Prep Football Roundup: Willamette-North Eugene Hunt League Win

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Thurston High's offense (white jerseys) has had a productive first two games. (Courtesy of Tara Reaves)

Self-sabotage has hindered one team. Physical play by its most recent opponent has jolted the other. Regardless of how they’ve arrived at their current states, one team should break through on Friday, and a losing streak will end when Willamette goes to North Eugene for a 5A Midwest League game.

Willamette Wolverines Football
Willamette quarterback Kosey Mitchell (7) hands the ball off to Sam Aguirre (15) | (Gary Breedlove/EDN)

North Eugene’s Highlanders have yet to win a game in three tries, and the Willamette Wolverines have lost two-straight games since winning 34-20 in Week 1 over Corvallis. Both teams are 0-1 in league play. If you look at their points for and points against statistics, both teams have had similar experiences. North Eugene scored 35 points in Week 1 and scored a total of just 13 in the subsequent two games, while Willamette had 34 that first week and managed just 15 in the following two games. On defense, both teams have allowed about the same number of points, 88 for Willamette and 90 for North Eugene.

While these numbers may be similar, how they’ve gotten where they are is different. “Right now we are simply shooting ourselves in the foot,” North Eugene head coach Edmund Rivera said. “We’re making silly mistakes that are costing us first downs on defense. We’re scrambling when we don’t need to, and we’re running our (receiving) routes wrong.”

At Willamette, Adam Kennybrew is a first-year head coach still working to gain the trust of players who have experienced losing seasons of late. The 54-6 loss to Springfield last week has meant a re-examination of team identity at Willamette. Springfield’s physical dominance of the Wolverines has prompted Kennybrew and his assistants to actively compete with their players in practice to prepare players for more physical games. “There was nothing that prepared me for that (loss),” Kennybrew said. “I have more confidence in out team.”

“(Springfield) came really aggressive and that impacted our level of execution…We’re building up to being a team that isn’t going to let teams come and punch us in the mouth. We’re coming from a different place. This is a place where we can throw the first punch. (Players) have communicated with us that it is new to them…It’s humiliating to have an opponent dominate you on game day. We are going to work harder and be more physical (in practice) than their opponents.”

“Coaches got in (drills) to show them how not to get man-handled. It’s fun for them to see coaches get in the trenches. We have to figure out a way to change it and make it better. We will push kids by getting in there and getting physical with them and talking trash with them like opponents have done. And if they’re not intimidated by coaches, they shouldn’t be intimidated by other teams.”

Springfield Improves to No. 7 in 5A Poll

Springfield’s solid win over Willamette last week had voters for the OregonLive.com Class 5A poll electing to make the Millers the seventh-ranked team in the state. Springfield head coach Dave Heuberger says there may have been some uncertainty about whether his program’s 2012 success was an aberration, but his players are doing a good job of putting to rest any thoughts of it being a fluke. “Some people thought, is it a one year deal? But we’re playing quality football and working hard in the weight room. It isn’t something where we sit back and say we’ve arrived.”

Springfield Millers Football
Springfield quarterback Trever Watson avoids a Willamette defender in last year’s game against the Wolverines. (Courtesy of Springfield Miller Football Facebook Page)

The Millers are 2-1 overall and 1-0 in league heading into their game against Eagle Point (1-2, 0-1). Springfield’s lone loss is to second-ranked Silverton. In it’s two wins, sophomore quarterback Trever Watson has completed 18 of 27 passes for 460 yards and five touchdowns. He’s also carried the ball 11 times for 230 yards. Sophomore receiver Braydon Haas has had a pair of touchdown receptions of 60-or-more yards and been a threat on reverse plays. “Offensively, we’re starting to put the pieces in the right place and getting the ball to the right people,” Heuberger said. “What’s making the difference is that other players are stepping up.”

Churchill Confronts No. 5 Ashland

After picking up its first win of the season last week, Churchill began preparations to play an undefeated Ashland team that became the first Midwestern League team to hand Marist a defeat since the Spartans entered the league in 2010. “We were looking at them on film and this may be the best Ashland team we’ve played…,” Churchill head coach Darrell Mehl said. “It’s nice that we have them here. They beat Marist, and it wasn’t a fluke.”

