Spartans

The Path to Glory Is Covered in Blue-Blood

There’s been a lot of grousing about preseason rankings and critics. When did Ducks fans develop such a thin skin? Rather than pound the table, I say bring it on. To the national pundits we’re known as the Blur or...

Spartans get their revenge with 31-28 thriller

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Oregon quarterback Vernon Adams hands the ball off to running back Royce Freeman against Michigan State

It’s a game of inches and this game was just a couple of inches too many for Oregon on two separate occasions.

The Ducks weren’t able to convert a key fourth down and Vernon Adams missed a wide open receiver that would have flipped the script in East Lansing.

Instead, the Ducks couldn’t convert on either play in the crucial fourth quarter and No. 5 Michigan State came away with a 31-28 win over the No. 7 Duck team.

Entering the final 15 minutes, Oregon found itself down 24-14 and the Ducks were probably lucky to only be down 10. Lucky or not, the bottom like said they were down just two scores and Oregon pulled to within three points when Adams scored on a quarterback keeper. That touchdown ended a 12-play, 78-yard drive to make it 24-21 Michigan State.

The Duck defense, which was stingy against the run for most of the night, had a lapse of execution at the worst possible of times. The Spartans ran the ball three times and that was good enough to go 65 yards in 1:29 to make it a two-possession game once again at 31-21.

To Adams credit, he kept playing and with just over six minutes remaining, he led the Ducks 80 yards in nine plays that took just 2:49. Adams’ 15-yard pass to Byron Marshall accounted for the final tally, but it sure looked like the Ducks would score one more time before the game ended.

Faced with a must stop, defensive coordinator Don Pellum’s group rose to the challenge and forced Michigan State to a three-and-out that took just 72 seconds off the clock.

The situation presented itself to make Adams a hero in Eugene and possibly take the Captain Comeback moniker away from Joey Harrington.

After a great punt return from Bralon Addison that put the ball on the Spartan 48, Oregon went to work. Royce Freeman gained 15 yards on two rushes. Then on a play fake, Michigan State defensive end Shilique Calhoun was one-on-one with Marshall along the sideline. The defender slipped, leaving Marshall all alone poised to score. But the pass was slightly overthrown.

Even with that misfire, Oregon was still in position to score. But on third-and-six, the Spartans called for an all out blitz and it worked, sacking Adams for an 11-yard loss. The sack was devastating to the Ducks’ chances to score. It pulled them out of field goal range and Adams couldn’t hit Addison on fourth down, ending the game.

That overthrow to Marshall was the second play Oregon wished it had back.

Earlier in the fourth quarter on a key fourth down, Adams seemed to have stretched the ball past the first down marker, but a questionable spot and an even more questionable replay review said the Duck signal caller was short.

Adams was 22-of-39 for 309 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, both in the first half. Freeman led the Ducks on the ground with 24 tough carries for 92 yards and a score.

Addison had a monster game for the Ducks, catching seven balls for 138 yards. He also managed to return a 81 yards for a touchdown early in the third quarter that tied the game 14-14. The Ducks also welcomed back Charles Nelson into the fold after missing the season opener to injury. Nelson had seven receptions for 79 yards. But all of his production came in the first half. Michigan State made adjustments in its secondary to take Nelson out of the game.

On the other sideline, Michigan State’s Connor Cook played just well enough to win. The senior, who said he came back to play in games just like this, was 20-of-32 for 192 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.

The first half wasn’t the best football Oregon has ever played, but thanks to the defense, the Ducks were down just 14-7 at the break.

Oregon looked like this was going to be easy on the first drive with a 13-play, 75-yard drive that concluded with a Freeman 2-yard touchdown run. The drive had several third down conversions and everything went exactly right for the Ducks.

But then almost nothing went right.

On Michigan State’s opening drive, Madre London ran for 62 yards on the first play and Cook found Josiah Price for the touchdown. After that initial shock, the Duck defense really buckled down for most of the half. The Spartans were held to just 107 yards for the rest of the half.

Oregon, on the other end, just couldn’t find any rhythm on offense and Adams was off target on many of his throws. He was picked off twice on balls that were under thrown. The Ducks did manage to drive down to the 1-yard line on their fifth possession, but Freeman was stuffed. As it turns out, Oregon coming away with absolutely nothing on this drive probably cost it the game.

Oregon gets back on the horse next week with a breakfast date with Georgia State. The 11 am kickoff slated for the Pac-12 Network is with a Panther team that is 1-1 and coming off a 34-32 win at New Mexico State.

