Dayton looks to move on to semis for third year
Much like the Linfield football team, the Dayton Pirates find themselves in a unique situation. They are matched up with a team they have already beaten once this season, and the second time around figures to be an even harder fight considering what’s on the line.
The No. 1-ranked Pirates play Willamina at 7 p.m. today at home in the 3A state football quarterfinals.
“It’s a unique situation to play the same team twice,” Dayton coach Brodie Unger said. “And it’s unique that we might play another team we’ve played in the next round. It’s different. You don’t see it very often.”
Unger is referring to the other 3A state quarterfinal game on Dayton’s side of the bracket: Santiam Christian at Horizon Christian. Dayton beat the Hawks earlier this season, but before it can worry about them or Santiam Christian, the Pirates must get by Willamina. Dayton beat the Bulldogs 21-12 three weeks ago in the last game of the regular season, but Willamina (7-3) was able to stymie Dayton’s otherwise potent offense.
“We definitely know that we have to get back to the basics and play better,” Unger said. “They’re a good team. They’re well coached their players play hard.
“They did some pretty good things defensively and caused some of our guys fits just by the way they lined up.”
Willamina finished third for the second straight season in the West Valley League, but while the Pirates were running through the rest of the league, they struggled to score vs. Willamina’s hardnosed defense.
“I’m really happy that we get to play these guys,” Dayton quarterback Nathan Bernards said. “No disrespect. They’re a great team, but I feel that we came out sluggish and slow. We didn’t play our best. We can really play a lot better, and I’m glad that we get the opportunity to play them again.
“It’s a great opportunity to redeem ourselves. They’re a great team that fights hard. They control the ball pretty well. Defensively, they were tough. They smacked us in the mouth to start.”
Tough was an adjective Unger couldn’t get away from when describing the Bulldogs, who beat Coquille on the road last week despite turning the ball over six times.
“I just keep going back to it, but they just play hard,” Unger said.
Despite never having lost to Willamina, Bernards said the Bulldogs have always played Dayton close.
“Willamina always has tough players,” Bernards said. “They have a tough senior class there. They’ve always been one of our more competitive rivals.”
Playing a team for a second time also means shaking up the game plan.
“Anytime you play a team for the second time, you’re always going to tweak some things,” Unger said. “We went back and looked at some areas where we didn’t play well, and they’re doing the same thing.
“We’re not going to change our identity, but yeah, we’ll change a few things.”
With a win, the Pirates could get back to the semifinals for the third straight season. Two seasons ago, they lost in the semis to eventual state champion Rainier. Last season, the Pirates defeated Rainier to move on to the state championship game vs. Santiam Christian. Bernards said players are being mindful to not get ahead of themselves.
“I think the guys have really bought into that mentality and we’re not guaranteed anything,” he said. “Just like every team in the state.”
Dayton’s semifinal opponent does present some big storylines, should the Pirates get pat Willamina tonight. Dayton already has a win vs. Horizon Christian this season, and if Santiam Christian wins, then it would be a rematch of last year’s title game. It’s something that’s not lost on Unger or his players.
Bernards said the playoffs have reinvigorated the Pirates. The regular season can drag on, but once playoffs hit, everything becomes much more immediate.
“It’s not so much a grind as it was at the end of the season,” he said. “We have three weeks left max. We’re ready to go.”
Perrydale at Imbler
Perrydale’s high-powered offense meets one of the best teams in the state Saturday in No. 2-ranked Imbler. The Panthers (9-0) host Perrydale (7-2) at noon Saturday in the 1A state quarterfinals.
Perrydale won in the first round 76-20 vs. Jordan Valley, and Imbler put up similar numbers against its first-round opponent, Triangle Lake in a 60-24 win. The Pirates defeated Triangle Lake 82-42 in the third game of the season Sept. 14.
Both teams come in having put up some big numbers this season. Perrydale is averaging 57.9 points per game this season. The Panthers have been even more impressive, averaging 63.3 points per game this season.
The winner would play Nov. 24 in the 1A state semifinals vs. the winner of Saturday’s Sherman-Camas Valley game.