High School Football

Girl Kicks for Willamette High Football

Emily MogstadEUGENE, Ore. — The kicker on this year’s Willamette High School Football Team has made every attempt so far.

Pretty impressive, given she’s a girl on what’s typically an all-boy team.

Emily Mogstad is one busy junior. She’s taking a full schedule, and playing soccer and football. She actually played on the JV team last year, but her conflicts with soccer didn’t allow her to be as involved.

This year, her coaches and her teammates have been especially supportive and accommodating to her packed schedule.

While she’s been getting a lot of attention over her varsity placement, Emily doesn’t see much of a difference at all playing on this field.

Emily says there’s not really any hard parts about playing on the team, just finding a place to change at away games.

Her coaches and teammates agree she’s just like any other player on the field, and she’s really proven herself in the last two games.

Friday Night Blitz – September 5

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For the September 5th edition of Friday Night Blitz, watch highlights from 11 games including our Game of the Week between Sheldon and visiting Lakeridge.

Friday Night Blitz Preview Special

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EUGENE — In the 2014 Friday Night Blitz preview special, the KEZI 9 Sports team looks ahead to the upcoming high school football season. We take you to 12 different Western Oregon high schools, get perspective from the Register-Guard’s Ben Schorzman, and reveal our Friday Night Blitz game of the week live broadcast schedule.

Sheldon Beats Grants Pass to Finish Season 9-0

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In a game that was more a victory lap than a competitive contest, the Sheldon Irish (9-0 overall, 7-0 league) finalized their undefeated regular season record by demolishing the visiting Grants Pass Cavemen (3-6 overall, 3-5 league). Blowout wins are nothing new for the Irish – seven of their nine wins this year were by 35+ points – but even so it’s a rare thing to be able to say that a 62-7 win wasn’t anywhere near as close as its final score would seem to indicate.

“We were expecting them to play hard and fight until they couldn’t fight anymore,” said Sheldon quarterback Taylor Allie after the game. “We just came out and overpowered them.”

The first play from scrimmage set the tone for the rest of the game. After the snap, Allie dropped back into the safety of a pocket so strongly protected that he had enough time to complete both a play-action fake and an end-around fake before rainbowing a pass deep downfield to wide receiver Mitchell Herbert for a 55-yard touchdown.

We just noticed on film that they [Grants Pass’ defenders] had a lot of eyes in the backfield,” explained Sheldon head coach Lane Johnson. “We see teams with eyes in the backfield, we run a lot of play action stuff.”

Allie’s recollection of the play was far less strategic. “I saw Mitchell Herbert had a five yard cushion,” he said with a laugh, “and with that great of a receiver that’s all I need. I just threw it out there to him and let him do the rest.”

After a three-and-out by Grants Pass, Sheldon retook the field at their own 28 yard line. Three Allie passes and an 8-yard scoring run by star running back Connor Strahm later, the Irish were up 14-0. Another three-and-out by the visiting team ensued, to which the Irish responded with a second Allie-to-Herbert touchdown pass from 35 yards out.

From there, the situation began to deteriorate at an almost exponential rate for the Cavemen. Their next drive, which was marred by a one-play benching of their quarterback Ben Glaeser for removing his helmet on the field, ended after six plays with an interception returned for a touchdown by Sheldon defensive back Mitch Lewis. The drive after that ended after four plays when Glaeser, pressured up the middle by two charging defenders, made a panicked throwaway attempt that ended up in the arms of Sheldon DB Liam Talty, who returned the interception for a touchdown.

Grants Pass was able to maintain some dignity by punting the ball away after six plays on their next possession, but Allie soon rendered that moot two plays later by throwing a short pass to Mitch Lewis, who juked his way 30 yards downfield for a touchdown. That score put the Irish up by an insurmountable 42-0 lead, and amazingly enough there was still 1:57 left to play in the first quarter.

Sheldon #10 Connor Strahm looks down at a fallen Grants Pass defender as he jogs across the goal line in the first quarter (Matthew Heuett/Eugene Daily News)

“I was surprised that we got 42 in the first quarter, but us coming out and getting after them didn’t surprise me at all,” said Coach Johnson. “We don’t ever expect that [scoring so many points], but we sure like it when it happens.”

Sheldon eased off the throttle soon thereafter and began subbing in its backups, but the team still managed to rack up a few more scores. In the second quarter, Yadie Dunmore scored a rushing touchdown from three yards out, and the Irish added two more TDs in the third quarter, one on a short pass from Joseph Kuehn to Spencer Clark and the second on a ten yard run by Chico Barajas.

