Huskies beat Sisters to set up rematch with Elmira

Rongi Yost

For The New Era

In a clash with league championship implications, Sweet Home pulled out a 20-13 win over a stubborn Sisters team Friday night in Sisters.

There was a lot on the line for both teams. The Outlaws celebrated Homecoming and prior to the game senior players were honored. Both teams came into the game with 3-1 Sky-Em Conference records, tied with Junction City, which had handed the Huskies their only league loss. Based on tie-breaker rules, Junction City wound up with the league title after beating Sutherlin 13-6 on a fourth-quarter touchdown off a reverse.

The defeat relegated the Outlaws to fourth place in the league standings, thanks to an earlier loss to Elmira. Due to the play-in games plan approved by the state’s 4A athletic directors, Sweet Home will now host the Falcons for the second time in three weeks, after scoring a 13-7 overtime win on Oct. 10.

The Sisters game came down to the final five minutes of play.

“It was hard-fought back and forth,” Coach Dustin Nichol said. “It’s amazing, how in the last four minutes 21 points were scored between two teams.”

Sisters Coach Gary Thorson said his young team has done well this season.

“This was a heartbreaking loss as we were just a few plays away from a league championship,” he said. “The program came so far so fast, but just fell short in a very big game and that hurts.”

Nichol said his team did much better on penalties, only giving up a couple of unsportsmanlike conduct calls on what he said were questionable scenarios after looking at film, but the offensive and defensive lines got off to a slow start against the Outlaws.

“We struggled a little bit with our blocking on offensive line,” Nichol said. “I hate picking on the line all the time but we had problems. We got our issues shored up at halftime and we did much better the second half. It was the same thing for the defensive line – we kind of started off slow. Then the kids picked it up and did a better job.”

The hosts held Sweet Home at fourth-and-two on the Huskies’ opening drive, when they snuffed a fake punt attempt.

“We made a mistake on that fake punt and gave them the ball on a short field,” Nichol said. “You take that mistake away right there, and it’s a different ballgame.”

Then the Outlaws came right back by mixing several running backs and quarterback Tanner Head to move inside the 10-yard line. Mitch Gibney capped the drive with a two-yard run for the TD and Josh Andrade added the PAT to give Sisters a 7-0 lead.

Sweet Home answered on its next possession. After a missed tackle, Ryan J. Adams ran it up the middle 45 yards on a trap play for the score. Hunter Jutte kicked the point after to tie the game at 7-7.

The Huskies missed a field-goal attempt with 53 seconds left in the second quarter and at the half the score remained a tie at 7-7.

The third quarter was a defensive struggle and neither team was able to do much on offense. At the close of the quarter the score was still seven-all.

The Outlaws mounted a long drive early in the fourth quarter, marching down the field to the Huskies’ 35-yard line, Sweet Home stopped them short on fourth down.

Sweet Home took over, drove down the field and Brandon Keenan ran it in for the touchdown. Jutte added the PAT to put the Huskies on top 14-7 with 3:21 left on the clock.

The Outlaws took over possession, and on their third play of the drive, Logan Schutte broke loose around the right side and scored Sisters’ second TD of the night on a 57-yard scamper. Sisters had opportunity to tie the game but missed the PAT.

Sisters went for an onside-kick and after a mad scramble in which the Outlaws had several attempts at the ball, it finally went out of bounds, which gave the Huskies possession at midfield.

Several plays later, Sweet Home’s Keenan broke loose for another long 45-yard run for a touchdown on an end-around, which gave the Huskies a 20-13 lead.

The Outlaws had a chance again and moved the ball past the midfield on their final possession of the night, but Kyler Gaskey recovered a fumble by Head, the quarterback, and Sweet Home had one play to run out the clock.

Keenon finished with 21 carries for 114 yards for the Huskies. Nichol said other rushing and passing statistics were not available.

Gibney tallied 91 yards on 19 carries for Sisters and Schutte recorded 84 yards on 19 carries.

“We found a way to get it done in the end,” Nichol said. “Our defense bent but didn’t completely break. I thought our secondary played well. We didn’t bite on their deep passes. We kept everything in front of us.”

He said Keenon and Adams “did a good job” on the ground and Hunter Jutte did well receiving.

Defensively, linebackers Cole Ashcraft and Kyler Gaskey, along with Keenon, “did good job of keeping them contained,” Nichol said. In the second half, defensive linemen George Rayborn, Shawn Worthen and Brycen Mitten helped keep pressure on the Outlaws, and “Chris Melcher was a catalyst to get things going on the defensive line in the second half.”

While Sweet Home meets Elmira in a No. 2-vs.-No. 3 face-off Friday night, Junction City gets a bye and Sisters will travel to Henley.

The Huskies finish the regular season as the highest-ranked team in the league at No. 10 statewide, thanks to their 6-2 overall record. Junction City and Elmira are 5-3. One blot on Sweet Home’s record, when it comes to the rankings, is its win over North Valley, which last week forfeited all of its games played to that point this season due to the use of an ineligible player, leaving it with a 1-7 record, its “lone” win coming over Hidden Valley in the league finale last week. Its poor record impacted the ratings of all the other teams it played, Nichol said.

He said he disagrees with the formula that forces his team to play Elmira again so soon, not only because he prefers to play someone the Huskies haven’t faced, but because that arrangement, which applies to three other leagues as well on Friday night, reduces the chances of a strong league getting its teams into the 16-team playoff bracket next week.

“The way they’ve got this set up, it takes away from that intent,” he said. “It’s dumb. It would be real easy to have Elmira play Philomath and us play Stayton. We could, in theory, send four teams to the playoffs. It’s unfortunate that we have to play one another again and one of us gets eliminated on Friday.”

Elmira is a “tough” team, as the Huskies discovered in their previous go-round. The Falcons fumbled four times and Sweet Home racked up 100 yards in penalties, issues both of them can control, Nichol said.

“They think they have every chance of winning this game, as we do,” he said. “They didn’t lose by much last time. I expect nothing but a dogfight on Friday and it’s probably going to come down to the very end. I don’t see a blowout in either direction.”

Game time is 7 p.m. Because this is a play-in game, OSAA rates apply. Admission for students through 12th grade will be $4 each; adults are $6 each. No season or senior passes or discounts will be honored and there will be no reserved seating. OSAA Gold Cards and Sky-Em credentials will be accepted.

Scoring Summary

SH 7 0 0 14 – 20

Sisters 7 0 0 6 – 13

First Quarter

Sisters – Mitch Gibney 2 run. Josh Andrade kick.

SH – Ryan J. Adams 45 run. Hunter Jutte kick.

Fourth Quarter

SH – Brandon Keenon 2 run. Jutte kick.

Sisters – Logan Schutte 57 run. Kick failed.

SH – Brandon Keenan 45 run. Kick failed.

Individual statistics were not available.