Early runs by JC leave Huskies at short end of 20-14 score

Scott Swanson

Sweet Home got an early overdose of one of the conference’s best players, Junction City running back Bryon Brown, Friday night and by the time the Huskies recovered their equilibrium, it was too late as they fell 20-14.

The Tigers’ buzz-saw offense, featuring Brown, who ran for 143 yards on 23 carries, scored 20 points in the first half and although Sweet Home came back with a vengeance in the second half, Junction City escaped with the win.

The Huskies, 3-2 overall and 1-1 in league, are tied with Elmira, whom they will host Friday night at 7 p.m. in their annual Homecoming game.

Coaches and players agreed that Sweet Home responded too slowly to the hosts’ explosive double-wing offense in the early going.

“We kind of shot ourselves in foot in the first half,” Coach Dustin Nichol said. “I think we came out kind of complacent. Before we knew it they were up 20-7.”

Linebacker Cole Ashcraft said the Huskies’ lack of fire early on concerned him.

“I was trying to get everybody fired up,” he said. “Once we got to the second half, we turned it on. And we made some adjustments and ended up putting up a goose egg in the second half.”

Junction City’s Brown, a 5-11, 160-pound senior and junior running back Zach Rogers got things rolling early for the hosts, combining for a steady diet of power sweeps and gashing runs, taking the Tigers 67 yards in 11 plays to their first touchdown with 7:17 on the clock in the opening period to take a 6-0 lead after their PAT attempt failed.

Sweet Home got the ball on its 30 yard line after a holding call on the kickoff return kicked off a series of untimely penalties for the Huskies that ran its course through the game. Four plays later they were forced to punt after their opening series went six yards and that was the last Sweet Home saw of the ball in the first quarter.

Junction City embarked on another long drive, 13 plays from its own 34, which ended with Brown slipping into the end zone with 11:08 left in the second quarter. After another failed kick, the hosts were on top 12-0.

“He’s a good athlete, but we had to step up and make the plays to stop him,” said defensive back Eric Flierl of Brown. “With that offense, it’s hard to stop a running back. He’s fast, he’s strong, he’s not the smallest, and he’s hard to find in all those linemen. Once he gets outside, he’s fast enough to catch a corner and be gone.”

Sweet Home got down to business at that point, Brandon Keenon showing off his own brand of power football with runs seven runs, the last a 25-yarder, to cap an eight-play, 65-yard drive and get the Huskies on the board. Jutte’s kick cut the deficit to 10-7.

But the Tigers were still on fire, freshman quarterback Jesse McClintock completing a 35-yard pass, his only attempt of the evening, to tight end Nick Gibson and Brown finishing things off with a 16-yard scamper. Brown then sliced into the end zone for a two-point conversion to lengthen Junction City’s lead to 20-7 with 4:18 left in the half.

That’s the way it stayed, despite a 33-yard run by Kyler Gaskey in the Huskies’ next possession, which stalled at the 40 yard line after quarterback Justin Tow was sacked and then couldn’t get the yardage back on a throw to Keenon and was forced to punt again.

The Tigers’ Collin Hertzog ran Jutte’s punt back to the Sweet Home 11 with 1:21 left, but the Huskies held and the half ended with Sweet Home down 20-7.

The Huskies got right down to business after Junction City’s halftime Homecoming show, Tow hitting Jutte with a 43-yard touchdown pass to cap a five-play drive and Jutte kicked another extra point to make it 20-14.

Sweet Home’s defense then stiffened, holding the Tigers to two straight four-and-outs to finish out the third quarter, but their possession didn’t last much longer.

The Tigers opened the fourth quarter with a 15-play drive from their 25 to the Sweet Home 5, but the Huskies forced the hosts to attempt a field goal at fourth-and-five, which failed.

As the game wound down from that point, penalties and dropped balls killed two promising drives by the Huskies, the latter ended with a big pick by Junction City’s Conner Ramseyer, who returned the ball 50 yards to the Sweet Home 25 with 1:15 left in the game.