On the other side of the field, the Cavemen looked increasingly frustrated and dejected as the game wore on. One of the few bright spots for Grants Pass was the play of QB Hunter Rich, who subbed in for Glaeser at the beginning of the second quarter. Rich was unable to lead any scoring drives, but no matter how much the Irish defenders knocked him around he continued to battle gamely both with his arm and his legs. The Cavemen’s lone score of the night was on an 11-yard run by Bean Dean with 1:24 left to go in the fourth quarter.

Next up, the Sheldon Irish have a week off while they wait to learn who their first opponent of the postseason will be.

Sheldon Blanks North Medford on Strong outting from Strahm

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Connor Strahm led the Sheldon defense to a 55-0 shutout victory over North Medford at Dennis Ludwig Stadium Friday night. The shutout was the first of the season for the Irish, and senior linebacker Connor Strahm was happy with his team’s performance.

“Even as we got our second and third stringers into the game we keep that zero on the board, and they never got inside the 20-yard line, and I think that speaks a lot about our defense as a whole,” said Strahm.

North Medford (1-3) struggled on offense all night, and any attempt to move the chains was turned back by the impenetrable Irish defense. The Tornados ended the night with only 101 total yards. Conversely, Sheldon’s (4-0) offense picked up of off last weeks success, and had no problem putting points on the board against the Tornados. The Irish scored early on a 4-yard run by junior Yadie Dunmore, and there was no looking back from there. Dunmore ended his night with three catches for 53 yards and two total touchdowns.

Going into the half, it was already 35-0 Irish, and already do-it-all senior Connor Strahm had four total touchdowns on the night. Two through the air, one on the ground, and a 65-yard punt return for a touchdown. Strahm had two of his previous punt returns for touchdowns called back.

The first was a return of 71-yards, but it was called back for a clipping penalty. The second, a return for 72-yards was called back. This time wiped away by a penalty for running into the kicker. However, the third time was the charm for Strahm as he sliced through several Tornado defenders on the way to the score.

“Every game, every practice we’ve gotten better as a team” said senior Sheldon starting quarterback Taylor Alie. 

Alie also had a strong showing against North Medford, going 11-for-13 for 235 yards and three touchdowns. North Medford will have to address their offensive woes before the face off against Crater (2-2) next Friday. As for the Irish, they will head south next Friday to play the South Medford Panthers (3-1). South Medford’s only loss comes two weeks ago against Thurston, so the match up should prove interesting for Sheldon.

Sheldon’s record remains unblemished, and seniors on the team know the importance of maintaining focus in order to keep their record that way.

“We’ve just got to eliminate the mistakes, and get better going forward,” said Taylor Alie. “We are getting close as teammates, which makes it a lot of fun out there.”

Other Local Scores 

Thurston 26, Roseburg 12: Cory Weick threw for two touchdowns and ran for another on the road, leading the Colts (2-2) to the conference victory over the Indians.

South Medford 52, South Eugene 0: Nick Phillips scored twice on rushing touchdowns for the Panthers win at home.

Ashland 29, Churchill 13: Danial White led the Ashland rushing attack to lead the Grizzlies to an upset at home over the fourth-ranked Lancers.

Marist 55, Marshfield 7: Kamerun Smith threw three touchdowns in the Spartans’ victory Coos Bay against Marshfield.

Springfield 37, Eagle Point 28: Freshman quarterback Trevor Watson threw for a couple touchdown passes and ran in another to propel the Millers from a 21-point deficit to a win.

Sheldon Football Team Appears Poised for Another Great Season

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Success in high school football is a difficult thing to sustain from one season to the next. Like college programs, high school teams have to deal with frequent roster turnover due to players lost to graduation, but unlike their collegiate brethren high schools don’t have the luxury of nationwide recruiting or redshirt seasons. At the prep level, recruitment is limited to whatever students happen to attend your school, and four years per player is all you get.

Inevitably, coaches are forced to fill gaps left by talented seniors with lesser replacements, and the team suffers as a result. After going 13-1 last year and falling just short of a state championship (the one loss being a 47-14 defeat in the championship game at the hands of the Lake Oswego Lakers), the Sheldon High Irish said goodbye to several key starters, including quarterback Dillon Miller, the son of former Oregon quarterback and NFL first round pick Chris Miller. But if the Irish varsity squad was hurt in any way by the loss of those players, it sure didn’t show in their scrimmage last Saturday versus the varsity scout team.

