Huskies battle Wilsonville for win on the road

Since the opening day of practice, the Huskies have heard about championship character from Coach Rob Younger. In their first two games, they have put that character on display during times of adversity.

Last Friday, that character earned them another victory, this time on the road against a tough Wilsonville team, 24-14.

Once again Sweet Home used the big play to break on top in their first series of downs. After a 12 yard pass to Tim Matuszak and a 7 yard run by Seth Graves, the quick strike combination of Donny Cliver to Ricky Howe hooked up for a 59 yard fingertip catch.

“I was just hoping he would hang on to it because I led him just a little too much,” said Cliver, who made the first of his three kick conversions following the touchdown pass.

Wilsonville didn’t wait too long to respond. On their second possession, they overcame some tough Husky defense to tie the game. After Matt Morneault sacked quarterback Spencer Smith on the first play for a four yard loss, the Wildcats battled back with three runs, including a 10 yarder by Cameron Smith, to grind out a first down. Then Graves nearly ended the drive by sacking and stripping the ball from the quarterback, but the Wildcats recovered the fumble, settling for a six yard loss.

Again Wilsonville persisted. Cameron Smith started off with a 7 yard run. Max Morrow, a big 265 pound tackle, took a deflected pass out of the air for another 6 yards before Jeff Fullmer plunged for three more yards and a first down. Then Spencer Smith found his tight end Steven Ohl for a 37 yard touchdown pass.

When Ricky Howe fumbled after a good kickoff return to the 45 yard line, the Huskies faced their first case of adversity. They rose to the occasion by limiting the Wildcats to a three and out series.

Twice more in the second quarter, Sweet Home let Wilsonville have the ball deep in Husky territory, once after an interception and the other after a turnover on downs when they failed to convert a fourth and 1. But the defense never let up. On one series, Rob Martin stuffed Smith for a nine yard loss to put the Wildcats in the hole. On the next series, Matt Harkey recovered a fumble.

“We put our defense in bad field position in the second quarter,” said Younger. “They were on the field a lot but made big plays when they had to.”

The defense gave the offense a chance to end the half with a bang. In a quick march downfield, Sweet Home went primarily through the air as Cliver used four different receivers on the drive, including a key 18 yard pass to Matuszak on a fourth down play. Then Cliver took a one step drop and lobbed the ball to Howe in the corner of the end zone with 23 seconds left in the half.

“We had been working on it in practice, but we never had done it too well,” said Cliver, who completed 8 of 12 passes for 138 yards in the first half. “And then we perfected it in the game.”

In the second half, Wilsonville opened with a ball control drive, leading to three rushing first downs before throwing three straight incompletions. Sweet Home returned to the ground game as well, putting the ball into the hands of Graves, who rushed for 95 of his 124 yards in the second half.

“I wasn’t hitting the holes as hard as I should have been,” said Graves. “Coach Younger inspired me at half-time to hit them a little bit harder.”

However, a penalty for an illegal block, one of three big penalties in the half, forced the Huskies into a long yardage pass play which was intercepted by Wilsonville. As always, the defense rose to the occasion, and Tomas Rosa, who was around the ball all night, came up with an interception of his own.

“I was out in the middle of nowhere,” said Rosa, who had the ball pop off his head and shoulders before he grabbed it. “People were yelling at me to catch it.”

Neither team scored in the third quarter, but in the fourth quarter the Huskies added on another big play. Wilsonville looked like it had stopped Cliver for a loss on a lead option to the right, but Cliver eluded the tackler and reversed direction. After Rob Martin destroyed two would-be Wildcat tacklers with one block, Cliver broke another tackle, ran over the safety as he criss-crossed the field once again, and then used downfield blocks by Mike Severns and Howe before he was tackled at the one yard line. Following the run of 52 yards, Graves dived in for the one yard touchdown on the next play.

“It just shows the athleticism that Donny possesses,” said Younger. “That was just something that he created on his own.”

But the Wildcats had a new wrinkle in their passing game. They brought in a new sophomore quarterback, the coach’s son, Spencer Crace, who only had one quarter of eligibility after his participation in the JV game. Crace connected on five passes in a row, the final one a 19 yard seam splitter to the previous quarterback, Spencer Smith, which put Wilsonville back in the game, now trailing 21-14.

But adversity only means good things for the Huskies. Sweet Home put the ball in the hands of Graves six times, including a 37 yard run to the 9 yard line in a clock-chewing, four and a half minute drive. After a holding penalty on third down at the four followed by an incomplete pass, Cliver was called on to kick a 35 yard field goal with just under two minutes left.

Still the Huskies had to contend with Wilsonville’s new passing game. After Younger called a time-out to install a new defensive scheme following the kickoff return to the 19 yard line, the Huskies stood their ground for the final time, forcing Crace to scramble and throw four incompletions.

The Huskies limited the Wildcats to just 91 yards rushing compared to their 212. Not only were Graves and Cliver impressed with the improvement of the offensive line both in run and pass blocking, so was Younger.

“We have to be able to play a little smash-mouth football to complement our big play offense with the skilled kids,” said Younger.

But the defensive scheme of Coach Dustin Nichol along with the constant rotation of players allowed the Huskies to be in control most of the night. Twelve different players had two or more tackles.

“Our team speed showed. We got people to the ball,” stated Younger, who also praised the Huskies on their ability to adjust. “It’s nice to make adjustments on the fly and have athletes that are able to follow up and execute those adjustments.”

Facing two championship caliber teams like Sherwood and Wilsonville early in the season has made the Huskies a better team, according to Younger.

“We definitely grew because of it,” he said. “It’s just another step to getting to where we want to be.”

After facing down the kingpins of the Tri-Valley League, the Huskies take another step when they play Newport, one of the top two contenders in the Valco League, at home Friday night.