One Game Left—all the marbles are at stake
This is prep football championship weekend in Oregon
For many Oregonians, it is a semi-abbreviated week of work. Thanksgiving is Thursday, and students around the state also have Friday off for the holiday weekend. There is also the big college football game formerly known as the Civil War between Oregon and Oregon State.
There is one more item to add to this week’s events: championship weekend, Oregon’s prep football edition.
In years past, the 6A title contest had been a week later than the rest of the championship contests. But with the creation of the Columbia Cup—and the halving of 6A title teams in the process—the 6A post season is now in line with the rest of the state.
With that in mind, this writer—retired and tired at the same time—is combining two columns into one in preparation for the holiday festivities, which in my case means moderate amounts of Thanksgiving food combined with an expectation of dish washing on my part (that’s my wife saying “yeah, RIGHT!” over my shoulder.)
First up, results from last week’s 6A post season games.
6A Columbia Cup
Westview 35, Lakeridge 14: After scoring five touchdowns and rushing for nearly 350 yards against Sprague two weeks ago, #18 Westview’s Jordan Fisher dialed it back a little, but still ran up his frequent flier miles Friday, with 201 yards on 32 carries while recording three touchdowns on the night in the Wildcat’s 35-14 rout of #22 Lakeridge at Hillsboro Stadium.
Westview quarterback Nolan Keeney threw for one score and ran for another for the winners, who improved to 7-5 with the victory, and advanced the squad to the first ever title game in the Columbia Cup bracket. The Wildcats led 22-0 at half, and 28-0 before Lakeridge finally got on the board.
The Lakers’ Ryan Oliver completed 17 of 25 passes for 205 yards and one touchdown.
For the three-game post season to date, Fisher has rushed for 774 yards and total 10 touchdowns.
Lakeridge completed their season with a record of 5-7.
North Salem 39, Liberty 21: North Salem scored on their opening drive, and led 20-7 early in the second quarter before #17 Liberty rallied to take a 21-20 lead at intermission. But the #28 Vikings kept the Falcons out of the end zone the rest of the game, resulting in a stunning 39-21 win at Wilsonville High School. The victory propels North to the first-ever Columbia Cup championship game—and the school’s first shot at a football title trophy in nearly sixty years.
It was a career game for North’s Jerrik Wangler, who rushed for 155 yards on 20 carries and three touchdowns. That included a 71 yard sprint through the Liberty defense in the third quarter. Wangler’s backfield mate—the prolific Josiah Davis—was injured twice during the game, but still recorded 70 yards rushing.
North coach Jeff Flood says he and the team were not worried about watching their first half lead evaporate just before halftime.
”They didn’t have a lot success stopping us in the first half,” said Flood about the Falcons.
“We felt like we could run the ball against them, throw the ball against them. And we did… with that big pass catch for (tight end) Chris Harsen.”
Vikings QB TC Malumaleuna did complete 5 of 9 passes for 150 yards, including a 20 yard TD pass to Erick Gonzalez, and the 66 yard bomb to Harsen, who broke several tackles along the way. It was Harsen’s first reception of the season.
Defensively, junior Pierce Walker had a standout game—making a goal line tackle to deny Liberty a touchdown on fourth down—and picking off a Falcon pass, returning it for a 21 yard touchdown.
Defensively, junior Pierce Walker had a standout game—making a hard-hitting goal line tackle to deny Liberty a touchdown on fourth down—and picking off a Falcon pass late in the game, returning it for a 21-yard touchdown.
Defensive coordinator Caleb Singleton had high praise for his players.
“Our kids had to be patient, and reading the (Liberty) offense was the game plan this week. And we did that.”
Liberty finished their season with a record of 7-5. North Salem (8-4) won their third straight playoff game against a higher seeded team, including the first two games on the road.
(Author’s note: if you want to read an analysis of the significance of this year’s football season for North Salem, check out this column penned by yours truly over the weekend. Coach Flood thought it wasn’t bad.)