The 21-7 win over Marist moved Ashland (3-0 overall, 1-0 in league) to No. 5 in the OregonLive.com Class 5A poll. Meanwhile, Churchill improved to 1-2 overall and 1-0 in league. Mehl said in the win quarterback Justin Kearney endured several tough hits, including two late-hit penalties. He finished with 20 completed passes on 30 attempts for 218 yards and one touchdown.

Churchill Lancers Football
Churchill’s Justin Kearney (2) passes to Brenden Nesbitt (8) in a loss to South Eugene | (Gary Breedlove/EDN)

“Most kids would have taken the night off after getting hit a few times,” Mehl said. “But he got back up, got in the huddle and got us going again.”

Mehl says the Ashland quarterback Danial White could be the top quarterback in the league. White is 38-for-58 with 578 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception. “They have good receivers and good speed. They have a nice scheme, and they are well-coached. We have our hands full and then some.”

Axemen Shuffling Offensive Line

One team that had its fill last week was South Eugene. The Axemen (2-1, 0-1 in 6A Southwest Conference) lost their first game of the season, 49-7 to Sheldon. South Eugene coach Chris Miller says his team committed seven mental errors in the game’s first 10 plays. “We just caved in and made mental error after mental error. There’s got to be an accountability factor,” Miller said.

South Eugene fumbled the ball twice, threw an interception and had a punt blocked, all of which led to Sheldon scores. A point of improvement is offensive blocking, Miller said, and it will continue to be an issue when South Medford comes to South Eugene Friday. The Panthers are 0-3 and 0-1, but Miller says they’ve played tougher opponents than South Eugene. “They’re a physical team and run old-school stuff, so we’ll need stop the running game,” Miller said. “Defensively, they like to bring pressure.”

The Axemen offensive line provided little protection for quarterback Ray Roundtree against Sheldon. Miller says he’s working to find the right combination of players on the line that he can count on for the remainder of the season. Finding the right center is a big part of this issue. Miller says three different players are vying for the position. “We go as the center goes. When you snap the ball on the ground or over your quarterback’s head, it just ruins the play,” Miller said. “You get to where you look like a circus. You’re in recovery mode, and it’s really just a waste of a down. In week four, you’d like to think you’re beyond that.”

“Hopefully, the team can get stronger as we go.”

Other Notable Performances

Sheldon quarterback Joseph Kuehn had a season-high in touchdown passes with four against South Eugene. In the first three games, Kuehn has thrown just one interception and six TDs. “Joseph played against (South Eugene) like he has all year…very steady,” Sheldon coach Lane Johnson said. OregonLive.com’s third-ranked 6A team, Sheldon (2-1, 1-0) heads to North Medford on Friday to play the Black Tornadoes (2-1, 1-0). “North Medford is much improved. (They have a) shifty QB, hard-running tailback and a solid offensive line,” Johnson said. “Their defense flies around and is very sound.”

Thurston Colts Football
Thurston quarterback Brendin Quinn drops back to pass against West Salem | (Courtesy of Tara Reaves)

In Springfield, Thurston is coming off its first win of the season and quarterback Brendin Quinn leads the Southwest Conference in passing with 878 yards in three games. Quinn had a season-best 337 yards passing in the Colts’s 38-35 win at South Medford. The Colts (1-2, 1-0) will play host to eighth-ranked Roseburg (3-0, 1-0).

From the Bleachers

It took me a moment to figure it out, but I quickly got why Sheldon’s bleachers looked like a casting call for Revenge of the Nerds when the Irish knocked around South Eugene, 49-7 last Friday. Sheldon and  South Eugene have this rivalry based on the idea that Sheldon High is all about jockdom and athletic achievement, while South Eugene is more concerned about academics than victories (Last season at South Eugene as the Axemen were again losing to the Irish, South Eugene students consoled themselves with cheers of: “G-P-A! G-P-A!”). Ok, we get it: school priorities appear to differ. At least that would be the easy black and white assumption. It’s all fun and games on Friday night, but here’s hoping for balancing football acumen and classroom excellence.

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David has been a sports reporter for five of his 10 years as a professional journalist. Before moving to Eugene in 2010, he worked as a reporter with daily newspapers in Ohio, Missouri, Tennessee, Minnesota and Florida. He is a journalism instructor at the University of Oregon and believes that strong reporting and compelling story telling will keep them reading.

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