The varsity defense waits at the line of scrimmage for the JV offense to break their huddle (Matthew Heuett/Eugene Daily News)

After some warm-up drills, Sheldon’s fall scrimmage began with some special teams reps. The punter, junior Mitchell Herbert, consistently placed the ball between forty and forty-five yards downfield. Herbert clearly has a strong enough leg to launch his punts much farther than that, but the forty-yard range appears to be the sweet spot in which his distance and hang time are maximized. Not once did he outkick his coverage unit, and if he can maintain that consistency Sheldon should have no trouble pinning opposing offenses deep in their own territory all season long.

Senior Tyler Osborne did a respectable job as the placekicker on kickoffs, placing the ball between the ten and twenty yard line. With the exception of one play, Sheldon’s coverage unit did an excellent job of getting downfield quickly and limiting return yardage. On that play, senior Mitch Carman fielded the ball at the ten, then juked his way upfield before being tackled at the fifty yard line.

After special teams, the offense took the field. Judging by the enthusiastic reactions of the crowd, this was clearly the unit everyone had come to see, and after watching a few plays it was easy to see why. Sheldon’s offense is of the spread variety, with plenty of empty backfield sets, option reads, man-in-motion, and designed QB keepers, but despite all those moving parts the offensive unit performed like a well-oiled machine.

The sheer variety and creativity of the offense was on full display from the very first play. Starting from a five-wide formation, the Irish put senior wide receiver Connor Strahm in motion across the formation, and as he neared the center of the line, the ball was snapped and handed off to him. Just like that, a play run out of a formation that almost invariably means a pass is imminent had morphed into a thundering sweep well executed enough to please even Vince Lombardi.

Strahm, who has been drawing plenty of interest from college recruiters, was able to consistently get separation from defenders on his routes and had no trouble catching the ball whenever it was thrown his way, and senior Luke Allender proved he could seal off defensive backs on run plays and turn short receptions into long touchdowns with equal aplomb. But the main attraction on offense was senior quarterback Taylor Allie.

#50 offensive lineman Brett Nielsen stonewalls JV defensive lineman #68 Russell Geiger during a passing play (Matthew Heuett/Eugene Daily News)

For starters, Allie is a gifted runner. On designed QB keepers and scrambles on broken plays alike, he showed that he has the speed to consistently turn the corner and the evasiveness to snake his way through defenders for long touchdown runs whenever he takes off with the ball.

Like most mobile quarterbacks, he appears to have a tendency to give up on plays too early before scrambling out of the pocket, but when he did stay back to pass he displayed good accuracy and decision-making, rarely putting the ball in a spot where a defender could make a play on it. Allie’s completion percentage hovered around 50% on the day, but more of his incompletions appeared to be caused by dropped catches than errant throws.

On defense, the Irish alternated between three and four down linemen with a group of four or more linebackers and safeties lurking just behind. With so many defenders lined up to play the run, the defense was able to maintain gap control with ease on running plays, displaying great patience as they strung out plays to the sidelines and forced ball carriers to come to them.

More impressively, the defense was able to stack the box and still maintain solid coverage downfield; the JV offense was able to pull in a few long passes, but overall the defense tallied more deflections than the opposing offense did completions.

Nearly every varsity defensive player managed to get in a highlight play or two during the scrimmage, but junior linebacker Paul Faulhaber, defensive end Brett Nielsen, and junior defensive back Mitch Lewis all turned in especially impressive performances. No matter the direction or design of the offensive play call, those three always managed to be swarming around the ball wherever it happened to end up.

On Friday, Sheldon High will kick off their season with a home game against Southridge. Kickoff is scheduled for seven o’clock. Check in Saturday morning for a complete recap of Friday night’s action.

It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like, Um, Another December

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— Sam Finley, Sports Editor – EDN

It’s that time of year again. There’s plenty of holiday cheer, unless you’re the poor sap that gets pepper sprayed by an overzealous shopper making the retail rounds. The wonderful sounds of Bing Crosby are often canceled out by the squeaks of a certain Chipmunks’ song. Like any other month, you take the good with the bad, and we’re in the middle of another December.

So why I don’t I save some of my yuletide sarcasm for another column? Preferably, the one I’ll be doing in a couple weeks. (Shameless plug dutifully inserted). In the meantime, here’s a quick wrap up of what happened on the local sporting front.