COLUMBIA CUP TITLE GAME: Who you got?
North Salem (8-4) vs. Westview (8-4): This game is pretty even on paper. Both teams have solid defenses, although Viking fans think their D has been getting better each and every week. I tend to agree.
Offensively, Westview actually has some semblance of balance with Nolan Keeney making mostly on-target throws on the flanks to his receivers against defenses that tend to creep up to stop the stellar running of all-state nominee Jordan Fisher. Keeney also runs the ball effectively himself.
North Salem’s offensive balance is less about run vs. pass, and more about WHO runs the ball. Senior running back Josiah Davis—who was knocked out of last week’s game twice versus Liberty—is questionable for the championship. The Vikings still have plenty of ground game behind the strong legs of fullback Jerrick Wangler, wing DeMari Thompson (the reigning 5A sprints champion) and hard-nosed Micah Richter.
North is not without a passing game, and it has grown gradually over the season. Junior TC Malumaleuna threw for 150 yards in the Liberty game, completing 5 of 9 passes. His favorite target—the acrobatic Erick Gonzalez—caught a 20-yard TD. And tight end Chris Harsen’s long, rumbling 66 yard pass-catch shows defenses can’t just cover the wideouts and the backs.
Special Teams: This could be an issue if Davis can’t play, as he boots the PATs and kicks off. The Wildcats have a solid place kicker (Aidan Cox) who hit 5 of 6 extra points against Sprague. But Westview isn’t above going for a two-point conversion just to create an advantage. And—punting-wise, the Wildcats only weak spot was the long snap, which was off line or over the head of the punter a few times two weeks ago.
Intangibles: Minimizing mistakes is the key. With aggressive defenses, there can be problems with late hit penalties and pass interference. This isn’t to say the two sides will dial back their hard-hitting style, but they will have to pick their spots. Hits produced due to high emotions tend to lead to bad outcomes.
Another big key is avoiding so called “dead ball penalties.” These are flags dropped for infractions like lining up offsides, or jumping on the snap count. Those mistakes happen to both the offense and the defense. North Salem had two flags for lining up offsides against Liberty, but generally they have greatly reduced those sorts of infractions this season. I don’t have stats at my finger-tips, but Westview has won eight in a row, so it is safe to say they have also been minimizing mistakes.
My pick: no spread, no predicted score. This comes down to a wholistic analysis of the season each team has had combined with… my gut.
Westview lost five of their first six against squads that include both 5A teams (Wilsonville and Summit) playing for that classification’s championship, along with two teams (Mountainside, Jesuit) that won their first-round championship bracket game, along with a third (Tualatin) that was eliminated in the semi-finals. Impressive on the surface.
Things look a little less clear in examining the other half of the Wildcats’ season: of the six straight Westview wins, there were four shutouts. But only one of those was against a playoff team (Sprague)—a team that actually beat North by a touchdown. Hard to read what that means when it is pointed out that Josiah Davis sat out the Sprague game with turf toe. One other variable is that the Wildcats had two home playoff games to open the Columbia Cup against teams ranked below them.
For North Salem, the year’s 8-4 record is a bit streaky. The Vikings opened the year with three wins in a row, then went 2-4 in the middle of the season, and now they have won three-straight again—all away from home (including the neutral site at Wilsonville High). What’s one more win to make it four in a row?
A closer examination of the rough stretch in the middle of the year showed that all four North losses were to teams in Special District One that qualified for the post season: three of them—North Medford, Grants Pass, and South Salem—qualified for the championship bracket—where they all lost in their opener. The fourth team, Sprague—was eliminated by Westview in round two of the Columbia Cup---but I repeat myself.
In the final analysis, I am going with my gut. North Salem has been the underdog in every one of their post season games, and has come out on top decisively. They are a team playing better than anyone in the cold, wind and rain. They are a team of destiny in many ways. So my prediction—which, with five bucks, will buy you a drink at Starbucks—is the NORTH SALEM VIKINGS.
