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By Dan Brood | Photos by Ken Waz 

Big games. 

Big crowds.

Big performances.

All topped off with a victory.

Put that all together, and you very well could come up with Gunner Yates.

Yates, a 2022 Coquille High School graduate, certainly seems to shine at the biggest moments. He’s done that at the Les Schwab Bowl — twice.

The speedy Yates, scoring a couple of long touchdowns, helped Team Columbia sprint to a 28-9 win over Team Willamette in the 2022 Les Schwab Bowl, a high school football all-star game played Saturday at Linfield University in McMinnville.

“It’s a good way to end the high school career,” Yates said following Saturday’s contest. “It’s good playing with these guys. It’s going to be really memorable.”

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Yates accomplished a memorable — and very rare — feat with Saturday’s victory, becoming a two-time winner in the Les Schwab Bowl. He also was on the winning team in the 2021 contest, helping the South get a 31-8 win over the North

The 2021 Les Schwab Bowl was the first year that nonseniors could play in the game. Yates and lineman Kale Paslay, a 2022 Marist Catholic graduate, were the only players to be on the victorious South team in 2021 and then play for the winning Team Columbia squad in 2022, making them the first two-time winners in the 74-year history of the event.

“It’s a big deal,” the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Yates said. “It’s me and Kale. He’s a two-time winner as well. Absolutely, it’s special. It’s a really big deal.”

Winning big games is nothing new for Yates.

In the fall of 2021, he helped Coquille get a 38-28 victory over Kennedy in the Class 2A state title contest at Cottage Grove High School. Yates ran for an OSAA state championship game record 388 yards and five touchdowns on 23 carries.

“Not too bad, huh?” Yates said with a smile.

In his Les Schwab Bowl debut in 2021, Yates had an interception and rushed for 15 yards on three carries, scoring on a 4-yard run, in the South’s victory.

“Last year was a good time,” Yates said. “I met a lot of good guys, so I wanted to come back.”

He did come back for the 2022 game, the first under a new format, where players were drafted by Team Columbia head coach Steve Pyne, who led Central Catholic to the 2021 Class 6A state championship, and by Team Willamette head coach Dan Lever, who guided Tualatin to the Class 6A title tilt.

Pine ended up looking very smart for drafting the running back/defensive back from the small town in Coos County.

Yates helped set up Team Columbia’s second touchdown. He had back-to-back runs of 14 and seven yards, moving the ball to the Team Willamette 21-yard line. On the next play, Team Columbia quarterback Cru Newman, a Central Catholic junior-to-be, threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to tight end Grayson Starck, a 2022 Thurston graduate.

Yates then took over the scoring duties for Team Columbia, scoring on two big plays.

First, he reached the end zone on a 52-yard run, sprinting down the left sideline, giving Team Columbia a 21-0 lead with 14 minutes and 28 seconds left in the second quarter. 

“I got some good blocks, a block from the slot,” Yates said. “Saw some open field and turned up. It was good.”

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Later in the period, Yates caught a swing pass from Newman on the left side of the field, again got to the left sideline and, again, sprinted to the end zone to complete a 59-yard scoring play, making it 28-0.

“I went out, slipped out. They forgot about me,” Yates said. “I just turned up the field and got away from them.”

Yates finished with 72 yards on five carries, and he was named Team Columbia offensive Most Valuable Player.

“Everybody’s watching, so you have to perform, I guess,” Yates said of coming up big in big games. “I don’t get lost in the moment. It’s just football — go out and have fun with the boys.” 

And, for the second year in a row, Yates had plenty of fun at the Les Schwab Bowl.

“I got more playing time this year. I got one more touchdown this year, so this was great,” he said. “This week was great. Had a lot of fun. Meet some new people, and it was some great coaching.”

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Following Saturday’s game, just like after the 2021 contest, Yates was surrounded by many people — friends and family — all wanting photos with him.

“That means a lot,” he said. “That’s my family coming up here and supporting me. That’s great.”

As for the future, Yates said he’s looking to play at Southern Oregon University in Ashland.

“I think I’m going to go down to Southern and run the ball there,” he said.

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