Darron Thomas and the Ducks are beginning preparations for the Rose Bowl. (Photo Credit: Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

First off, congratulations to the Lake Oswego Lakers. They really took it to Sheldon, blowing them out 47-14 in the 6A OSAA State Championship. For once, it was the Irish on the other end of a one-sided affair.

The Lakers rolled up 490 yards of total offense, compared to Sheldon’s 216. That’s the main reason why Lake Oswego was able to win their first state football title in the history or their program.

You really do have to tip your hat to their head coach Steve Coury, who has been up there for two decades. The feeling of getting that trophy must be very sweet for him right now.

By the same token, take nothing away from what Sheldon accomplished this year. Lane Johnson’s first season as a head coach was outstanding, and the Irish should be in a position to win a championship or two before he’s through.

Meanwhile, as high school football officially draws to a close, the Ducks got back inside the Mo Center this weekend. In case you just got back from a two week vacation from Mars, Oregon will be playing Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl on January 2nd. It’ll be their second trip to Pasadena in the past three years, and they know they have to be ready for the Badgers.

“We’re practicing hard,” said quarterback Darron Thomas. “We’ve got a big game coming up soon. I think we’ve got a little more spark to us this time and we want to come out with a victory.”

A lot has been made about Wisconsin running back Montee Ball, but Oregon will also have to deal with quarterback Russell Wilson. The guy can do it with his arm and his feet.

Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson provides a dual threat for the Badgers' offense. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

“I think he’s a very good quarterback,” claimed safety John Boyett. “Number 16 brings a lot to the table. He’s a dual threat, very calm, and is able to make plays when his team needs them.”

While the Ducks are just starting to look at film on the Badgers, they do see a team that is just as impressive on defense as they are on offense.

“They are a hard-hitting, hard-nosed defense,” said running backs coach Gary Campbell. “They have good defensive linemen, adequate linebackers, and their defensive backs really come up and hit. So they’re physical.”

Regardless of what Wisconsin might or might not have, Oregon wants to take it to the next level in this matchup. After losing their last two BCS Bowls, the Pac-12 champions want to end this season on a winning note.

“A loss doesn’t diminish what happened this year,” Campbell explained. “But it takes the true climax away from the whole deal. Getting a bowl like this is important to us, but we want to win when we get there. That’s the next step.”

Moving on to the hardwood, the Oregon men’s basketball team edged Fresno State 74-70 last night at Matt Knight Arena. It was an awesome debut for guard Devoe Joseph, who transferred from Minnesota last season. He led the Ducks with 18 points, including three three-point shots.  All in all, not a bad first night for the 6’4 senior from Pickering, Ontario.

“I was very anxious to play,” said Joseph of his performance. “It was a little awkward at first, but then I played the way I like to play. That is, I played with a lot of energy and just got after it.”

The victory propelled Oregon’s overall record to 5-2. Still, it wasn’t an entirely pretty game for the Ducks. They turned the ball over 16 times, and head coach Dana Altman believes there are some things to clean up, especially before Pac-12 play begins later this month.

“We took a took a step in the right direction tonight,” explained Altman. “Devoe hit some big shots, and gave us some breathing room. We beat them on the boards by six (34-28), and that’s a good stat. But when you look at the second chance points, they beat us 26-14. That’s something we’ve got to get turned around.”

Dana Altman is pleased with his Ducks' recent win, but needs to see improvement. (Photo Credit: Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Oregon can continue to sharpen their game on Monday night when they play Portland State, and it’ll be interesting to see what kind of improvements are made between now and late December.

It’ll also be intriguing to see how the Portland Trailblazers fare without the services of Brandon Roy. Their franchise player was forced to retire at the age of 27 due to his degenerative knees.

That’s a very unfortunate development. Roy wasn’t only one of the better players in the NBA the past few years, but one of the classiest. The guy was always fun to watch, and he will definitely be missed.

I’d like to say more, but I’m once again hearing the aching sounds of a certain Christmas song. Time to grab my chipmunk mallet.

Until next time, I’ll see you in the bleachers.

 

Irish Could Rise Again, While Harris Has Fallen

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— Sam Finley, EDN Sports Editor

We’ll get to what I usually start off with in a minute, but first, I’d like to take a moment to applaud Sheldon’s football season thus far. The Irish will be playing for the 6A state championship on Saturday in Portland. If they win, it’ll be their fourth title in the past 10
years.

