Huskies battle to 28-19 Homecoming win against Ashland

Benny Westcott

Sweet Home celebrated its homecoming week with a 28-19 win over Ashland last Friday at Husky field, improving to 3-4 on the year. The Huskies’ non-league homecoming opponent may have come into the game a lowly 1-5, but the Grizzlies sole win this year came against North Eugene, a team that beat up on Sweet Home 42-14 last season.

“We knew that they would come out and compete and that they are well-coached,” Sweet Home Head Coach Ryan Adams said of Ashland.

The game took an interesting path, as Sweet Home scored all of its 28 points in a flurry in the second quarter.

The matchup started out scoreless through the first quarter. Sweet Home opened the game by driving to Ashland’s 23 yard line, but was stuffed on fourth and four.

The Huskies were able to get a hold of their own on the next possession, as Grizzly passes fell incomplete, resulting in a punt.

On the next possession, Sweet Home receiver Von James fumbled after catching a pass over the middle, and Ashland recovered at its own 30 yard line.

With the ball back, Ashland quarterback Jojo Harrower launched a long pass to wide receiver Caden Negra, resulting in a 35 yard gain. Then running back Gavin White ran for yardage, and a facemask against Sweet Home tacked on more distance, giving Ashland the ball on the Husky five yard line.

On the next play, defensive back Jacob Sieminski saved a touchdown by breaking up a pass intended for Negra. The Grizzlies then shot themselves in the foot with penalties. An illegal procedure penalty pushed them back to the 10 yard line, and on the subsequent play a touchdown pass was called back after a holding call.

But Ashland kept pushing, and on third and goal from the 21 yard line, Harrower found Crosby Lehnerz in the end zone for the game’s first score. The extra point kick by Wilson Wildman was good, and the Grizzlies took a 7-0 lead with 9:59 remaining in the second quarter.

But the lead wouldn’t last long – in fact, it was the last time the Grizzlies would be winning in the game.

On the ensuing kick-off, Brady Nichols broke numerous tackles and high-stepped his way past Ashland defenders along the Sweet Home sideline on the way to a 90 yard touchdown. “My coaches got mad at me for going back inside, but I know what I’m doing,” Nichols said of the play. “I trusted my blockers. I went inside, they held their block for me and then I bounced it back out to the outside, and it was just off to the races from there.”

Adams said “It was just Brady being a phenomenal athlete. I thought he was tackled right here on our sideline for a good return in itself. He never ceases to amaze me with the amount of tackles that he can break, being a smaller dude like that. But he’s got a really low center of gravity and kind of threw the guy off him.”

Wide receiver Kaden Zajic caught a throw from quarterback Heath Nichol to secure the two-point conversion, and just like that, Sweet Home was up 8-7.

The Grizzlies in response would go four and out on their next possession, as defensive back Kaden Miller broke up a pass on fourth and one to give Sweet Home the ball at Ashland’s 29.

A series of running plays culminated by a two yard effort by running back Kayo Ebbs gave Sweet Home its second touchdown. Nichol ran in a quarterback keeper for the two-point conversion, making the score 16-7 Sweet Home with 6:14 left in the half.

Ashland got two first downs on its next possession, but was eventually forced to punt. However, the exchange between the snapper and the punter was botched, and the ball hit the turf. It was jumped on by lineman Conner Rundell, allowing Sweet Home to take over at the Ashland 30.

Two plays later, Sweet Home capitalized on the good field position, as Nichol showed his athleticism by evading tacklers enroute to a 24 yard touchdown run on a quarterback keeper. The Huskies’ extra point attempt never got off the ground as the exchange between snapper and holder failed, but Sweet Home still enjoyed a 22-7 lead with 2:05 left in the half.

Sweet Home quickly shut down the Grizzlies on the next possession, as passes from Harrower fell incomplete. A throw intended for Negra was once again broken up by Sieminski on third down. The Grizzly punt gave Sweet Home the ball on its own 25 with 1:26 left before halftime.

Shortly after, Adams called a trick play that worked out exceptionally well for the Huskies. Nichol tossed the ball to wide receiver Jeremy Zook, who in turn tossed it to Nichols going the other way. Nichols broke two tackles and found space, before launching a ball to wide receiver Jacob Landtroop, who was running a route over the top. The big play went for a gain of 41 yards.

“We tried to do it against Marist, and Trenton [Smith] was wide open down the field, and Brady just didn’t see him,” Adams said of the trick play. “So we talked about it in film, and we knew that if we did this again we’d have an opportunity, and we were just blessed enough to have that.”

Nichols mentioned the first tackle he evaded. “Their defensive end flew right in and I was able to barely squeak under his head, and I just threw it up and [Landtroop] was able to get under it,” he said. Nichols said he used to play quarterback, so knew he could make the long throw.

Then Nichol found Zajic in the end zone for a seven yard touchdown pass with just 25 seconds left in the half. Nichol was then stopped short on the two-point conversion attempt. The Huskies took a 28-7 lead into halftime.

Ashland got the ball to start the second half. Harrower threw to an open Noah Shrader, resulting in a big 42 yard gain. On subsequent plays the Grizzlies would get all the way to the Sweet Home four yard line. But a big broken up pass by James and a combined sack by defensive back Zook and lineback Ebbs helped to stuff the Grizzlies, who went four and out, giving Sweet Home the ball at its own 10.

Sweet Home managed to get four first downs on its next possession. But then the Grizzly defensive line broke through and Nichol was sacked two plays in a row, forcing a punt by Zajic, who pinned Ashland at its own 10.

