They grinned. They laughed. And they posed for pictures. The 25 seniors on the Sheldon football team closed out their final regular season home game at Ludwig Stadium with a 56-23 bruising of Thurston on Friday night. Then, after Sheldon head coach Lane Johnson huddled all his players for a straight-faced, post-game chit-chat, one final bit of youthful fun was in order. So Sheldon junior receiver Kellen Strahm grabbed a white rose that had been given out after the game and he knelt on a knee before starting quarterback Joseph Kuehn, who played along and clutched the rose to his jersey. They laughed, and Strahm made for the locker room like an airplane with his arms stretched to his side weaving past teammates and fans. The hard work done on the field, it was time to enjoy it.
“Our coaches tell us we have to earn it ourselves,” Kuehn said. “Each year is new, and each senior class is new. Our senior class has to develop its own legacy, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
It took no time for the Sheldon Irish to secure its claim to the Southwest Conference game against Thurston. The Irish (6-2 overall, 5-1 in conference) struck fast on two plays after receiving the opening kickoff. A quick 45-yard pass from Kuehn to running back Yadie Dunmore put Sheldon 35-yards from a score. On the next play, Kuehn hit senior receiver Mitchell Herbert for the first score of the game.
“We executed as a team, and that’s what we’re looking to do from the start,” Kuehn said. “It was cool to get the ball first and score on two plays. We were just gaining confidence over time, and we could see they were starting to put their heads down.”
Kuehn completed 13 of 15 passes for 317 yards and threw four touchdown passes. Herbert caught three passes for 100 yards and two of the receptions went for scores. He also had an interception, which the Irish offense converted into an 8-play, 90-yard touchdown drive that ended with a Dunmore touchdown. That was the first of three touchdown runs for Dunmore, who was returning to the field after sitting out last week’s game because of concussion. The senior carried the ball six times for 110 yards, and he caught three passes for 59 yards.
“(Dunmore) didn’t practice in pads until (Thursday), so we didn’t know what we’d have with him,” said Johnson, the Sheldon coach. “The guys behind him did a great job in his place. He just gives us a big-play threat.”
“We knew we needed to be ready from the get go, and we were. And we took the wind out of (Thurston’s) sails early.”
The Colts (1-7, 1-6) used a trick play to score and cut the Irish lead to 14-7. Thurston’s scoring-play started with quarterback Brendin Quinn tossing a lateral pass to tight end Johnny Contreras. The junior then threw his own pass to wide receiver Carson Cook who caught it and ran to complete the 61-yard TD reception. “They got us with the double pass, but other than that, our kids did great,” Johnson said.
Sheldon took no time to respond. On its next possession, the Irish gave the ball to Dunmore for an 80-yard TD run. That began a 35-0 run for the Irish. Sheldon finished with 557 yards of offense, 431 of which came in the first half. Irish receivers averaged 25 yards a reception and running backs averaged 7 yards a carry on the ground. Meanwhile, Thurston struggled early with two interceptions and allowed a 60-yard punt return for a touchdown by Sheldon’s Strahm. “We were physically outmatched,” Thurston coach Justin Starck said. “They have a tremendous program. They have a lot of resources that their kids take advantage of…Totally outmatched.”
In the second half, the Colts outscored Sheldon 16-0, but the first-half deficit was too much. Along with a 20-yard TD catch from Cook, Thurston received nine points from kicker Jay LaVesque’s three field-goals. The sophomore made kicks from 35, 28, and 39 yards.
The Irish are tied for second in the conference with Grants Pass (6-2, 5-1) and will head south to face the Cavemen in the final regular season game for each team. Both Sheldon and Grants Pass have lost to North Medford (7-1, 6-0).