Sheldon's Connor Strahm is currently ranked as the #7 Prep athlete in the State, but his ability and intensity are game changers.

Lane Johnson has done a remarkable job in his first year as head coach, but it is the players who make the team go. Connor Strahm is a force to be reckoned with as a receiver, or a linebacker. Strahm has 11 touchdowns on the season with 1083 total yards, 90 of those being passing yards. It runs in the family, both of his parents were All-Americans in their day. Many would say that he’s the MVP for the Irish.

Quarterback Dillon Miller hasn’t done too shabby either with 2414 passing yards (1.37 miles) and 27 touchdowns. In his case, it also runs in the family. His father, Chris, was a standout at Sheldon himself before becoming one of the better signal callers in Oregon history.

Still, it won’t be a breeze this weekend. They’ll be facing Lake Oswego, which is probably the best high school football team that hasn’t won a championship. The Lakers have come close to doing so in recent years, and would love to take the title at Sheldon’s expense. We shall see.

Cliff Harris is no longer an Oregon Duck. (Photo Credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Now then, earlier this week, University of Oregon cornerback Cliff Harris was dismissed from the football program. Apparently the talented yet troubled junior had been caught with a small amount of marijuana during Thanksgiving weekend in Fresno, California. It was just one of many incidents you could add to Harris’ naughty list. We all know about the driving with a suspended license at a very dangerous speed. That’s what prompted the initial suspension for the opening game against LSU. Certainly Harris didn’t help himself by getting pulled over without a valid license again over a month ago (resulting in a second suspension).

However, it probably wasn’t his questionable driving habits that drew the bulk of the ire from the Ducks’ coaching staff. Harris had a history of skipping team meetings and not attending classes. (The latter is a huge no-no for a student athlete). He was also known for not giving it his best effort in practices, particularly after head coach Chip Kelly didn’t put him back into the starting lineup after his brief reinstatement this season.

We could go on and on about why and how Harris got himself in hot water, but he’s no longer Oregon’s problem. Having said that, some of you probably think I’m happy about the recent removal because I wrote a column calling for the two sides to part ways, got some hate mail over that one.

Brett Favre loves creating drama any chance he gets. (Photo Credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Nothing could be further from the truth. I take zero satisfaction from Harris’ demise. The guy has been blessed with an abundance of athletic talents, and when he has his head on straight, can be a very fun player to watch. It is tragic to see someone with so many gifts throw them in the garbage can. When he first came to Oregon, he told his fellow defensive backs that he was going to “lock this ‘stuff (ahem)’  down.” Now, for his own sake, Harris needs to lock his own stuff down.

I honestly hope that Harris can get his life together. Odds are he’ll turn pro a year early. I think that’s a mistake because it’s clear he’s got a lot of growing up to do. If it was up to me, I’d tell him to find another school and use that as a place to prove himself. Whatever he decides, I wish him well, and will be the first to salute him if he succeeds.

Would you like to know who I won’t salute? Brett Favre. Just when I thought I had heard his name for the last time (before he goes to Canton), Brett Favre found a way to get back in the news again. The rumors swirled that the Houston Texans and Chicago Bears were interested in signing the “retired” NFL quarterback this past week. Both teams vehemently denied the reports, and I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

But Favre is claiming he’s enjoying his time away from the game and is done for good this time. If you believe that one, I’ve got some oceanfront property in Junction City to sell. Trust me, if Favre were to get an offer, the 42-year-old prima donna would be back tomorrow. The guy loves to create drama for the sake of drama too much. Then again, maybe his coming back wouldn’t be such a bad thing. He’d get knocked around even harder than before, and we know how everyone loves watching a train wreck. Perhaps that is what is needed for Favre to finally get lost and stay lost. Time will tell.

Tim Tebow may not be the sole reason for the Broncos' recent surge. (Photo Credit: Doung Pensinger/Getty Images)

One more NFL note before I wrap this one up. A lot is being made of the Tim Tebow phenomenon. I’m not going to take a side on whether he’s the real deal or not. Clearly, he’s helping the Denver Broncos win games at the moment, but it could be premature to start comparing him to John Elway. (That debate can be had in another year or two.) With that statement out of the way, am I the only one who thinks that there’s more to Denver’s late season surge than Tebow himself? The Broncos have been playing great defense all year, and that’s one reason Tebow has been in a position to pull out those comebacks. But what do I know?

