Cottage Grove keeps things interesting, but it’s a win for SH

Scott Swanson

It may have been a little more suspenseful than Sweet Home expected, but the 24-16 win over Cottage Grove was still a solid “W” for the Huskies when the final whistle blew Friday night at Husky Stadium.

Thanks to another stalwart effort from junior tailback Brandon Keenon – 29 carries for 134 yards and another 91 yards via three catches, the Husky offense rolled to 380 total yards over the defending league champions, who made the state final last year.

Cottage Grove is young this year, with three seniors on its roster. But as Coach Dustin Nichol predicted before the game, the Lions were well-coached and a little unpredictable.

“That’s always a competitive game,” Nichol said. “We had our ups and downs but it counts.”

The win got Sweet Home (3-1, 1-0) off to a solid start in its league schedule, heading into this Friday night’s game at Junction City, but it wasn’t easy.

Sweet Home used its ground game and some timely defense to keep themselves in the lead, though the Lions were still threatening until the final minute of the game.

After the Huskies’ Hunter Jutte scooped up what was ruled a backwards lateral by Cottage Grove on the game’s first play, Sweet Home marched down the field on the back of Keenon, who scored on a five-yard run at 9:59.

But the momentum subsided for the rest of the quarter as the Lions matched them blow-for-blow for the rest of the quarter.

“I think we came out a little too light because we thought we were going to walk all over them because they were 0-3,” said receiver and defensive back Ryan R. Adams. “We scored early but they ended up punching us in the mouth there a little bit. But we recovered.”

Nichol and players said the offensive line had trouble with Cottage Grove’s stunting defense, that there needed to be more communication.

“We’ve got to talk, said lineman Brett Blachly. “We were pretty quiet tonight up on the front line. We were pretty slow out of our stances.”

Nichol said that experience should help the Huskies this week against Junction City, which he expects to use a similar defense.

“When we have people stunting like they were doing, stepping up in gaps, our normal responsibilities change,” he said. “We’ve got to make some calls. There was some confusion out there and that’s why we had some seepage in the backfield that we have to take care of.”

Following a 16-play drive by the Lions that took them down to the 11 yard line and ended with Jutte slapping down quarterback Blake Sentman’s pass in the end zone more than three minutes into the second period, Sweet Home took over on downs deep in its own territory. Quarterback Justin Tow hit Keenon and then Jutte with a pair of passes, the latter a 17-yarder for a second touchdown to take a 13-0 lead with 6:24 left.

But the Lions came back with some razzle-dazzle on their next play, Sentman tossing the ball to receiver Kory Parent, who then launched it downfield from the right sideline to a wide-open Payton Presley for their first score at 5:41.

Essentially, that was the same play the visitors had muffed at the start of the game, but this time it caught the Huskies off-guard.

“That was something we saw them do quite a bit on film,” Nichol said. “Our corner bit on it on that flea-flicker pass.”

Cottage Grove added a seven-yard field goal with six seconds left to send the teams into the locker room with the Huskies ahead 13-10.

“We had our moments where communication stuff is the biggest problem we’re having,” Nichol said, noting that a breakdown between the sideline and players on the field led to a pass attempt on fourth-and-seven from the mid-field stripe instead of a punt, that fell incomplete and essentially gave the Lions the chance they needed for their field goal.

“We got our wires crossed there,” he said.

The Huskies came out with some fire in their bellies in the second half.

Sweet Home took the opening kickoff of the second half and marched from its 41 to the end zone, thanks to pounding runs by Keenon and Kyler Gaskey, and a nifty 27-yard pass-and-run to Keenon that kept the drive alive on a third-and-nine.

After a pair of penalties sent the Huskies from the five back to the 21-yard line, Tow hit Jutte, who summersaulted into the end zone, then caught another pass from Tow for a two-point conversion to give Sweet Home a 21-10 lead with 5:40 left.

Gaskey went into action on the next drive, breaking away for a 30-yard run to the Cottage Grove 5 on a sweep, but the drive stalled there and Jutte kicked a five-yard field goal, with 8:17 to play, to expand the lead to 24-10.

Nichol said Gaskey and Keenon “complement each other pretty well” and often will swich off at tailback and fullback, with Gaskey tending to play the latter. “They’re two different styles of runners,” he said.

Gaskey, who missed all of last season after knee surgery, said he’s enjoying his senior season, though he’s using a lot of ice.

“It was fun. It was good to be back. My knees are still bothering me, but this is my senior year, so I have to come out and do this. The ice pack is my best friend.”

Meanwhile, the Husky defense shut down the Lions’ scoring through most of the second half, Ryan J. Adams stopping Cottage Grove’s next drive abruptly on its second play with an interception.

But after the Huskies stalled out on their succeeding drive, Sentman found Brinden Howell with a 76-yard scoring bomb on the Lions’ first play to close the hosts’ lead to 24-16 with 3:22 left.

