Defense powers Willamina to playoffs
WILLAMINA — If the saying “defense wins championships” is accurate, Willamina football is headed in the right direction.
It’s no secret Willamina is solid on offense with playmakers like quarterback Trevor Hunt, running back Tyson Jahn, but it’s the defense that made a statement in the Bulldog’s (6-3, 4-2) 38-6 win Friday over Gervais (0-10, 0-6), forcing four turnovers.
Willamina plays at 7 p.m. Friday at Coquille in the first round of the 3A state playoffs.
Getting takeaways was something the Bulldogs weren’t able to do in their two previous games against Horizon Christian and Dayton.
“We struggled holding onto the football,” Willamina coach Tim France said. “It really hurt us and we weren’t playing Bulldog football.”
Willamina committed four turnovers against the Pirates and had three turnovers against the Hawks. France said the Bulldogs spent most of the week’s practices scheming on ways to hold on to the football and cutting down ways to turn the ball over period.
“We worked on basic drills in practice,” France said. “We did that so we could get our ball security confidence back.”
Friday’s game was the result of that practice. The Bulldogs did turn the ball over twice, but it was a big improvement that didn’t cost them points. They held the ball for the majority of the first quarter vs. Gervais, controlling the clock and keeping the Cougars off the field.
The first play of the second quarter went south for Gervais thanks to a hungry Bulldog defense. Willamina jumped the snap count and forced quarterback Nikita Kalugin to fumble the snap and six Bulldogs lineman jumped on the ball at the Gervais 40.
“They made good reads all night,” Willamina quarterback Trevor Hunt said of the defense. “It seemed like every time we scored, they were ready to answer.”
While Tyson Jahn turned the ball over at the two yard line on that next drive, the defense was ready to bail the offense out of the situation. Willamina senior defensive back Brad Bornheimer broke through the offensive line and sacked Kalugin in the end zone for a safety.
“We played well,” Bornheimer said. “I knew he (Kalugin) was right on our goal line and I just wanted to get one back for the offense.”
Willamina’s defense wasn’t through. The Cougars next possession went for two plays. After an Anthony Diaz run, Kalugin dropped back for a hail mary with under 10 seconds left in the half, his target Brent Vasas.
Again, the Bulldogs brought pressure and Kalugin underthrew the ball as a result, and it landed in the hands of Willamina receiver and safety Edwin Villalobos to end the half.
The Bulldogs held Gervais to 22 points in the first half.
“Our execution was great tonight,” France said. “We did so much better with our pressure tonight.
“We have a lot of seniors on defense and they really wanted to go out making a statement and I think they did that tonight.”
The defense surrendered the six points on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Kalugin to senior receiver Tony Leiva on a slant route to the left side of the end zone in the third quarter.
While it was the only score for Gervais, the Bulldog defense wasn’t happy about the touchdown.
“We weren’t happy about giving that up,” Bornheimer said. “We had good pressure all night and that one just kind of got past us.”
It was nothing to worry about. The defense got even, forcing the fourth Gervais turnover early in the fourth quarter. Kalugin and running back David Lopez ran an option play and Kalugin lateralled to Lopez but Lopez wasn’t watching for the pitch and Kalugin tossed a backwards pass that three Bulldog defenders pounced on to secure the Willamina win.
“We did really well tonight,” France said. “Our defensive pressure and reads worked well and areas we worked on in practice paid off.”
With a grin, France said the playoffs bring excitement and a new challenge.
“We’ll enjoy it now, but come (next week), it’s time to go to work.”
Local teams in the playoffs
The brackets for the OSAA state football playoffs were released Saturday, and four local teams will play Friday in the first round of their respective classifications.
The McMinnville Grizzlies play at 7 p.m. Friday at Wortman Stadium vs. Sunset (5-4). Mac (5-4) finished fourth in the Pacific Conference and held on to a No. 15 ranking in the final 6A RPI rankings to earn a home playoff game.
In the 3A state playoffs, No. 1-ranked Dayton (8-0) hosts Warrenton (5-5) at 7 p.m. Friday.
Willamina, which is ranked No. 6 by the RPI, did not earn a home playoff game because of the new rule instituted that league champions earn home games in the first round. The Bulldogs (6-3) play at 7 p.m. Friday at Coquille (6-3), which won the Sunset League but is ranked No. 15.
In the 1A playoffs, Perrydale (5-2) plays at 7 p.m. Friday at home vs. Jordan Valley (8-1).