Dayton, Willamina and Perrydale put it on the line tonight
By BEN SCHORZMAN and JEROD YOUNG
Of the News-Register
Dayton’s march back to the state championship game starts at 7 p.m. tonight when the Pirates host Warrenton in the first round of the 3A state football playoffs.
For the second consecutive season, No. 1-ranked Dayton (8-0) has completed the regular season undefeated, and the Pirates are again favorites to play for a state title.
“I feel like kids are dialed in,” Dayton coach Brodie Unger said. “I like where we are at this point.”
Dayton lost 31-28 last season to Santiam Christian in the 3A state championship game on a last-second field goal.
Unger, who took over in the offseason for Gary Thorson, said he knew this team had the potential to make another deep run in the playoffs despite losing two outstanding player in A.J. Hedgecock and Hayden Craig. Hedgecock is currently redshirting at Oregon State and Craig is playing at the University of Montana.
Unger said the biggest difference since the start of the season for the Pirates is players have matured.
“I’ve noticed a lot more confidence,” he said. “Especially on the defensive and offensive lines. They were green at the beginning of the season.”
The Pirates haven’t been tested much this season. They beat Scio 7-6 to start the season, and their second-closest game was Oct. 26 when they beat Willamina 21-12.
Dayton’s offense has been the focus of much talk, with speedsters Forrest Garcia and Jered White running by pretty much everyone, but Dayton’s defense has been just as impressive. Dayton has outscored opponents 330-85 this season.
It will be a tough task for Warrenton to keep up with Dayton. The Warriors (5-5) finished third in the Lewis & Clark League, though Unger wouldn’t look past them.
“At this point, there isn’t a bad team,” he said. “You have to respect them for making it this far.”
Unger said the Warriors are good in the running game and throw quick passes.
“They utilize that well,” he said.
The biggest concern, Unger said, is that his team gets off to a good start tonight. The playoffs are about momentum, and it takes four games to win a championship. If a team plays poorly or flat in one round, it could severely affect it in the next round.
“You can’t have a bad game,” Unger said. “Even if you pull out the win but play negatively, it can hurt you. You don’t want that.”
Willamina on the road
It was a tough end to the season for the Willamina football team. The Bulldogs have lost two out three, but the win came in their final game vs. Gervais, a 38-6 domination of the winless Cougars.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is because of the way the OSAA RPI ranking factored the Bulldogs into the equation, they have to play their playoff game at 4 p.m. today on the road vs. Coquille instead of playing the game at home which Willamina anticipated.
“We wanted a home game, bad,” Willamina coach Tim France said. “However, because we are a No. 3 seed according to OSAA, we probably should statistically be playing on the road.”
France admits though the numbers don’t lie, players are disappointed they won’t be playing with the momentum of the home crowd.
The road game will be more challenging for the Bulldogs.
“We’ve looked at the numbers,” France said. “Something like, road teams lose like 90 percent of the time in the playoffs, so we’re at a bit of a disadvantage.”
Last week against Gervais, the Bulldogs went from a four turnover performance vs. Dayton two weeks ago, to two against the Cougars, and they were able to force Gervais to turn the ball over four times.
In the game against Dayton, Willamina struggled in the red zone. Gervais allowed the Bulldogs into the red zone six times and Willamina capitalized on 5-of-6 trips inside the 20.
France said that type of execution must carry over to the playoffs if Willamina is going to have success.
“We have to continue cutting down mistakes,” France said. “We have to continue our basic approach.”
France also admitted turning the clock back has thrown a wrench into the Bulldogs preparation for Friday’s game against the Red Devils because they practice at the high school field on the hill, which doesn’t have lights.
“It gets dark fast now,” France said. “So that means we have to speed up practice and our pace which means mistakes can’t happen.”
Coquille comes into Friday’s game with a lot of speed at the tailback position. The Bulldogs have faced a few speedy running backs this year in the West Valley League, but France said the run game of the Red Devils is a new challenge.
“Their backs are good,” France said. “All of them are something we have to be worried about and prepare for.”
The Bulldogs appear to have more obstacles entering the playoffs then advantages. The coaching staff is staying away from the famous sports movie-type speeches and are going with a three-word strategy.
“Do your job,” France said. “It’s what we’ve told them since the first day. Those three words have gotten us to where we are now, no reason for the big speech.”
Perrydale faces like opponent
It wouldn’t be playoff time without some unexpected surprises.
Perrydale football had an impressive season in 1A’s Special District 1 finishing with six wins and in second place behind St. Paul.
More importantly, it was able to avoid any of those unwanted, special surprises entering into the playoffs.
With the way the standings and ranking appeared, the Pirates were certain they knew who they would face in the playoffs. Their opponent was going to be either Sherman or Adrian. Perrydale began the process of preparation for both. Requested film, sought out stats and all kinds of other materials.
There was just one problem. The Pirates aren’t playing either one. The coaching staff found out through OSAA that they will face Jordan Valley at 4 p.m. Friday at home.
“Fact is, we schemed for Sherman and Adrian,” Perrdale coach Dan Dugan said. “The RPI threw a wrench at us, so we’ve had to adjust, talk to different coaches and change our game plan.”
Dugan and the players are thrilled because hosting a home playoff game is a big deal for the Pirates, especially given the opponent.
“We’re looking forward to the home game,” Dugan said. “It really saves us a long drive which would have been hard on everyone.”
Jordan Valley finished second behind Adrian in 1A’s Special District 6 and though the Pirates were blindsided by the change in opponent, both teams match up well and score a lot of points.
The Mustangs scored 458 points this year while Perrydale put up 445.
“We’re ready for the offense,” Dugan said. “I feel like we have the advantage up front on defense and can dominate on blocks.”
Jordan Valley brings one element Perrydale is very familiar with. Size. The Pirates ended the season with a loss vs. St. Paul and saw the Buckaroos 300-pound running back Cole Weisz rush for 300 yards.
Perrydale will see a similar attack from the Mustangs with a 200-pound fullback Blaine Moran.
“Their fullback is huge,” Dugan said. “But we faced Cole this year and feel like we are ready and know how to handle that type of attack with Jordan Valley.”
Size isn’t the only area the Pirates are concerned about going into tonight’s game. The Mustangs have a speedster at the running back position in Ty Warn.
“Ty is fast,” Dugan said. “He took second in the 100-meters at the championships last year.”
Dugan said he is working on a few new wrinkles to contain and surprise Jordan Valley, specifically working on blocks at the second level to try to cut down Warn’s speed and Moran’s force.
In the end, it will come down to the Pirate defense and whether or not they can stop the run. Something they were unable to do last week against St. Paul.
“We just have to do what we do,” Dugan said. “Put in a wrinkle here and there, and dominate the line of scrimmage.”