– Don Smalley

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Ducks to Face Spartans in Prime Time

We finally have a kickoff time, Duck fans. Thursday, ESPN announced one of the most anticipated non-conference games of the year will kick-off in prime time for the East Coast. These are the teams which have won the past two...

The Spartan Preview

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The Michigan State Spartans (1-0, 0-0 Big Ten) are the visitors this week to Autzen Stadium in Eugene in a potentially epic showdown that almost certainly will have playoff and national championship implications. Led by head coach Mark Dantonio, in his eighth year after previously being in charge at Cincinnati, the Spartans have become a perennial power in the Big Ten. Last season was the Spartans most successful in recent memory culminating in a Rose Bowl victory in Pasadena against the Stanford Cardinal to cap a 13-1 campaign. Their first regular season trip west in six years, Saturday’s match up hopefully represents the sort of early season non-conference clash that the new playoff format will encourage with the importance of strength of schedule ultimately taken into consideration.

The 100th Rose Bowl Game - Stanford v Michigan State
The 100th Rose Bowl Game – Stanford v Michigan State | Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Michigan State returns 12 starters, with seven on offense and five on defense, from a squad that rebounded well from a relatively disappointing 2012 campaign. Heading into this season most prognosticators had the Spartans tabbed for second in the East Division behind Ohio State, but with the two sides clearly ahead of Michigan, Maryland, Penn State, Indiana and Rutgers. However that was before Braxton Miller went down with a season-ending injury for the Buckeyes. Dantonio has again recruited solidly, if generally unspectacularly, with a Top 30 class although local product Malik McDowell appears to be the next great defensive star in East Lansing.

Right now that designation sits on the impressive shoulders of junior defensive end Shilique Calhoun. A pre-season All-American by numerous publications, Calhoun already projects as a solid first round draft pick in the 2015 NFL Draft following his arrival from Middletown High School North in New Jersey in 2011. You have to wonder whether the constant rumors around then Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano caused Calhoun to leave the Garden State. Fellow junior Trae Waynes anchors the secondary and is another elite player, but it is at linebacker that the Spartans will need to step up against the Ducks, with a unit that lacks starting experience.

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Shilique Calhoun | image RobertHendricks.net

Michigan State’s signature victory last season was their win in the Rose Bowl, although beating Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship came a close second. Quarterback Connor Cook was strong in both games and with Miller on the shelf is considered the best signal caller in the Conference.

photo Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
photo Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Last Friday Michigan State opened their season with a comfortable 45-7 victory over Jacksonville State that was nowhere near as close as the final score line might indicate. The Spartans roared out to a 38-0 half time advantage before taking their collective foot off the gas in the second with the game well and truly done. Cook was 12-of-13 for 285 yards and three touchdowns connecting twice with Tony Lippett on long scores before closing out the first quarter with a 17-yard TD pass to A.J. Troup. Cook showed little impact in practice all week from a late hit suffered on his knee and the junior QB is expected to be at 100% when the sides get under way on Saturday afternoon.

Mark vs Mark: Who Will Reign Supreme?

Oregon’s second game on the schedule brings a match-up that could define the Ducks’ entire season, for better or worse. A win against Michigan State would help the Ducks dramatically improve their chances of contending for a National Title — especially under the new playoff system.

While there has been a lot of talk about the offensive and defensive match-ups the game presents, the coaching battle could be where the game is truly won or lost. Mark Helfrich and Mark Dantonio are both well-respected coaches across the FBS spectrum. Although Dantonio clearly has more experience after coaching since 1982, Helfrich showed no lack of expertise in that department after taking the Ducks to an 11-2 record and an Alamo Bowl win over Texas in his first year. Dantonio has also demonstrated his coaching ability over the past six years at Michigan State, taking the Spartans through three seasons of 11 or more wins and finishing the 2013 campaign with a statement win over Duck nemesis Stanford in the Rose Bowl.

Helfrich has a good reputation among Oregon players

Helfrich has a good reputation among Oregon players.

There are several distinct differences between the conductors behind two of the nation’s top teams, especially in their backgrounds and coaching philosophies. Although Helfrich has only one year of experience as a head coach under his belt, it is interesting to compare the two coaches before they square off in September.

If one believes that experience comes with age, Helfrich would be just a kid in the college football coaching arena compared with the rest of the field. The average age of NCAA college football head coaches in the BCS era is 55. At 40, Helfrich is the 14th-youngest coach in the FBS.

Dantonio is 58. Maybe that means he is more experienced, or perhaps more withered due to years of stressful coaching. Dantonio did suffer a heart attack in 2010 and had to take two games off while coaching another from the press box. As far as we know, he has not had health problems since.