Two plays later, Harrower found Shrader on a big pass over the top, and a facemask penalty called on Nichols as he was tackling Shrader added even more yardage, making the play 66 yards in all. On the next play, Negra caught a 17 yard touchdown pass from Harrower. The Grizzlies snap on the ensuing extra point attempt was unsuccessful, and the score became 28-13 with 2:05 left in the third quarter.

Sweet Home would drive all the way to Ashland’s 15 on its next possession, but would eventually fail on fourth down, giving Ashland the ball with 6:36 left in the game. The Grizzlies quickly marched down the field with six straight completed passes, the last being an eight yard touchdown from Harrower to tight end Marcelo Saturen, making the score 28-19 with 4:47 left. The Grizzlies lined up for a two-point conversion to try to make it a one possession game, but an out-route pass near the end zone was knocked out of White’s hands by a monstrous hit from Nichols, who said it was one of the biggest hits of his football career.

“I was ready for it,” the senior said. “I was getting a little mad that we let them score. I’ve got two games left, so I’ve just got to let it all go.”

Adams said “Even with the kick return and some of the other plays he had, that might have been the biggest one. The two-point conversion would have made it a one possession game. Then they get the ball back on the fumble or an onside kick, anything can go at that point. That was a huge play to keep it at two possessions.”

On its next drive, Sweet Home was able to run the ball, getting three first downs, taking up time, and burning all three of Ashland’s timeouts. A handoff from Nichol to Ebbs was fumbled and Ashland recovered, but at that point there was only 1:30 left on the clock, and the Grizzlies were back in their own territory, down two possessions with no timeouts remaining.

The game was truly iced when Zook intercepted a pass. Nichol took a knee on the remaining plays and Sweet Home emerged victorious.

“We did enough to get a win,” Adams said of the game. “With homecoming there’s a lot of distractions and a lot of things going on throughout the week. Our kids responded really well, and they understood what they needed to do. The whole point of homecoming is to win a Friday night football game, and they did enough to do that.”

Of Ashland, he said “They run a lot of the same stuff that we do offensively. They’ve got some big receivers on the outside, and we obviously do not have corners to match. So we were really just kind of interested to see how we would play.”

On defense, the coach said “The biggest thing was staying deep. Those 19 points they did score was just our guys not staying disciplined enough to stay deep. If we take care of those things, then we’re in a way better situation.”

Nichol said “That’s what happens when we actually get our stuff together and play how we should. It took us a little bit in the first quarter. We just had to get our thoughts straight. Once we did that, we came together pretty well. We executed on offense better in the second and third quarter.”

He added that “We knew we were pretty evenly matched in the skill positions. Our teams are pretty similar. Both of us struggle a little bit on defense, but when we get going each team has the potential to be dangerous.”

Nichols noted that “I’m really proud of our guys and how we were able to turn it on in the second quarter and throughout the rest of the game. Like most games, we have a lot of guys stepping up that normally don’t start. We have a lot of guys that are willing to fill shoes, and they work.”

Sieminski said “We had a really good first half and got up 28-7. Then we kind of let them come back a little bit. It shouldn’t even have been that close in the second half.”

He said the Husky cornerbacks played “lights out.”

“After watching film and a lot of the stuff they did, I figured we were going to run all over them,” the junior noted. “I knew they were kind of like us, with not a lot of running and a lot of passing.”

He said that at halftime, Adams said “‘Keep your head in the game and keep running all over them.’ And we did for the most part. We ran all over them on defense.”

Sieminski talked about how he broke up numerous passes intended for Negra, despite being much shorter than the Grizzly wide receiver.

“For one, he’s like eight feet tall,” he said jokingly. “The only time he ever got one was when he caught it over my head. But every other time, I usually tried staying on his hips, and I was able to get a hand on the ball and put it down on the ground.”

The Huskies face off next against league rival Stayton on the Eagles’ home field. Stayton comes into the game, which takes place at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 20, with a 5-2 record.

“It’s the biggest game of the year, obviously,” Adams said. “They’re tied for second in our league. But we always kind of like playing Stayton; we think we match up pretty well a lot of the times with them.”

He said that the Eagles are “pretty big” and like to run the ball a lot. “They’ve got some huge dudes up on the line,” he said. “We always seem to be undersized no matter who we play. It’s going to be a tough challenge, but we’re excited to do that and hopefully ruffle some feathers in the playoff picture.”

Talking about Sweet Home’s strategy against Stayton, Adams said that “Defensively, we know we aren’t going to be able to compete if we just stay back and aren’t aggressive. So we’re working on a lot of different things to apply pressure defensively. And then offensively, it’s just about execution. I think if we execute, we can run with anybody.”

“I think in our receivers, running backs and quarterbacks, we match up pretty well,” the coach said. “I think Stayton’s quarterback and our quarterback are the best two in our league, so I’m really excited to see how we come out and measure up.”

Sweet Home is currently fifth in the Special District 3 standings, behind league leader Marist Catholic as well as Junction City, Stayton and Cascade. Fifteen teams automatically qualify for 4A’s 16-team playoff bracket, namely the top three teams in each special district in the state. Sweet Home is unable to get one of those automatic qualifying spots, but if the Huskies were to win both of their last two games against Stayton and Philomath, they could still obtain the one at-large qualifier playoff spot, which goes to the highest ranked fourth place team from special district 3 or 4.

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