Sweet Home’s offense continued to sputter on the next series and Cottage Grove took over on its 27 with 2:05 left to play.

Sentman threw deep toward the corner of the end zone, where Ryan R. Adams was waiting.

“I was watching the quarterback the whole way and he started breaking out and I think the quarterback threw it a little too early,” Adams said. “I thought I over-jumped it at first, but I came down with it. That was a blessing from God.”

“We were all a little ticked off that they actually scored on us,” he said of the Huskies’ second-half recovery of sorts. “At halftime, we talked about how this was our game and our field and we just had to get it done. That’s what we did. After halftime they only scored one touchdown on a broken play. Our defense stepped up there at the end, which was huge.”

Nichol said the defense played well, overall, but that Cottage Grove’s motion offense leaves little margin for error. He said the visitors took advantage of Sweet Home’s decision to beef up its run defense up the middle, with a four-man front instead of three, cashing in on a few mistakes by the Husky secondary.

“Our defensive backs made two mental mistakes that ended up in two scores. That’s a lot less than the eight or nine mistakes our linemen or linebackers made, but you don’t notice those.

“They scored twice and got a field goal. The thing about that offense, they’ll get nothing and nothing and then suddenly they’ve made three or four big plays and they’ve beat you, or they’re right in it. A safety can make a mistake, one mental mistake, and they’ve got six points.”

Offensively, the Huskies finished with 178 yards on the ground and 298 through the air as Tow went nine for 19 with two interceptions, both coming late in the game. Jutte also had one interception – on offense – after he took a pitch in the second quarter and launched a deep pass to Eric Flierl downfield that was picked off by Cottage Grove.

In addition to the two touchdown passes he caught and the opening-play recovery he made, Jutte also intercepted a fourth-quarter pass by Sentman, who finished with 233 passing yards.

Gaskey said the game against the Lions showed that Sweet Home needs to be patient with its ground attack.

“They were really loading the box. They know we are run-first. At lot of times we needed to get outside and that’s really what opened up the run game for us. A lot of times it wasn’t there off the bat. We kind of had to wait a second for the plays to develop. We were struggling seeing that in the first half. So, the second half we kind of were aware needed to wait a second on our runs, take our time.”

The Huskies travel to Junction City Friday. The Tigers are 2-2 after a 26-25 win over Elmira last week. They beat Madras 31-14 at home to open their season, then lost the next two games to Phoenix (30-23) and Cascade (27-7), both on the road.

In the win over Elmira Friday, senior running back Byron Brown rushed 28 times for 299 yards and four touchdowns for Junction City, which led 14-0 at the half after out-rushing Elmira 137-3 in the first period.

The Tigers run a double wing offense, which is why Nichol said he took his team to Scio for a jamboree prior to the season, because the Loggers run a similar offense.

“That’s exactly why I wanted to go to Scio, to experiment with a couple of defensive fronts and get our guys on film, to see who will play better in certain areas,” he said.

“I feel confident we can put something together to stop these guys. It’s just whether the kids step up and play this week, just like every other week. I think we did the best we could to set our kids up to be able to win this game by preparing for Junction City five weeks ago.”

Nichol said he tells his players to approach each league game as though it is a championship match-up.

“We don’t want to put our fate in someone else’s hands. Every year I’ve been coaching, these first three teams have been contenders. Not to take anything away from Sisters or Sutherlin, but these guys are the ones to beat.”

Scoring Summary

Sweet Home 7 6 8 3 – 24

Cottage Grove 0 10 0 6 – 16

1st Quarter

SH: Brandon Keenon 4 run. Hunter Jutte kick. 9:59

2nd Quarter

SH: Jutte 17 pass from Justin Tow. Kick blocked. 6:24

CG: Payton Presley 60 pass from Kory Parent. Brynden Howell kick. 5:41

CG: Howell 17 FG. :13

3rd Quarter

SH: Jutte 21 pass from Tow. Jutte pass from Tow. 5:40

4th Quarter

SH: Jutte 17 FG. 8:17

CG: Howell 76 pass from Blake Sentman. Kick failed. 3:22

Individual Statistics

Rushing: SH – Grandon Keenon 29-134; Kyler Gaskey 11-46; Kevin Seiber 1-3; Hunter Jutte 1- (-2). CG – Zane Levings 7-25; Johnny Conrad 4-20; Garren Taylor 1-5; Blake Sentman 5-3; Brynden Howell 3-3.

Passing: SH – Justin Tow 9-19-2-198; Hunter Jutte 0-1-1. Blake Sentman 11-21-2 233.

Receiving: SH – Hunter Jutte 4-79; Brandon Keenon 3-91; Eric Flierl 2-28. CG – Brynden Howell 5-134; Johnny Conrad 3-59; Kory Parent 3-16.