Darrell Mehl

South Eugene Axemen Open With “Unforgettable” Win Over Churchill

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Yes, the win was big. When you’ve won two games in three years like the South Eugene Axemen, one of those being a forfeit, a victory on the football field merits a celebration. So that’s what they did Friday night at South Eugene High’s Morrow Field. The Axemen defeated Churchill High, 35-14, in the season opener for both teams, and, after adhering to the public address announcer’s request to wait for the teams to shake hands, the fans engulfed the field. They ran, they jumped, they smiled.

Fans rush the field after South Eugene's 35-14 win over Churchill. (Gary Breedlove/EDN)
Fans rush the field after South Eugene’s 35-14 win over Churchill. (Gary Breedlove/EDN)

Not since the fifth game of the 2010 season, a 34-28 win over Crater, has South Eugene won a game on the football field, and the last time the Axemen won a season opener was in 2009. “No one’s going to forget this,” Axemen senior defensive lineman Quinton Richardson said. “We had a forfeit (win in 2011), but I don’t count it. This is my first we-scored-more-than-them, we-played-better-than-them win. It felt so right. It felt as if this happened before. It was the weirdest feeling.”

It was the feeling South Eugene head coach Chris Miller hoped to revive when he took over the 6A program this year. The former Oregon and NFL quarterback had coached at South Eugene for five years before leaving after the 2006 season. Entering this year, Miller set three targets for this team: be competitive, earn respect, win the first game. “We competed like crazy. They earned my respect, and I think they earned the respect of the community, our fans and their parents,” Miller said. “So three-for-three’s a good start.”

The Axemen opened the game against their 5A opponent with a 13-play scoring drive, followed by an interception returned for a touchdown by the defense to jump ahead 13-0 with 4:27 left in the first quarter. A Churchill pass-interference penalty on a fourth down extended the initial drive for South Eugene, and the touchdown also came on a fourth-down play. On a play that appeared to have broken down, junior quarterback Liam Duncan rolled left and tossed a 23-yard touchdown pass to senior Thayne Kollmorgen. The extra-point kick, also by Kollmorgen, put South Eugene up 7-0.

Then on the Lancers’ third offensive play of the game, junior linebacker John Saylor intercepted a Churchill pass and worked his way past defenders into the end zone for another touchdown. The extra-point kick failed, putting the Axemen ahead 13-0. “It set the tone for the entire game because we had just scored on offense, and it was just, ‘What can our defense do?'” Richardson said. “We fired off, and he had an amazing run.”

“We didn’t break. We didn’t stop. We just stayed together.”

South Eugene tight end Connor Still hauls in a touchdown reception against Churchill. (Gary Breedlove/EDN)
South Eugene tight end Connor Still hauls in a touchdown reception against Churchill. (Gary Breedlove/EDN)

After forcing Churchill to punt for the second time in the game, South Eugene’s quarterback duo of Duncan and sophomore Ray Roundtree went to work. Roundtree hit senior tight end Connor Still for a 46-yard reception that put them 20 yards from the end zone. Three plays later, Duncan found Still for a 13-yard touchdown pass. South Eugene forced Churchill to punt again, and went on a 14-play drive that ended with Roundtree throwing a 5-yard touchdown to Still. The Axemen went up 27-0. “We just couldn’t handle (Still),” Churchill head coach Darrell Mehl said. “Our little safeties on that big guy? It was a tough match-up. We knew that going in.”

Still finished the game with six receptions for 87 yards and two touchdown catches. Roundtree completed 9-of-15 passes for 134 yards and 2 TD passes. In addition to quarterback, Duncan played a significant role as a receiver and finished with 131 yards on offense (59 passing, 32 running and 40 receiving).

Churchill put up its first points of the game on its final drive of the first half. The score came when sophomore quarterback Justin Kearney connected with senior receiver Mike Monroy for a 26-yard pass. 

South Eugene strained offensively in the second half, but the defense held Churchill off by forcing punts and with a substantive fourth-down stop with the Lancers on the 15-yard line early in the third quarter. Churchill senior linebacker Mitch Hindrum blocked a South Eugene punt, which set the Lancers up at the 14-yard line. Two plays later, Monroy ran 10 yards for Churchill’s final score. The Axemen lead was cut to 27-14 with 9:02 left.

Churchill's Michael Monroy scored two touchdowns for the Lancers. (Gary Breedlove/EDN)
Churchill’s Michael Monroy scored two touchdowns for the Lancers. (Gary Breedlove/EDN)

“The barn door flew open, and we did get it closed,” Mehl said. “We had momentum (at that point). I almost had us onside kick, but I was thinking, ‘Our defense was playing well – finally. We’ll make a stop and if we score again, we can cut the lead to six points.’ It was sloppy. We didn’t execute what we needed to execute.”

“We gave them all kinds of opportunities, extra chances. I knew (South Eugene) was going to be a little bit better anyway, and I knew Chris is a good football coach. We made some coaching mistakes. Our players didn’t play as well as I hoped, but I knew we were going to have trouble because of our youth.”

The Axemen responded to the Lancers’ score with a lengthy drive that ended with a 4-yard touchdown run by Duncan at 4:40 in the fourth quarter. That and a two-point conversion by Kollmorgen solidified the win for South Eugene and their new coach.As a head coach you have a lot of questions,” Miller said. “You’re like, ‘I hope they can.’ And we preached all week about getting off to a fast start. So even though that first drive was funky, we scored and that was huge. Then we got a turnover and went up 13-0. But in football there are ebbs and flows. And I was really proud of how these guys answered the bell and put the nail in the coffin on the last drive.”