6A Football Championship Bracket
West Linn 49, Central Catholic 17: This semi-final contest was over early. Top-ranked West Linn took advantage of four Central Catholic turnovers enroute to a decisive 49-17 win at Pioneer Memorial Stadium in Oregon City.
Things didn’t look that positive on West Linn’s opening drive, when Central Catholic intercepted a Lions’ screen pass, and turned it into a touchdown a few plays on junior running back Cade Gehlen’s three-yard run to make it 7-0, Rams.
Central Catholic wouldn’t score again for quite a while.
West Linn went on an offensive tear, scoring TDs on seven consecutive possessions to completely subdue the two-time defending champions by a final score of 49-17.
The Lions scored on a pair of one-yard touchdowns in the first quarter by senior running back Earl Ingle to take a 14-7 lead after one.
West Linn added to the lead on an extended, 93-yard drive that was punctuated by a 59 yard pass from Washington State-bound QB Sam Leavitt to receiver Mark Hamper, and finished with a one yard run by Koffi Kouame to make it 21-7. Kouame finished the game with 101 yards rushing on 16 carries.
After an interception by Lions defensive back Jackson Shelstad, Leavitt threw his first touchdown pass of night—this one a 27 yarder to Hamper to make it 28-7.
After another Central Catholic turnover—this one a fumble—the Lions struck again. Leavitt ran for the next score—a nine-yard scamper—to push the lead to 34-7 with 4 ½ minutes left in the first half.
The last score in the Lions’ first half onslaught came just over two minutes later, when Leavitt struck from the air again—this time a 57-yard pass to junior Wiley Donnerberg to run the advantage to 49-7. It was the last points of the half for West Linn.
Central Catholic wrapped up the first half scoring as time expired with a 34-yard field goal, making the score 42-10 at the break.
In the second half, the Lions left in their starters just long enough to tally their final TD—a 9-yard pass from Leavitt to Hamper with 6:19 left in the third quarter. It was the culmination of a six play, 60-yard drive to make the score 49-10. There would be no more scoring for West Linn, but it was plenty for the Lions—who racked up 305 yards passing on just 10 of 16 passing by Leavitt.
Central Catholic finalized all scoring with 12-yard TD pass from Newman to Amari Abraham midway through the fourth quarter.
The night was not one that Central Catholic would care to relive, scoring 25 points under their season average. Rams QB Cru Newman was harassed all night. He finished the game with 190 passing yards and just 49 yards rushing. Newman was also intercepted a total of three times. #5 Central Catholic finished the year with a record of 10-2.
Top-ranked West Linn (11-1) moves on to the 6A title game Friday at 3:00 pm at Hillsboro Stadium. They will face second-ranked Sheldon (12-0), who beat the Lions 35-31 in week two of the regular season.
Sheldon 28, Tualatin 14: The semi-final battle between the #2 and #3 seeds was a closely contested, but in a game where defense reigned supreme, the higher seed ultimately prevailed, as Sheldon outlasted Tualatin 28-14 in the game played at McNary High School in Keizer.
The #2 Irish started fast. Grafton Robinson got the game underway with a 43-yard kickoff return to the Tualatin 48. It took only four plays to get to the end zone. Sheldon quarterback Brock Thomas threw a 30-yard TD pass to Teitum Tuioti to put his team on the scoreboard first. The PAT made it 7-0 Irish with less than two minutes off the clock.
Tualatin responded quickly, mounting a ten play, 76-yard drive that ate up 4 ½ minutes of clock. Timberwolves running back Luke Ash, who rushed for 97 yards on the night on 22 carries, ran in the first score from 13 yards out. The extra point was blocked to make it 7-6, Sheldon.
