By Jerod Young • Jerod Young • 

Big stakes familiar territory for Dayton, S-C

DAYTON — In Friday’s 54-20 3A state quarterfinal playoff win vs. Willamina, the No. 1-ranked Pirates continued to perfect a mindset that’s been a work in progress since first-year coach Brodie Unger took over the job last spring.

An Army of One.

The mantra Dayton focuses on is: One play, One practice, One rep.

It’s a strategy that every player has eagerly bought into and has helped them move on to the state semifinals at 7 p.m. Saturday vs. No. 3-ranked Santiam Christian (10-2) at Willamette University.

Based on Dayton’s offensive showing against the Bulldogs, it was a blowout. The play of the Pirates, though, was anything but flawless according to their mantra.

“We played well,” Unger said. “There were areas such as lining up and some blocking schemes that could have been better, but we did well based on what we are trying to build on.”

Dayton produced 515 yards on offense. Quarterback Nathan Bernards threw for 227 yards and two touchdowns. Running back Forrest Garcia rushed for 145 yards and three touchdowns.

Unger’s approach of one thing at a time, and the players’ work within that system, has earned the Pirates an undefeated season and a new outlook on football.

Dayton’s reward?

A date in the semifinals with an Eagles team that broke the hearts of the Pirates with a 31-28 win in last season’s 3A state championshpi game. A 47-yard game winning field goal that just cleared the crossbar as time expired was the final dagger.

The memory of the field goal heard ’round Western Oregon still lingers with Dayton players.

“It’s still there,” Bernards said after a pause. “We’ve done a good job of putting it behind us, but once we knew we were playing them next, it’s hard not to remember what happened.”

Unger said the memory doesn’t loiter within the coaching staff, and the players shouldn’t be haunted by it.

“That’s behind us,” Unger said. “As coaches and players, we have to treat each year different than the last. We aren’t talking about last year. I could care less. We’re just concerned about today.”

Though the Dayton defense held Willamina to 175 yards, the Eagles are a fast, tough offense to contain. Santiam Christian averages 39 points and the defense allows 205 yards a game.

The Eagles’ latest victim was Horizon Christian. Santiam Christian blew out the Hawks 47-14. The Eagles produced 400 yards of offense.

From one good offense to another, Unger is not concerned about having to adjust the Pirates goal.

“No,” Unger said quickly. “No new approach. This is just another game and our approach and mindset has worked through 10 tough games this year and we have confidence in what we do.”

Pirate players aren’t worried about making any drastic changes either.

“We believe in what we do,” Dayton senior receiver Justin Sutton said. “We play together every play and we have guys who played against them last year and we know what we have to do.”

Other than containing the Eagles offense, the Dayton offensive line has to protect Bernards from a dangerous SC defense, specifically, senior linebacker Cody Manzi. Last week against a solid Horizon Christian O-line, Manzi broke through for seven tackles — two for loss — and an interception.

“We’re ready for it,” Unger said. “This game won’t be a blowout for either team by any means. This is where our one play at a time comes in because that’s all we can do.”

Another obstacle Dayton has to overcome is playing away from home. Unger admits the Pirates tend to not play as well on the road, though this year, Dayton has won all four of its road games. The concern of the away contest stems from the Pirates last loss on the road: last December in the state championship game.

Playoff déjà vu has returned, and Dayton is one play, one practice, one rep and one step away from returning to the state finals. The opportunity for redemption is there.

“This team is tight and they trust each other and they want it,” Unger said. “As we say, it’s time to grab the lunch pale and go to work.”

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