But the Tigers failed to burn enough time off the clock and Sweet Home got one last-gasp shot, which ended up being an eight-yard pass from Tow to Keenon at the 22.

Nichol said his team wasn’t really in synch for most of the night.

“It seems like we weren’t working together too much as team. We had some individuals on both sides of the ball who were making mistakes. If it wasn’t the inside or outside backers, it was the secondary not understanding what pass coverage we had or we had receivers running wrong routes or running backs not attacking the line of scrimmage.

“When I talked to the guys after the game, I told them this was a perfect example of a team loss. It wasn’t one person, one position. I order for us to completely fail in a play, we have to have more than one person make a mistake.”

The Huskies finished with 116 yards on the ground, 92 of them from Keenon, and 84 from Tow through the air. Junction City’s rushing total was 245 yards on 55 carries.

“I think in the total time possession of the game, we had the ball for 14 minutes, they had it for 34,” Nichol said. “When you’re playing that kind of game, they’re controlling the clock. Our offense in the second half did enough to put ourselves in position to win the game, but we fell short on penalties.”

The Huskies finished with 50 yards in penalties, but too many of them were at critical junctures, one an illegal procedure call that negated what would have been a 30-yard touchdown catch by Eric Flierl late in the third quarter, and another calling back another 40-yard gain on third-and-32.

“In theory, we could have scored 21 points in the second half,” Nichol said. “It’s just unfortunate that we blew some opportunities there.”

Flierl said the players needed to be more disciplined.

“We need to not make as many mental mistakes as we did, penalties before the ball was snapped.”

“We had some critical penalties at the wrong times when we really needed some momentum,” Keenon said. “I think people just started getting frustrated because they were running the ball the way they were.”

Nichol said the players who stood out Friday were his defensive linemen and center Chris Melcher.

“I think our defense line, George Rayborn, Shawn Worthen, Ryan J. Adams, Patrick Bell and Brycen Mitten did an outstanding job plugging things up. They were doing what I ask them to do. They took things upon them in the second half to set the tone and everybody else fed on that.”

Elmira, coming off a 43-13 win at Sutherlin (1-4, 0-2) Friday, is also 3-2 overall and 1-1 in league. Mike Langner threw two touchdown passes to Buddy Finder and Gary Younce and Kolton Baldree each scored rushing touchdowns for the Falcons. Taj Wilson returned a kickoff for a score as well.

Nichol said he expects more of the same after Friday night from the Falcons, who run a slot wing offense similar to Junction City’s except with an added passing threat.

“I think Elmira is a better team than Junction City is,” he said. “You’ve got the same thing with the potential to throw the ball. Their quarterback can throw deep and he’s pretty accurate.

“Junction City is pretty one-dimensional. These guys are going to hit you in three different areas: smash mouth, counters and they’re going to throw the ball.”

Game time is 7 p.m. at Husky Stadium.

SH 0 7 7 0 – 14

JC 6 14 0 0 – 20

Scoring Summary

First Quarter

JC – Bryon Brown 2 run. Kick failed. 7:17

Second Quarter

JC – Bryon Brown 1 run. Kick failed. 11:08

SH – Brandon Keenon 25 run. Hunter Jutte kick.

JC – Bryon Brown 2 run. Bryon Brown run. 4:18

Third Quarter

SH – Justin Tow 43 pass to Hunter Jutte. Jutte kick. 9:51

Individual Statistics

Rushing: SH – Brandon Keenon 16-92; Kyler Gaskey 4-34; Justin Tow 2-(-10); Total 22-116; JC – Bryan Brown 23-143; Zach Rogers 21-78; Kaleb Gambee 5-20; Conner Ramseyer 1-3; Mason Erager 1-1; Jesse McClintock 4-0; Total 55-245.

Passing: SH – Justin Tow 7-11-84-1; Brandon Keenon 0-1-0; JC – Jesse McClintock 1-1-35-0.

Receiving: SH – Brandon Keenon 4-24; Hunter Jutte 2-48; Eric Flierl 3-12. JC – Nick Gibson 1-35.