Football: After loss to No. 3 Marist, Huskies refocus for Junction City

After a lopsided 42-12 loss at league-leading Marist Catholic last week, Sweet Home’s football team will hit the road once again this Friday to take on Junction City, a team that sits a slot above Sweet Home in the Special District 3 rankings. The Huskies come into the contest at 2-3, while Junction City is 3-2.

“It’s going to be a big game for us,” Sweet Home Head Coach Ryan Adams said. “We’re in a situation where we’re kind of competing for spots in league as we come down to our last four games, and trying to make potential playoff runs. We’re really pumped for that opportunity and ready to get after it.”

“It’s going to be a good game,” he added. “We think Junction City’s a pretty good team, and well-coached.”

He said that the Tigers “run some funky stuff on both offense and defense.”

On offense Adams said Junction City runs a wing-T in a way he has never seen before from any other team.

“It’s kind of like Cascade’s offense, but they don’t have anybody split out as a receiver,” he explained. “Everybody’s just in the box. So it’s real tight, condensed and run-heavy. They like to do a lot of misdirection, and they essentially have two quarterbacks, and they’ll direct snap to one of them at any time.”

He said that “On defense, they do a lot of funky stuff with their linebackers to try to take advantage of some different things, which has created some success for them and allowed them to compete in some different games. So it’ll be a good test for us.”

The coach asserted that “we continue to believe that if we show up and take care of our business, then we can compete with anybody.”

During practice this week, he said “we’re going to prep and rep their offense and defense against our guys, so we can give them the best look possible.

“But when you play a team that runs such a weird offense, it’s kind of hard to give your guys an accurate look at what they’re going to do, because you’re trying to train your second- and third-string kids on how to run somebody else’s offense. And you’ve really only got three days to do that.”

In the face of that challenge, Adams said “We’re just going to focus on what we can control, and give our players those visuals and whatnot and things to look for, and just preach discipline. If we take care of our job, then we should come out with a win.”

He added: “Offensively, we’re going to continue to try to get the ball to our playmakers. We understand that our best chance to win is getting those guys touches. Whether that’s through the air or on the ground, it doesn’t really matter to me as long as we’re scoring points and moving the ball down the field.”

He added that “Junction City doesn’t run anything defensively that we’ve got to adjust our offense to. We’ve just got to take advantage of the matchups that they give us. And a lot of that’s going to look like the quick pass game, and everything that we do that’s in our wheelhouse.”

Sweet Home had a hard time finding that wheelhouse against Marist, joining the ranks of other teams that have had similar problems handling the No. 3 ranked Spartans this season.

Marist (4-1) started off the game on the right foot and Sweet Home failed to respond, as the Spartans held a 14-0 lead after one quarter of play.

Quarterback Jackson Gibeau connected through the air with wide receiver AJ Sargent for both touchdowns, the first score coming on a 29-yard pass and the second on a 15 yard completion.

Marist stretched its lead to 21-0 in the second quarter when Gibeau hit Jack Kiefer for a 26-yard touchdown pass.

Sweet Home responded with some airtime of its own, however, as quarterback Heath Nichol connected with wide receiver Brady Nichols for a 31-yard touchdown pass. Nichols’ point-after kick was blocked, and the score became 21-6 Spartans.

But Marist answered back with a score of its own, as Drew Prickel busted loose down the sidelines for an 80-yard kickoff return to the end zone, making the score 28-6 Marist at half.

The Spartans punched in another score in the third quarter when Prickel ran for a one yard touchdown, putting the score at 35-6. Marist scored again in the fourth quarter, when Gibeau connected with Sargent again for the pair’s third touchdown completion of the contest, this time a big 54 yard play.

With the Spartans up 42-6, the Huskies mounted one last successful drive, culminated by Nichol finding Jacob Landtroop for a 14-yard touchdown pass. Sweet Home’s two-point conversion attempt fell incomplete, and the game ended at 42-12.

“Obviously, the game wasn’t as competitive as we were hoping for,” Adams said. “We knew that Marist is a really good football program – well-established and well-disciplined and whatnot. They didn’t do a whole lot that we didn’t really expect.

“We’ve just got to get better at our own execution, and that starts with me, from the top down. Just kind of getting better at the little things, staying disciplined and executing.”

On a positive note, the effort was there for the Huskies.

“I thought our kids played hard,” Adams said. “We had a lot of good moments out there, just not enough to keep the score close and give us a chance at the end.”

On offense, he said, “I thought we did pretty good, especially through the air. We tried to take some shots here and there. Marist is extremely disciplined, so a lot of things we try to do off of our quick passing game to try to push the ball vertical, they didn’t bite on those kinds of things. So we just had to take what they gave us.”

The coach noted that “We threw the ball a lot, on a lot of quick out routes and screens, that we found some success with.”

Focused more on the passing game, Sweet Home only had 19 yards rushing.

“A lot of that’s a testament to Marist and the guys they’ve got up front,” Adams said. “They were closing gaps and they didn’t allow us to run the football. But you know, almost 250 yards through the air on an almost 70% completion percentage is pretty good.”

On defense, he said “They got a couple big plays that they took advantage of.”

He pointed out that three of the Spartans’ touchdowns were off of vertical routes on the outside. “But we figured that they were going to be a pretty run-heavy team, and that’s what they’ve been the last couple of weeks.

“I thought we did a pretty good job handling the run game. We just had some missed assignments here and there in the secondary that allowed them big opportunities.”

The loss leaves Sweet Home positioned fifth out of seven teams in the Special District 3 standings going into Friday’s game.