It’s been another interesting week on the sporting front and we should all look forward to the next one. Until next time, I’ll see you in the bleachers.

 

Coming Up Roses…

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— Sam Finley, EDN Sports Editor

Now you can smell the roses. The Ducks smacked the UCLA Bruins 49-31 in the inaugural Pac-12 championship on Friday and punched their tickets to Pasadena. It will be Oregon’s second trip to the Rose Bowl in the last three years. They’ve also won their conference the past three consecutive seasons. That’s not only a milestone here in Eugene, it is a rarity across the country.

“It’s incredible,” said defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti. “I think there are only other two teams that have ever done it (Oklahoma and USC). What’s really cool is that, somewhere down the road, someone will ask, ‘who was the last Pac-10 champ?’ It’ll be Oregon. Then they’ll ask, ‘who was the first Pac-12 champ?’ It’ll be Oregon. That’s kind of cool.”

LaMichael James rushed for 219 yards in what might've been his last game at Autzen. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

Certainly, Aliotti’s defense played a big role in the win. It wasn’t the prettiest performance, since they allowed 31 points, but they did get some big sacks on UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince, and forced some critical turnovers. Head coach Chip Kelly believed it was another typical night for his kids.

“They really are an unsung group,” said Kelly. “We just marvel at the effort they play with.  When we need big plays, they come up with them. This is a true team. It’s not one side. It’s offense, defense, and special teams. All those guys contributed.”

A lot of guys contributed, but let’s focus on two on the offensive side. First off, junior running back LaMichael James put on a show with 219 yards and three touchdowns. If this was his last game at Autzen Stadium, then it was quite the curtain call. But, while praising the fans’ pleas to come back for another season, James really isn’t thinking about that right now.

“The most important thing to me is my teammates,” said James. “I love being with them every day, and I feel very blessed to be a part of a team like this. I don’t think about one more year. I just think about the next day.”

It was another humble statement by Oregon’s all-time leading rusher. As spectacular as he is on the field, he’s always been fairly low key off of it.

“LaMichael is special,” Kelly stated. “You watch what he does in the classroom and in the community. It’s not just what he does as a football player, but how he lives his life. It’s what I want our team to be like. I think he epitomizes that. He’s about unique excellence.”

That being said, should he decide to jump to the NFL, James has treasured his time as a Duck at a time of unprecedented success.

Darron Thomas now leads Oregon with 63 all-time touchdown passes. (Photo Credit: Alex Shoemaker)

“It means a lot to me,” James explained. “We like to reach for the sky. I think it really starts in practice. Coach Kelly does an amazing job getting the best out of all of us. If you come out and work hard every day, then the things that have happened will take care of themselves. That’s what we’ve been doing.”

Another major contributor to the Pac-12 championship win was quarterback Darron Thomas. In many respects, Friday’s game was an average day for him.  He’d make a throw or two that were nowhere close to being at the intended receiver. But in the end, he wound up with 219 yards and three touchdowns through the air. Speaking of which, he now holds the school record with 63 touchdown passes in his college career.

“I’m very excited to get the record,” said Thomas. “I’ve got a lot more to go. I’m happy to be on the list with a lot of great Oregon quarterbacks. But hey, it’s my team that made it happen. The offensive line blocking for me each game. The receivers catching the ball, and running backs picking up protection. It’s all on the team.”

His coach certainly appreciated what Darron did with his arm, but also with his feet. A few weeks ago, Thomas injured his knee and his mobility has been suspect since. Yet, late in the third quarter, he broke loose on a keeper to set up Oregon’s last score that sealed the deal.

“Darron is awesome,” claimed Kelly. “I don’t want anybody else running this football team. He’s a special player. When he made that 40-yard run, I thought we were going to see an ESPN highlight where he rips the knee brace off like Forrest Gump did in the movie. One of the toughest kids I’ve ever been around.”

Now the Ducks can finally talk about playing for the highest possible prize they could achieve.

“It means a lot,” said Kelly. “The Rose Bowl is the pinnacle for this conference. It’s the ‘granddaddy.’ If don’t have the chance to play in the national championship (which we can’t because of our two losses), then there’s no other game you’d rather play in. We’re excited to go there and represent this school.”

Of course, this time around, they want to do more than simply play there. After coming up short in their last two BCS Bowl trips, Oregon needs a win to validate themselves as an elite program. Otherwise, they’ll continue to be seen as merely a very good team with fancy uniforms.