Nonetheless, both men have had success as a head coaches for various reasons. In addition to the players they’ve coached, both Helfrich and Dantonio learned from the best. As offensive coordinator, Helfrich learned at the shoulder of Chip Kelly, who was so successful that he now leads the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles. Dantonio learned from quasi-coaching-Yoda Nick Saban while serving as an assistant at Michigan State eight years ago.

This could very well be the reason for the two coaches’ fundamentally different philosophies. Helfrich comes from a background of coaching quarterbacks and offense, having played as a quarterback at Southern Oregon. Dantonio comes at the game from a defensive angle, with experience as a defensive back. Just as their positions battle on the field, they battle off the field with philosophy. Helfrich has seamlessly taken over as the leader of an offensive powerhouse, boasting the second-best team in total OFFENSE in the nation. Dantonio has built a program based on defense, which subsequently has become the nation’s fourth-best team in total DEFENSE.

It is even more impressive that both coaches come from relatively humble beginnings and have become prominent figures in the college football world. Helfrich was raised in Coos Bay, Oregon; a small coastal town of about 15,000. Dantonio spent his childhood in Zanesville, Ohio; a town of 25,000 an hour east of Columbus on I-70 and known for its historical landmarks and with roots in manufacturing.

Autzen Stadium, although small, is a tough environment for opposing teams

Autzen Stadium, although small, is a tough environment for opposing teams.

While both men have vastly different approaches to football, they can agree on one thing: the outcome of the game is crucial to both teams’ post-season hopes. Obviously Autzen Stadium will play a large role as well, with one of the best home field advantages in college football.

It’s likely that Gameday will come to Eugene for the matchup between ESPN’s preseason No. 5 and No. 6. Hopefully the crowd will be able to fuel the Ducks to victory and help Helfrich further establish himself in his still new position.

It is worth noting just how important a coach can be as the leader of a team. More than just calling plays and coaching technique, a coach can inspire. A great coach can get a team to play with heart, making it more than just a game. A coach is every bit as important as his roster. That’s why a team with loads of talent can severely underperform and a team that lacks talent can still make a statement and pull the upset.

Although he is young, Helfrich has the ability to help Oregon football become even better. Whatever happens come September 6th, I know that he and our Ducks will be ready for the challenge.

Top Photo Credit kidsunlimitedtoledo.org

Prep Football Rally: Marist’s Jumbo Effort Stalls Willamette, 46-0

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The call came in for the “jumbo” play, and Korey Thompson-Falconer knew just what to do. It was time for the big boys to carry the football and plow into the end zone from one yard away. Marist’s 6-foot, 281-pound offensive guard dropped back from his offensive line position into the backfield, real estate generally occupied by smaller, lighter runners.

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Marist’s defense played big by shutting out Willamette on Friday night, 46-0. (Gary Breedlove/EDN)

“My mind just went blank. I just wanted to score,” Thompson-Falconer said. “All I did was get the ball and run straight.” That’s exactly what the Marist Spartans needed to start the second half of their Class 5A Midwestern League game. Thompson-Falconer’s first touchdown as a high school player was the first of four TDs the Spartans scored in the third quarter on their way to a 46-0 win over the Wolverines.

For the second-straight week, the Spartans (3-2 overall, 1-1 MWL) held their opponents scoreless. In those two games, Marist has outscored its opposition 101-0. The offense sputtered some in the first half against Willamette (2-3, 1-2), but the Spartans still lead 12-0 at halftime. “We know we could do better. Twelve to nothing at half time? We did’t feel that was out top level,” Thompson-Falconer said. “We just turned it up more.”

Marist finished the game with 467 yards of total offense, including 229 running the ball. The Spartans scored on all four of its possessions in the second half. Sophomore quarterback Brody Cooper completed 11-of-19 passes for 238 yards and two touchdowns. Cooper also ran in Marist’s first TD from the one-yard line. His first TD pass of the night came on a third down and 31 in the second quarter. Cooper hit sophomore receiver Matt Haney on a 60-yard scoring pass. Cooper caught five passes for 135 yards. In the second half, Cooper threw a 39-yard TD pass to Clark Morton.

“We came out stronger in the second half and came out and got the job done,” Cooper said. “I passed a little better than I have in the past. I’m just trying to open up the offense a little bit more.”

Marist Football
Marist quarterback Brody Cooper threw two TD passes and ran for one against Willamette. (Gary Breedlove/EDN)

Running backs Justin Enseki-Frank and Kashi Hall spearheaded the Spartan running game. They combined for 152 yards rushing and one touchdown, a 28-yard burst by Hall that made the score 39-0.