Sheldon utilized a little trickery to score quickly in response. Starting from their own 22 yard line, The Irish began with a completion from Thomas to Cade Welch for 31 yards and a first down at the Tualatin 47. Welch then lined up at halfback, and threw a pass to a wide open Luke Leighton, who out-ran the defenders to the end zone. The PAT gave Sheldon the advantage at 14-6, with just 22 seconds off the clock and a little over five minutes left in the first quarter.
Tualatin again ground out another long drive against the stubborn Sheldon defense. Beginning from their own 15 yard line, the Timberwolves consumed over 5 ½ minutes of clock, primarily relying on the running of Luke Ash. But on fourth and three at the Sheldon 18, Ash was tackled by Colby Parosa for no gain—turning the ball over to the Irish.
Just two plays later, Sheldon gave the ball back, after Isaac Peters fumbled at the end of a pass play. Tualatin’s Dylan Munley recovered, and the Timberwolves were back in business at the Irish 37.
The Sheldon defense stiffened again. An incomplete pass and two short runs later, the Timberwolves were forced to punt on fourth and ten. The kick by QB Jack Wagner was downed at the Irish 12.
Sheldon’s next drive also stalled, and they were forced to punt. Tualatin gave the ball back on an errant Jack Wagner pass collected by Iriish’s Nikko Klemm at the Sheldon 11.
Once more, Sheldon could generate no offense, and punted back to the T-Wolves.
And Tualatin finally found their offensive footing again—this time with a quick-strike drive on a short field.
Beginning from the Sheldon 44, Wagner threw a 15-yard pass to Kenen Elder for a first down at the Irish 29. After an incomplete pass and a one yard loss on a Luke Ash run, Wagner found Naasei Lynn down the sideline for a 30 yard TD. The two point conversion was good to tie the game at 14 with 2:15 remaining in the second quarter.
Sheldon wasn’t finished.
The Irish quickly moved down the field, covering 65 yards on six plays in under two minutes. The big play was a 41-yard strike to Luke Leighton from Brock Thomas to the Tualatin nine-yard line. A few moments later, Thomas went to Leighton again—connecting on a nine-yard TD pass. The extra point made it 21-14, Sheldon, with 29 seconds left in the half.
Tualatin took a knee and the game went to intermission.
In the second half, the defenses dominated.
The third quarter was filled with punts, with a couple of drives on both sides ending when they failed to convert on fourth down.
With just under 4 ½ minutes left in the third, Sheldon began a possession from their own 31-yard line after Tualatin turned the ball over on downs.
The series began with another halfback pass from Cade Welch to quarterback Brock Thomas. The play yielded 22 yards.
The Irish then turned to Thomas to shoulder the burden of the drive. Seven of the next eight plays involved the signal caller either running or throwing the ball. After a nine-yard completion to Luke Leighton, Thomas rushed for six and 12 yards to move Sheldon to the Tualatin 20. A pass from Thomas to Tuioti gained 13 yards, and Sheldon had first and goal at the Timberwolves 7-yard line.
Two plays later, and Thomas rushed into the end zone from three yards out to make it 28-14, wrapping up a 9 play, 69-yard drive. Just 1:23 remained in the third quarter.
The fourth quarter was a battle of attrition—neither side yielding any points to the other side. Tualatin was turned back twice by the Sheldon defense, each time failing to convert on fourth down in Sheldon territory. The Irish were content to kill some clock and punt the ball back.
With 2 ½ minutes remaining, the Timberwolves failed to complete a pass on fourth down from the Sheldon 31. The Irish took over and milked the clock down to zero.
The two teams had offensive numbers that were far below their season averages. Sheldon had 314 yards in total offense, while Tualatin was limited to just 357 yards. Brock Thomas had over 200 yards in total offense for Sheldon, passing for 173 yards on 13 of 21 attempts, with no interceptions. He also rushed for 47 yards on 14 carries. Tualatin’s Jack Wagner completed 20 of 30 passes for 218 yards and a touchdown and interception.
