By Sam Katzman
Sheldon’s 6th grade tackle football team is headed to its second straight KidSports Championship game after defeating Willamette/North 32-12 last Sunday. On an unseasonably warm and cloudless autumn afternoon, the playoff semi-finalists took to the turf at Meadow View School to decide Churchill’s Championship opponent next week.
Anxiety was evident and nervousness proved to be an issue for both teams in the first half. Willamette/North struggled to maintain possession and coughed up the ball several times in the second quarter. Though turnovers were disbursed fairly evenly between both teams early, Sheldon made adjustments after a half-time pep talk from head coach Mark Herbert. According to the coach, his team looked a bit overwhelmed and paid for it with turnovers in the first half. Herbert made it a priority to relax and reassure his players on the sidelines.
“We needed to treat this one like any other game and couldn’t be nervous because it was a playoff game,” said Herbert. “I think we were very nervous in the first half, but we played a lot better in the second half.”
Despite their slow start, Sheldon broke down its opponents on the ground. The defense of Willamette/North had difficulty containing screen passes and hand-offs to wide receiver/running back Matthew Burgess.
The speedy utility man had a breakout performance in this game, scoring four touchdowns while eluding the defense with quick bursts to the outside—looking like Oregon Ducks star wide receiver De’Anthony Thomas. According to Burgess, he credits blocking and play-calling for his productivity.
“Our line makes holes and I’ve been taught to look for daylight in the holes and cut back really fast,” Matthew Burgess said.
After a last second kick return before the half by Willamette/North, the game looked like it was up for grabs. Yet, Sheldon honed in on defense and moved the ball efficiently on offense in the second half. Willamette/North could not respond.
Sheldon’s coach approached this game exactly how he has for every game throughout his team’s fifteen game undefeated streak. Herbert takes pride in outsizing his opponents and wearing them down to exhaustion.
“We felt like we were bigger and more physical and if we could run the ball they would eventually become tired,” said Herbert.
Free safety Stephen Parmenter sealed the victory for Sheldon with his interception return for a touchdown late in the game. Parmenter was forced to sit out of Sheldon’s 5th grade Championship game last year due to an illness. He is eager to contribute and build off his success against Willamette/North when his team returns to the KidSports title game next Saturday at Churchill High School.
As Sheldon prepares for the Championship game against Churchill, Herbert is looking to avoid allowing his players to succumb to the intensity and pressure of a big game atmosphere. “We’re going to treat the Championship just like it’s a regular game and hope that we play well and hard,” said Herbert.
Remaining perfect through two complete seasons and winning back-to-back youth tackle football titles is one of Sheldon’s main concerns. Though playing with a competitive attitude and desire to win is essential for Sheldon athletes, Herbert does not want his team to lose sight of the importance of embracing the blessing of being on the gridiron. Each game is a learning experience for players under Herbert’s leadership to develop their skills.
“I want these kids to learn a love for the game of football, regardless of winning and losing,” said Herbert. “To enjoy the game and all the hard work that goes into it.”