“The running backs lit their tails on fire a little bit more and the young quarterback keeps getting better,” Marist coach Frank Geske said. “…We’re not a done deal by any stretch of the imagination, but we keep getting better. I didn’t think our defense could get any better. (Willamette) ran all over other teams in the first half of their other games, and they didn’t tonight. I’m really proud of that.”

Willamette finished the game with just 74 yards of offense, all of which were running yards. Playing without their starting quarterback Kosey Mitchell, who injured his knee in last week’s game, the Wolverines turned to Darius Jackson. Normally a wide receiver, Jackson never threw a pass in the game and then was injured while punting the ball in the second quarter. He never returned to the game, and Willamette moved tight end Geoff Kastel to quarterback. Jackson had 35 yards on 12 carries and Kastel had six carries for 27 yards.

Though he only had two carries, Marist’s Thompson-Falconer scored twice against his former school. The senior attended Willamette before transferring to Marist as a sophomore. Geske said his staff had been working to have Thompson-Falconer carry the ball on short-yardage situations since the season began. “It was nice to let him score a couple of times,” Geske said. “And he’s a phenomenal football player on both sides of the ball. We were getting it a little from the (Willamette) coaches for letting him do it, but this was the perfect time for him to do it.”

SCOREBOARD:

In other 5A Midwestern League action:

  • Ashland took possession of first place in the league with a 34-28 win over the Springfield Millers.
  • The Grizzlies remain undefeated at 5-0 and 3-0 in league play. Springfield is 3-2 overall and 2-1 in league.
  • The North Eugene Highlanders lost at Eagle Point, 32-12. The Highlanders are 0-5 overall and 0-2 in league.

In the 6A Southwest Conference:

  • Sheldon defeated South Medford, 49-14, to improve to 3-2 overall and 2-1 in conference.
  • Thurston went to Grants Pass and lost 45-21 to fall to 1-4 overall and 1-2 in conference.
  • South Eugene played at Roseburg and lost 34-21 to drop to 2-3 overall and 0-3 in conference.

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Spartans Destroy Visiting Wildcats, Advances to 5A Semifinals

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Alex Shoemaker, EDN

Wilsonville tried to battle it out with Marist on Friday night.  Unfortunately for the Wildcats, the Spartans took their undefeated season one game further with a 49-14 victory in the 5A OSAA quarterfinals.

Senior wide receiver and safety Taylor Walcott had another monster performance with four touchdowns and an interception, all in the first half. This game became a one-sided affair in a hurry, much like nearly every Marist contest this season. 

The Spartans (10-0) started with an 80-yard dive to open the game that lasted 4:44. Marist’s Greg Park finished the drive with an 8-yard touchdown run to put the Spartans up 7-0. Then in Wilsonville’s first drive, the Wildcats converted an early 4th down conversion in their own territory but came up short on a second try later on in the drive. Taking over on downs, the Spartans marched the ball down the field and eventually punched the ball in for the score on a 2-yard run by James Banks. The Spartans now had a 14-0 advantage.

Wilsonville’s next drive ended with another failed fourth down conversion.  After taking over on downs, Marist capitalized with a 50-yard run by Park on their first play. Then Kamerun Smith would connect with Josh Paiement on a 17-yard TD pass to put the Spartans up 21-0. Smith has been one of the most efficient starting quarterbacks in 5A football, completing 39 touchdowns to just 6 interceptions.He has been successful mainly because of his trio of explosive wide receivers: Paiement, Austin Baird and Taylor Walcott. Walcott has been the definition of domination on both sides of the ball with over 1,000 yards receiving on the year and a team leading five interceptions on defense in 2011.

On Wilsonville’s next drive, running back Tanner Shipley threw an interception on a trick-play to Baird (playing as defensive back).  The turnover eventually led to a Marist 4-yard touchdown pass reception by Walcott. Shipley has been the focus of Wilsonville’s offense also season long, rushing for 1,151 yards on 108 carries for an incredible 10.66 yards per carry (all numbers prior to Friday night’s game). That means that he is averaging a first down every time he touches the football. For that matter, Shipley has also been a standout defensive back with a team high of five interceptions on the year.  The fact that Marist slowed him down was a critical reason why they won on Friday.

Wilsonville fumbled on its next possession giving their opponents fantastic field position. Marist took advantage of the good field position and punched the ball in on 12-yard pass play to Walcott, his third of the game. The Wildcats’ next drive ended in yet another failed fourth down conversion, eventually leading to a 6-yard touchdown pass to Walcott, his fourth and final of the game. In Wilsonville’s ensuing possession, Walcott showed his defensive skills after picking off a throw by quarterback Jacob Haqq.

