Headed into their game against an undefeated, conference rival Sheldon Irish (8-0, 6-0) team, the Thurston Colts (4-4,4-2) had a lot going in their favor. For one, there was the presumed advantage of playing on the natural surface of their home stadium. Grass fields can be a problem for teams, like the Irish, who are used to playing on the uniform footing of artificial turf.
The weather also seemed to be on their side as intermittent downpours saturated the ground, quickly turning the playing surface into a spongy, mud-slick expanse. Inclement conditions like those tend to favor a straight ahead, up-the-gut run game like Thurston’s over the sweeping end runs favored by Sheldon. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work in theory.
“We don’t play on grass very often,” said Sheldon head coach Lane Johnson after the game. “It was not a factor for our kids, which I’m proud of, and we played Sheldon football. It was fun.”
“It was strange playing on the grass,” said Sheldon QB Taylor Allie, “but once we adjusted we played very well.”
Early on in Thurston’s 49-8 loss to undefeated conference rival Sheldon, the Colts appeared to have the makings of an upset on their hands. Following the opening kickoff, their defense forced the visiting Irish to turn the ball over on downs at their own 33, setting up Thurston’s offense in prime position to take a quick lead. Sheldon was able to get the ball right back on an interception by Connor Strahm, but the Colts’ defense held firm, stopping the visitors short of midfield and forcing a punt.
After that, things began to take a far more unpleasant turn for the home team. Four plays later, Sheldon’s special teams unit blocked a punt that was then recovered by DE Brett Nielsen for a touchdown. Thurston’s next possession, a promising 59-yard drive deep into enemy territory was undone on a fumble on a botched play fake that was recovered again by Nielsen. Soon the Irish were once again celebrating a touchdown, this time on a 55-yard Allie pass to Strahm, who caught the ball in double coverage, broke free of his would-be tacklers, and streaked across the goal line to put his team up, 14-0.
The Colts’ punt on their following possession was quickly followed up with yet another Allie touchdown pass, this time a 21-yard completion to WR Ivan Faulhaber up the seam. Faulhaber then extended the Irish lead to 28-0 by snagging an interception and returning it for a TD.
Thurston was able to respond with a balanced drive to Sheldon’s 3 yard line, where they assaulted the Irish defensive line with a heavy dose of old-fashioned battering ram runs up the middle until QB Chris Weick finally punched through into the end zone. The Colts then converted a successful 2 point conversion to close the gap to 28-8.
Unfortunately for them, that marked one of the few times in the entire game that the Colts were able to get within spitting distance of the Irish goal line. A big part of the problem was that Weick’s success moving the ball on keepers and scrambles was not matched by similar production through the air (0 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, 40.9% completion rate).
Not that Thurston just rolled over and let them win, as the Colts players kept up their aggressiveness on defense all game long. Sheldon’s high-powered offense had only been forced to punt a handful of times by their previous seven opponents combined, but Thurston forced them to punt 5 times. In the second half, the Irish scoring frenzy dropped off as the Colts’ defense succeeded in limiting them to a single TD in each of the last two quarters, a 22-yard reverse run by Dylan Lewis and a Ryan Fisher run from 18 yards out.
However, Thurston’s offense was unable to match the intensity of the team’s defensive unit. Of their seven possessions in the second half, three ended with punts, two with interceptions, one with a turnover on downs, and the last when the clock finally ran out in the fourth quarter.
“I thought we were going to play them a lot closer than [we did] today,” said Colts receiver Jack Miller afterwards. “We’ve played against these guys forever and it’s always been close. They came to play, and I think a lot of our team let their reputation come get us,” he continued, referring to Sheldon’s propensity for blowout wins.
Next week, the undefeated Sheldon Irish will play host to the Grants Pass Cavemen, while the 4-4 Thurston Colts will play a road game against the South Eugene Axemen. Both games begin at 7 PM on Friday the 26th.
South Eugene: It’s been another long, painful season for South (0-8, 0-6). The Axemen have scored 111 points while allowing 378. Last night’s game? A 48-12 loss to Crater. They go for their last chance at a win next week against Thurston.
Churchill: The Lancers (6-2, 4-2) bounced back from a blowout loss to get a blowout win. Marist destroyed CHS last week, but last night the Lancers bounced back with a 40-0 win over North Eugene. Churchill travels to Springfield for their regular season finale.
Marist: As is the usual this time of the year, the Spartans (7-1, 6-0) are in prime position for a deep playoff run. Marist beat Springfield 35-14 last night and play their final regular season game against North Eugene.
Springfield: The Millers (6-2, 5-1) have looked great in their wins, but pretty bad in their losses. After a 62-0 drubbing of North Eugene last week, South lost 35-14 to 5A Marist. They’ve also been an anomaly, going 2-2 at home and 4-0 on the road. They play Churchill next Friday to finish up the regular season.
North Eugene: The Highlanders (2-6, 2-4), after starting the season 2-2 have loss four straight games including the 40-0 nothing loss last night. Int their last four contests, they’ve given up 219 points (54.5 per game) and only scored six points (1.5 per game). Their final game is against Marist Friday night.
Willamette: The Wolverines (1-7, 0-6) have looked almost as bad as South Eugene this season. Willamette got their one and only win in week two against the Axemen, and have lost six straight including a 50-6 loss last night to Ashland.