REDMOND — The debut season of Central Oregon arena football came to an end Monday night when the Oregon High Desert Storm fell to the Idaho Horsemen in an American West Football Conference playoff — just missing a bid to the league’s championship game.
In the fourth matchup between the Storm and the Horsemen this season, Idaho built a 36-13 lead in the first half and held off a Storm comeback to win 55-37 at the First Interstate Bank Center.
The Horsemen, the defending AWFC champions, will face the Tri-City Rush in the championship game on Saturday in Pasco, Washington.
“We just ran out of time,” said High Desert Storm wideout L.J. Castile. “We just didn’t have enough time.”
In their first game since the July 30 regular-season finale, the Storm were forced to play catchup after the Horsemen scored on the first play from scrimmage following a squib kick on the opening kickoff that was returned to the 1-yard line.
Castile scored three touchdowns for the High Desert Storm, as did running back Parker Lapsley, a Crook County High graduate.
But ultimately, Storm turnovers and a seemingly unstoppable Horsemen offense sent the AWFC’s defending champ to the title game and bounced the league’s expansion squad from the playoffs.
“We weren’t supposed to be here,” said Storm assistant general manager Nick Moss after the game.
The monthlong layoff, due to conflicts with potential venues for the playoff game, proved to be detrimental to the High Desert Storm. The team that took the field Monday night looked very different — especially at the offensive skill positions — than the team that won eight of its 11 regular-season games.
Quarterback Jorge Reyna, whom Storm coach Keith Evans called the best quarterback in the league, moved up to a higher level of arena football and did not play Monday. Also missing were top wideouts Kris Lewis and Davonte Solomon.
In the days leading up to the playoff game, Evans was frantically making calls to fill out his squad. Some of the replacements did not make it to Central Oregon until the day of the game and never practiced with the team.
“I can’t really hang my head for piecing this together,” Evans said. “I had three players that arrived the day of the game. I wouldn’t wish it upon no one.”
While the Storm came up short of a championship, the inaugural season — from getting the team started, to the play on the field, to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic — was viewed as a rewarding one for those wearing the black and gold.
“It was definitely a success,” Evans said. “We definitely dealt with adversity.”
Many of the High Desert Storm players are headed back to their hometowns, while some, like Castile, are staying in Central Oregon. Evans said he will return to the Seattle area to catch up on some family time he missed while coaching this past season.
Due to the pandemic, the 2021 season was later in the year than normal.
It is a quick turnaround for the start of next season, as the Storm will hold tryouts on Oct. 2 to prepare for the ensuing season that is scheduled to begin in late February or early March 2022.
But the loss Monday night still stings after coming up just short of a championship game appearance.
“The game was still winnable,” Evans said. “If I had my guns (key players), I don’t see us losing.”