Tualatin ends its season with a record of 9-3. Sheldon—Oregon’s only unbeaten 6A football team at 12-0, advances to the state championship game for a rematch with West Linn. Sheldon edged the Lions in week two by a count of 35-31.
6A Football Championship Game: who will win?
This is between #1 (West Linn) and #2 (Sheldon). Sheldon did beat the Lions early in the season by four points, 35-31. Their title contest is scheduled to kickoff at 3:00 pm on Friday.
On paper, it appears Sheldon could/should do it again—that is, beat the highly regarded Lions at Hillsboro Stadium.
For West Linn, scoring lots of points has been their strong suit. 583 points through 12 games, to be exact. That translates into 49.6 points per contest. 6-2, 210 pound senior quarterback Sam Leavitt directs the Lion offense and does it well. The Washington State-bound signal caller threw for better than 2300 yards in the regular season, with 30 TDs against 4 interceptions. They still have a solid defense, which gave up 13.7 points per game through the first 12 contests—which includes 35 points yielded to Sheldon back on September the eighth in their 35-31 loss.
While West Linn’s offense has been very impressive, it is the Sheldon defense that could be the difference.
Sheldon has scored an impressive 565 points, 47.1 points per game. But the defense is even better. The Irish have given up just 6.4 points per game. Throw out the big 31 points against West Linn, and only co-semifinalist Tualatin (14 points) scored more than a single TD. A total of five shutouts are mixed into those statistics.
Sheldon dominated the Special District One all-football selections, led by defensive lineman and defensive player of the year, Teitum Tuioti. The 6-3, 225 pound senior is the son of the University of Oregon’s defensive line coach, and has committed to his hometown Ducks. Tuioti has a total of 80 tackles so far for the Irish, including 30 tackles for loss. Five other Irish defenders were on the first team with similarly impressive numbers.
For the record, Sheldon’s offense in no pushover. Quarterback Brock Thomas—who has been courted by a half-dozen FCS level schools, including Portland State and Northern Arizona—threw for a state best 35 touchdowns with just a pair of interceptions prior to the post season. He has boosted his TD pass total to 41 heading into the championship game. He also has rushed for 16 touchdowns.
While there is some conventional wisdom that says you have a much harder time beating the same opponent twice, this Sheldon team is not one to embrace that view point. They beat Tualatin last week 28-14, shutting out the Timberwolves in the second half. West Linn also played Tualatin this season, and yielded more points in a 42-30 victory.
The power rankings may have given West Linn the edge, but their loss to Sheldon, and the Irish’s consistently better defensive performance makes them the team to beat.
In a pick ‘em game like this one, the outcome won’t be decided until late in the fourth quarter. But I believe Sheldon will claim their first state football title since 2012.
OTHER STATE CHAMPIONSHIP FOOTBALL MATCHUPS THIS WEEKEND
5A Football: Summit of Bend (#1 seed) will face Wilsonville (ranked 2nd) at 7:00 pm Friday at Hillsboro Stadium.
4A Football: Estacada (#5) will play #6 seed Tillamook for the 4A crown on Saturday (11/26) at 4:30 pm at Hillsboro Stadium
3A Football: #2 rated Cascade Christian will square off against #1 Kennedy of Mount Angel on Saturday (11/26) at 4:30 pm at Cottage Grove High School
2A Football: Weston-McEwen/Griswold (#7 seed) faces top ranked Oakland on Saturday (11/26) at 1:00 pm at Hillsboro Stadium.
1A Football/8 man: Lost River (#3) meets top ranked St. Paul on Saturday (11/26) at 1:00 pm at Cottage Grove High School
The 1A/6 man football game was played this past weekend: Spray/Mitchell/Wheeler topped Triangle Lake 32-13 in a contest played at Caldera High School in Bend on Saturday (11/19).
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