs, but Corvallis is in the state final for the first time in 20 years. Corvallis (11-1) faces Mid-Willamette Conference rival West Albany (13-0) in the inaugural OSAA Class 5A football final Saturday at 2 p.m. at Autzen Stadium.

"It's a huge deal for us because we have been building toward this," said coach Chris McGowan, a 1985 Corvallis graduate. "We were a great team a long time ago, we suffered through some tough years, and to see it come back is rewarding."

When McGowan was hired in 2002, Corvallis had gone nine straight seasons without making the playoffs. Corvallis reached the second round in 2003 and then missed the postseason the last two years.

"When I first started, I wanted to build a quality program and leave it at that," McGowan said. "I had no idea there would be realignment, so at the time it was realistic to build a program that would be a playoff contender. To think beyond that was really not the goal at the time. But with realignment and our continuing advancement, it made the whole state championship a possibility."

McNary and Sprague were the top Valley teams during the past decade, and South Salem and McKay were usually the other top contenders.

All those schools moved up to 6A this year and programs like Corvallis, West Albany and Lebanon became contenders in the new Mid-Willamette Conference. Those three schools all reached the 5A semifinals and two are left in the championship game.

West Albany is enjoying its greatest season ever as the Bulldogs reached the semifinals this season for the first time since 1968 and will now play in their first state final. The Bulldogs made the 4A playoffs last year for the third time in 16 years.

"I think 5A is a very appropriate class for schools like ours," McGowan said. "It feels better. In the old Valley League when you would go up to Salem they had far more kids on the sideline, not just in varsity but in freshman as well. It was an uphill battle. Year in and year out, we are better off playing teams more like us. It feels right playing a team that is like your peer instead of a larger school."

While reclassification may have sped up the rise of Corvallis, McGowan said the program was making progress.

"We've had good athletes come through, there is no question about that," he said. "Our coaching staff features a lot of Corvallis High grads, and they have taken pride in the program and stuck around. We've had the same coaching staff for five years but make no mistake, these are good kids and hopefully we put them in a good spot."

The Spartans now find themselves in a spot they have not been since 1986 when they lost to Glencoe, 17-7, in the title game. Corvallis is seeking its first state title since 1983, when it beat Lakeridge, 24-7.

"Our kids were not even born during those years, but as far as the program being an extension of the community, for all the people related to those days, this is kind of a breath of fresh air," McGowan said.

SATURDAY'S STATE TITLE GAMES

4A: Sisters vs. Siuslaw, 11 a.m.; 5A: West Albany vs. Corvallis, 2 p.m., TV: FSN; 6A: Jesuit vs. Southridge, 5 p.m., TV: FSN, Autzen Stadium.
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Title Annotation:Sports; The Spartans have enjoyed picking on somebody their own size
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Dec 8, 2006
Words:653
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