By Sam Katzman
The summer sun has retreated behind an overcast sky, trees are turning golden and the youth flag football season is winding down.
South Eugene defeated Pleasant Hill, 19-12, on the gridiron behind Kelly Middle School on Sunday. One game remains in the regular season for the Emerald KidSports 4th-5th grade flag football league.
After earning another win this week, the South Eugene squad sits in second place with a 6-1 record. The victory was highlighted by an impressive ground performance by South Eugene running back Jonah Sanders. South’s offensive weapon ran for over seventy yards and scored two crucial rushing touchdowns.
Sanders recently moved to Eugene from Tacoma, Wash. Despite being the new man in town, Sanders’ teammates respect his athleticism and were not shy about handing off the ball to him. The talented rusher takes time to recognize his teammates’ contributions after he makes big plays.
“Whenever I score touchdowns, I always remember if I don’t have blockers then I won’t get anywhere. After each touchdown I go thank the tight end, full back, guards, and everybody else,” Sanders said. “It’s a team effort in football.”
There was no shortage of offense in this game. Pleasant Hill managed to keep the game close by answering South Eugene’s points with their own touchdowns. Ultimately, costly penalties and defensive mistakes prevented Pleasant Hill head coach Bryan Etchison and his team from defeating its opponent.
On defense, South Eugene had to adjust in order to halt successful rushes through the center of the line of scrimmage. “It was hard to defend their runs up the middle,” said defensive back/quarterback Kellen Frazier.
This was the first game of the season in which South Eugene head coach Kris Uhlhorn trusted his players to make calls. The added pressure did not appear to interfere with the team’s play. According to Uhlhorn, “I felt like it was a seamless transition. They pretty much called the same plays I would’ve called.”
Teams in the Emerald KidSports flag football league play eight regular season games in preparation for a post-season tournament held in a few weeks. South Eugene will play one more game on October 21, before tuning up for the tournament.
Tackle football is an option for children of this age, but players prefer the less risky confines of flags over pads in this league. According to Sanders, “I am probably going to play flag until 6th grade. Then I will move to contact.”
There was little to complain about on Sunday as South Eugene, sponsored by Kidz Dental Zone, left the field with smiling faces. They will enjoy the victory, but plan on returning to practice more motivated than ever.
“We run our plays over and over again. Our practices are about running plays and being efficient with our time,” said Uhlhorn. “The key to our success is execution.”
College and adulthood is still far in the future for these young competitors—yet that is not stopping their dreams from budding early. Many flag football players look up to University of Oregon football stars and aspire to play on the Autzen turf one day.
“I want to play professional football. I like La’Michael James,” said wide receiver Will Uhlhorn.
Watching the kids develop into athletes and maturing as young men is one of coaches’ and parents’ most rewarding reasons for coming to games. According to Kris Uhlhorn, “They started out as individuals, but as the season has progressed they have come together in spirit and have a lot of faith and confidence in each other.”