Bret Bielema and his Wisconsin Badgers will be facing Oregon in the Rose Bowl. (Photo Credit: Elsa/Getty Images)

With that in mind, the Ducks will certainly have a challenge on their hands in early January against Wisconsin. The Badgers, led by brash head coach Bret Bielema, are a ground-and-pound style team, so we’ve got the power versus speed matchup going.

But who has Oregon played that could possibly compare to Wisconsin? Oh yes, Stanford. We all know how that one played out, didn’t we? In other words, the opportunity is there for the Ducks to make a statement. We’ll see if they can take the next step in a few weeks.

Let’s move on to some other things. What an interesting OSAA 6A semifinal round, huh? It wasn’t the same M.O. by Sheldon High yesterday, but the result was the same against Central Catholic. The normally high-scoring Irish didn’t score a touchdown until late in the game to squeak out an 18-9 win against the Rams in Portland.

No, they didn’t light up the scoreboard. Then again, you could argue that’s the mark of a champion. A good team will always find a way to win, even when they don’t have their best game going for them.

By the same token, the Irish will need to have their ‘A’ game this coming weekend in Portland. They’ll face the Lake Oswego Lakers for the 6A state title, and it will be a hungry bunch. While Sheldon is going for their fourth title in the last ten years, Lake Oswego is looking to win their first championship ever.  Should be a tremendous game to watch.

Now then, you can look for some interesting wrinkles in the sports section, beginning with this coming Tuesday. I’ll be unveiling a new segment, and I hope it meets with your approval. What is it? You’ll find out in the next couple of days.

Until next time, I’ll see you in the bleachers.

Plenty To Play For Besides State Pride…

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By Sam Finley, EDN Sports Editor

The things you love about college football can also break your heart. That’s how you had to feel last weekend if you’re an Oregon fan. After nearly coming back from a 24-point deficit against a stacked USC team, a field goal attempt by kicker Alejandro Maldonado sailed just to the left.

Thus, the now-tenth ranked Ducks lost 38-35 to the Trojans. Moreover, any hopes of returning for the BCS Championship game went out the window with the upset. Still, Oregon has plenty to play for. By winning this Saturday against Oregon State, they’ll clinch the Pac-12 North Division and will host the inaugural conference championship game (and fight for the rights to the Rose Bowl) the following Friday. In the meantime, they haven’t been holding a pity party over what might’ve been.

Oregon running back LaMichael James knows that winning against the Beavers is a must to advance to the Pac-12 Championship. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

“The kids are great,” said Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti. “They’re resilient and they bounce back. I think the loss hurt and stung hard on Saturday, but the feel-sorry-for-yourself bus left Sunday night and none of our guys were on it.”

In fact, some of the Ducks consider the recent defeat a life lesson of sorts.

“You learn something from every game whether you win or lose,” said safety John Boyett. “Every one is a learning experience, because you go back, watch the film, and see what you did right or wrong. You use that to become a better player and help your team win the following game.”

With that in mind, the Ducks still have to do one small thing against the Beavers.

“We’ve got to win,” said running back LaMichael James. “It means a lot more now because of the loss to USC. When you lose a game, you can’t wait to play the next one and we’re really fired up.”

Of course, the fans on both sides will be fired up. Even with nothing on the line, the Civil War Game is always huge in this state. Just don’t tell that to the players, who are treating it as another day at the office.

“It’s a big state rivalry,” explained Boyett, “so it’s big for the fans and the people who live here in Oregon.  But as a player, it’s just another game and you have to handle your business accordingly.”

“I still don’t know what it means,” James claimed about the meaning of the rivalry. “I know what it means to me and (to) treat every game like it’s the Civil War, and that’s the way you’re supposed to take it. I just play this game like I’d play everybody else. That’s the way it just has to be.”

You can, however, ask some of the people who have been around the Oregon program for years. Gary Campbell, who started his tenure as the running backs’ coach in 1983, has been a part of some great Civil War Games — and some stinkers, like the infamous ‘Toilet Bowl.’

“It was a zero-zero tie,” he laughed. “It was the first time I’ve ever been involved in something like that or even heard of possible game ending with no points for either team. I was certainly pleased when they brought those ties to an end in college football. But it was a miserable game, and I don’t think either school was happy about it.”