For Churchill, Kearney finished with 80 yards rushing and 89 yards passing on 9-of-14 passes. Sophomore receiver Junior Perez had four receptions for 49 yards, and Monroy had 26 yards receiving and 30 rushing with two touchdowns. “I thought we’d play better and harder,” Mehl said. “I’m not going to chuck in the towel yet. I think we have some players that can play. We just need to do a better job of coaching every position. We have lots of room for improvement in every area.”

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High School Football Preview: Mehl, Churchill Lancers Accept 2013 Challenge

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Difficult as it might be to lose a highly talented offensive player, Darrell Mehl has had to move on. You could say the Churchill High School head football coach has reached the fifth stage of grief: acceptance. It was about two weeks ago that Mehl learned that his team would once again play on without running back Tyler Reid. As a junior in 2012, Reid tore through the Lancer’s first two opponents, scoring seven rushing touchdowns on 27 carries and 419 yards. But that was before he suffered a season-ending injury to his left knee after just eight carries in the second game. This summer while playing a 7-on-7 football game, Reid injured his other knee and will be out for his senior season. “It was a killer for us,” Mehl said. “We’re trying to move on. I’ve already done my crying and am trying to move on…We are going to run the same stuff without Tyler as we would with him. Obviously, we would be a little more explosive with him than without him.”

Churchill head football coach Darrell Mehl
Churchill head football coach Darrell Mehl

A year ago, the Lancers went on to finish 7-4 overall and 4-3 in the 5A Midwestern League. Without Reid, who Mehl said was offered preferred walk-on status at Oregon, Mehl must find a way to adjust with the players he has. And while he says this team may not have the amount of talent last year’s group had, Mehl likes what he sees. “Nobody expects us to do anything, certainly without Tyler,” he said. “We might not, but yet, we might surprise some people.”

The Lancers return 14 players who started last season at one time or another and 17 with varsity experience. Mehl said his team lost 23 seniors from last year. “We’re young (and) inexperienced, but we are a serious try-hard team,” he said. “This is one of the best practicing teams since I’ve been here. They work hard, are smart, and do a good job of flying around. Whether that translates into wins, who knows.”

Last year, Churchill turned to several running backs to compensate for the loss of Reid. The one returning player with significant experience at the position is tailback J.C. Moran. One of eight juniors on the team this year, Moran is back after finishing 2012 with four touchdowns on 104 carries and 439 yards. Senior Mike Monroy ran the ball 31 times for 88 yards and two touchdowns, but he will play inside receiver. In that position, Monroy caught 27 passes for 283 yards and two touchdowns last year.

Churchill High football players practice in preparation for the 2013 season opener. (David Saez/EDN)
Churchill High football players practice in preparation for the 2013 season opener. (David Saez/EDN)

At quarterback, Mehl will use two players to manage the team’s read-option offense: senior Brenden Nesbitt and sophomore Justin Kearney. Both saw limited action last year behind  senior Mitch Reese, who threw for nearly 2,000 yards. Combined, they completed 2-of-5 passes for five yards. “(Nesbitt) is knowledgeable, throws the ball a little bit better and has a grasp of what we’re doing,” Mehl said. “(Kearney) is faster and athletic, but not as strong. I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t play them both all year.”

Nesbitt and Kearney will target two particular wide receivers on the deeper passes, senior Spenser Schmidt and sophomore Junior Perez. Both are fast and tall, Schmidt is 6-foot-1 and Perez is 6-feet. “Those two outside guys are going to be our explosive-type players,” Mehl said. “Both are going to be good and can go the distance.”

Other returning players with experience as starters include offensive linemen junior Zach Bernardo and seniors Daulton Hankins, Josh Higashi, Mitch Hindrum, and Wyatt Imhoff.

Defensively, Churchill is lead by senior linebacker Trevor Johnson, second in tackles last year with 69 total and 36 solo, and senior defensive lineman Darren Kime, who had 37 tackles in eight games, and senior safety Alex Perez, who had nine tackles. Johnson, Monroy, Nesbitt and Hindrum make up the Lancers’ linebacker corp. “We have a nucleus of linebackers that are experienced and then we have athletic guys in the defensive backfield,” Mehl said. “We’re going to be fast and all of us will run to the football. Hopefully, we’ll have success that way on defense.”

Churchill High head football coach Darrell Mehl watches on as  players run defensive drill. (David Saez/EDN)
Churchill High head football coach Darrell Mehl watches on as players run defensive drill. (David Saez/EDN)

“This group is playing hard like I want them to, and that excites me,” Mehl said. “But with all of our youth and inexperience, we are going to make a ton of mistakes. Hopefully those mistakes don’t cost us ball games…It will be interesting. I feel like if we don’t get hammered by a few (teams) early, lose our confidence, I think we’re going to be OK. I think we might be fragile. If (players) stop practicing as hard as they can, that will be a great disappointment. But I kind of have high hopes that these guys will get it done.”

Assistant coaches: Aaron Steigeler (offensive coordinator); Todd Kaanapu (offensive line); Don Bell (running backs); Gabriel LeMay (wide receivers); Les Duman (defensive line); Keith Lewis (safeties); and Aaron Crawford (cornerbacks).

Churchill Lancers 2013 Football Schedule:

  • Aug. 30 – at South Eugene
  • Sept. 6 – at Liberty
  • Sept. 13  – at Eagle Point
  • Sept. 20 – Ashland
  • Oct. 4 – Willamette
  • Oct. 11 – Marist
  • Oct. 18 – at North Eugene
  • Oct. 25 – Springfield

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