Turnovers have been the anchor to the Wildcats’ offense with 16 on the season (eight fumbles and eight interceptions). Starting quarterback Jacob Haqq has eight of those miscues (seven interceptions and a fumble lost). While Haqq has struggled with consistency, he has had a solid senior season overall. He played his role of game manager well and led the Wildcats to a 9-2 record. However, no team has proven capable of dethroning the Spartans so far.

With the clock winding down in the first half, Marist completed a 68-yard bubble screen to Walcott again for his fourth and final score of the half. The clock wound down to just 0.3 seconds remaining after the touchdown. Marist’s two wins prior to Friday featured 47-0 leads at halftime. It didn’t appear that they would outdo that this week against far better competition, but the 49-0 lead at the end of the second quarter begged to differ.

The second half featured far less excitement with the two scores being a 5-yard touchdown run by Jayden Cooper and a 4-yard run by Nick Highberger.  That brought the final score to 49-14 Marist.

The Wildcats’ season is over and they are out of contention for the 5A State Championship. With their solid base of junior players, led by Shipley, it is likely Wilsonville will be back and better than ever in 2012.

As for the Spartans, they will play the Mountain View Cougars in the semifinals on Nov. 25th in Salem on a neutral field. Marist has yet to play Mountain View on the year and they are more than capable of pulling an upset.

The game will feature two explosive offenses full of speed, and the Spartans will have their biggest test yet. That being said, Walcott said his team is looking to build on their recent success.

“We played a good game,” stated Walcott. “We want to keep with the solid play and hopefully we go far.”

Spartans and Pioneers Que Up for 5A Football Showdown

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Alex Shoemaker, EDN

Coming off a huge 53-8 victory over Summit, the 9-0 Marist Spartans will host the 4-6 Sandy Pioneers in the first round of the OSAA 5A football playoffs. Marist has absolutely crushed its competition all season long, with an average margin of victory of 41 points (49 to 8). That’s the biggest margin of victory in the 5A league.  Sandy opened the 2011 season with a shaky start, losing three of their first four games by nine points or more in each. Since, they have gone three-and-three including a 41-7 victory over Hood River to reach the playoffs.

Marist will prepare to duke it out against Sandy in the first round of OSAA 5A playoffs. Photo courtesy of Alex Shoemaker.

Quarterback Gannon Schroder, who has had an issue with accuracy, completing less than half of his passes on the season, leads Sandy on offense. He has been effective in scoring however, punching in 19 scores (16 throwing, 3 rushing) this season. For the Spartans to win, they will need to rely on their strong offense to continuing racking up yards and touchdowns.

Marist senior receiver and defensive back Taylor Walcott has been one of the most underrated prep stars in the Eugene area, dominating on both sides of the ball.  Walcott has 44 receptions for 921 yards and 14 TDs. Just as impressive is that Walcott has three interceptions and a fumble recovery whilst on defense.  The tandem of Walcott and quarterback Kamerun Smith is one of the best one-two punches in Oregon 5A football. In order for Sandy to emerge victorious, they will need to find a way of taking the passing game of Marist away, something that has been difficult to do.

Smith has only thrown six interceptions to 34 touchdowns, but if the Pioneers can find away to create pressure on the quarterback and force turnovers, the game could get very interesting. In Marist’s opening game of the 2011 season, the Spartans’ Smith threw three interceptions in a 16-14 victory over Corvallis. Had it not been for three interceptions thrown by Corvallis QB Joey Spiegelberg, the other Spartans could have very well won that game. The Corvallis’ defense held Marist to 306 yards of offense with hard-nose tackling and taking advantage of the Spartans’ mistakes.  Whoever wins the turnover battle will more than likely emerge victorious.

The Spartan defense has been dominating this year. Photo courtesy of Alex Shoemaker.

The key to the game may be the fact that the game is being played in Eugene, giving the Spartans a huge advantage. Marist has won each of its five home games by at least 34 points, and no team has come close to beating the Spartans at home.

And as good as Marist has been at home, Sandy has been equally bad on the road. In home games, the Pioneers are 3-2 but a pitiful 1-4 with three of those games being routes.  Expect the Marist crowd to be rocking. The Spartans know that they have what it takes to make it a long way in the playoffs. Just ask the Spartans themselves.

“I think we’re going to state,” Walcott said. “We can win it.”

But don’t count out the Pioneers. With high school football, anything can happen. A turnover here and a turnover there can make for an interesting ball game. If the Pioneers stay poised, avoid costly penalties and take care of the football… this could be anybody’s ball game.