In the games that have had winners, one guarantee is a year of humiliation for the losers. In this matchup, there is added drama. As stated previously, if the Ducks take this one, they can play for a third consecutive BCS Bowl appearance. On the other hand, if the 3-8 Beavers win, they can make their own season by putting a damper on their cross-state rivals.

“It means bragging rights for the state of Oregon,” said Campbell. “In this case, it also means the Pac-12 North. So, it’s a big deal.  It doesn’t matter what the records are between the two teams. They go out the window with the hatred between the schools. It’s a nice kind of hatred, but it’s about two teams that want to reign in the Northwest.”

“It’s a always a big game,” explained Aliotti. “It decides who is in control of the state for that year. But this time, even though you don’t like to say it, there are things riding on this weekend. If we win, we’re Pac-12 North Champs, and they’d like to take that away from us.”

Markus Wheaton and the Beavers would love to spoil the Ducks' season. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

If we learned anything from last week, it’s that we play the games for a reason. No, Oregon State is not even close to being as dangerous as USC. But they do have weapons on their offense, beginning with their freshman quarterback Sean Mannion.

“They throw the hell out of the ball,” Aliotti stated about the Beavers’ passing attack. “They have guys like Markus Wheaton and they throw it down the field a lot. They run a lot more deep routes than most teams we’ve played, and they haven’t tried to run the ball as much in past years. But I do expect them to run some to set up the throw.”

On the other side of the ball, while the OSU defense doesn’t appear scary on paper, they still possess guys like safety Lance Mitchell and cornerback Jordan Poyer. Moreover, the Beavers have this nasty tendency to get better late in the season.

“Oregon State always plays good defense,” said Campbell. “Their defensive coordinator, Mark Banker, does a great job.  They’ve got some guys that really buy into what he’s teaching, and they’ve got some good athletes who are hungry. The Beavers tend to get better as the year goes on, no matter how good or bad they are. By the end of every season, they’re much better than when they started.”

With than in mind, how do the Ducks come out ahead with more than state pride on the table?

“We’ve got to play pass defense,” said Aliotti. “That means underneath coverage, deep coverage, and rushing the quarterback. When I say that, I don’t just mean the secondary, I mean everybody.”

“The team who makes the least amount of mistakes… whoever doesn’t turn the ball over is going to win the game,” said Campbell.

With that in mind, I guess it’s time for me to tell you how this one is going to play out. Okay, I was wrong last week, but I’ve been right nine out of 11 times so far. Certainly anything can happen, and if Oregon plays a sloppy first half, they’re asking for trouble.

That being said, I don’t see that happening come Saturday. In recent seasons, the Ducks have come back more determined after a loss and have made the next opponent pay for it. We may see an almost laser-like focus from the Oregon offense at the start of this one.

Provided they take care of the ball, as Campbell said, there’s no way OSU will keep up with these guys. In the end, that will be more than enough for the Ducks to roll away with a 52-17 beat down over the Beavers.

Now onto some other items. Unless you’ve been living under a Plymouth Rock, you know that Thanksgiving is this week. That’s why I found out what some of the Ducks are thankful for.

“Thanksgiving is every day for me,” said James. “I’m very thankful to play football. I’m also thankful to be here with my friends and teammates. I’m very blessed just to be in college. That’s why I say it’s every day for me.”

“I’m just thankful to be a part of this team,” explained Boyett. “I’m thankful to play for the coaches that we have and am excited just to play another game.”

Both are very good answers from two of the sincerest players you will meet in college football. I’m certainly thankful that I get to cover a team that has (more often than not) players who act like winners on and off the field.

Oregon safety John Boyett is thankful to be part of a great football team. (Photo Credit: Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

But that’s not all I’m appreciative about during this holiday. I’m thankful to have several wonderful family members and I’m sorry I can’t be with all of them on Thursday. I’m thankful for the many friends I’ve made over the years, as well as a few more that I’ve made in recent weeks. (You know who you are).

This Thanksgiving, however, I have one more thing to be thankful for: a wonderful opportunity at EDN. Yes, the operation has some cobwebs to clear, but I’m still very much committed to making this site the “go-to” place for local sports. Trust me, folks. You ain’t seen nothing yet.

We’ll resume our sports coverage on Friday night. Our own Alex Shoemaker will be covering the Sheldon game against Grant. The Irish will have to play better if they want to advance to the next round of the 6A OSAA playoffs. But something tells me their coach, Lane Johnson, will have his boys ready.

Until next time, I’ll see you in the bleachers. Happy Turkey Day.