Huskies blank Cottage Grove in ‘dogfight’

Benny Westcott

Of The New Era

Sweet Home football took care of business at home against new league rival Cottage Grove on Sept. 23 with a 26-0 win.

The victory moved the Huskies to .500 on the year (2-2), while Cottage Grove fell to 0-4.

“It was a little uglier than I was expecting, but we put it together well enough to win a football game, and at the end of the day that’s what’s most important,” said Head Coach Ryan Adams. “Defensively, we knew that we could do what we did tonight, and that was take care of our job and keep points off the board. Offensively, we kind of expected to execute a little bit better, especially in that first half. But I give credit to Cottage Grove for showing up and getting them ready to play.”

After a tight game against Cascade the week before and with a road matchup against No.4- ranked Marist Catholic coming up, the game against the Lions could have been an easy one for Sweet Home to overlook. Indeed, Adams said he was a little disappointed with his team’s level of intensity in the first half against Cottage Grove.

At half time, the coach said, “We talked a lot about respecting the game and doing what it takes to win, regardless of the opponent. We came out fired up and really ready to play last week, and we have a really tough opponent next week. And this is a trap game. So I kind of called [the Sweet Home players] out a little bit at halftime, and I thought we responded well.”

Receiver Brady Nichols also noticed a first half slump.

“I think we started off a little slow,” he said. “I think we may have gotten a little too far over our head, but we definitely cleaned it up during half time. We got yelled at a little bit, because we should have been up by more than just 14 points (Sweet Home had a 14-0 lead at the half). But (Adams) said most of it was on him for underestimating them.”

Said running back Kayo Ebbs, who led the Huskies with 77 yards rushing: “I think we thought it was going to be an easy game, but even though the score was 26-0, it’s still a dogfight. I think we need to take games more seriously, going on.”

The game started out on the right foot for the Huskies as Trenton Smith returned the opening kickoff 57 yards, all the way to the Cottage Grove 24-yard line. Two subsequent runs by Jeremy Zook then secured a first down, and then Kayo Ebbs found a hole, running nine yards for Sweet Home’s first score.

“It was just a really good play call from the coaches,” Ebbs said of the touchdown. “We planned it during this week of practice, and we just executed.”

On the point-after attempt, a botched snap turned out all right for the Huskies, as Zook scrambled and threw to Nichols in the end zone for a two-point conversion, putting Sweet Home up 8-0.

Cottage Grove started the next possession on its own 26 yard line, but encroachment and a personal foul against Sweet Home moved the ball all the way to the 47. A couple of runs by quarterback Brayden Crump and wide receiver Karson Willmarth brought the ball to the Sweet Home 35, but the Husky defense ultimately held firm and forced a punt.

Sweet Home went three and out on its next possession, though, as quarterback Heath Nichol was sacked on third down by defensive ends Willmarth and Gavin Grogan.

A holding call hurt Cottage Grove on its next possession, as the Lions would go three and out as well.

After a punt, Sweet Home started with the ball on its own 17 yard line. They would make it to the Cottage Grove 37 thanks in large part to a 22 yard run by Ebbs. But the Huskies fell inches short on a fourth and two attempt, giving the Lions the ball back.

Cottage Grove went three and out on its next possession, after a long pass from Crump intended for Chase Cordin fell incomplete.

An explosive punt return by Sweet Home’s Von James then gave the Huskies the ball on their own 49 yard line. But Sweet Home soon once again found itself in a fourth-down situation, this time with four yards to go for the first. Nichol scrambled out of the pocket but threw incomplete, forcing another turnover on downs at the Cottage Grove 45.

The Lions managed to get a first down this time around, but an incompletion on fourth and six allowed Sweet Home to take over possession at its own 37.

Nichol connected with Kaden Zajic for a 17 yard pass, and later on another nine yarder to move the Huskies down the field. A quarterback sneak by Nichol on fourth and one kept the drive alive, before a screen pass to Nichols turned into a 34-yard touchdown play.

Nichols was in the game despite suffering a sprained shoulder the week before against Cascade.

“My shoulder’s messed up, so they put me on the outside guy so I wasn’t blocking anybody,” the receiver said of the touchdown. “I ran into the inside. I knew it was coming. The play wasn’t designed for me, but I happened just to be open.”

Nichols missed the point-after wide left, but the Huskies still secured a 14-0 lead with 2:12 left in the half.

Sweet Home would force one more punt in the first half before the clock ran out.

Getting the ball first in the second half, Cottage Grove got one first down before being forced to unload a punt that pinned the Huskies all the way back at their own five yard line.

But Nichol scrambled for a 20-yard run and threw a 17-yard pass to James to move the Huskies down the field. An Ebbs run on fourth and three, however, was thwarted by the Lions defense, and Cottage Grove took over possession of the ball at its own 18.

Cottage Grove marched to Sweet Home’s 46, only to have Crump throw a ball right into the hands of Smith on fourth and three. Smith ran the ball 54 yards into the end zone, giving Sweet Home a 20-0 lead with 10:54 left in the fourth quarter.

“I was in Cover Two, and I didn’t expect the ball to be thrown to me,” Smith said of the pick six. “And then I saw the ball and was like, all right, I’ll get it. Then I ran it back.”

The point after attempt was no good by Nichols.

An onside kick on the next play failed, and Cottage Grove started with the ball on Sweet Home’s 46. The Lions drove into the Husky red zone, but a sack by Zajic forced fourth and 12, at which point Cottage Grove elected to attempt a 31-yard field goal to try to score its first points of the season. The kick kareemed off of Smith’s helmet, however, and Sweet Home’s shutout was maintained.

Getting the ball back, Nichol threw deep down the sideline to Nichols for a 37 yard completion. Runs by Zook and Ebbs moved the ball to the Cottage Grove six, and Nichol again found Nichols on a slant for a six yard touchdown.

“Again, we had me on the outside because I can’t hit anybody,” Nichols said of the score. “And then catching it I just tried to make sure I wasn’t going to hurt my shoulder going down.”

Nichols’ point after attempt was extremely low, so Sweet Home’s lead stayed at 26-0 with 3:20 left in the game.

Another interception by Smith at Sweet Home’s 25-yard line allowed the Huskies to take a knee and end the game.

“We’ve been practicing for when they motion that guy across,” Smith said, explaining how he got the interception. “I knew it was going to go to him. He didn’t make any moves. I knew it was a deep shot, so I just ran with him.”

Nichols noted some fresh faces that made impacts in the win. “We had a lot of guys hurt, so we had a lot of guys who stepped up to play,” he said, mentioning sophomore wide receiver and safety Jacob Landtroop and junior wide receiver and defensive back Kaden Miller in particular. “That was really nice to see those younger guys coming in to fill in some shoes.”

Ebbs saw positives and some things to improve on from the game, he said.

“I think we worked well defensively, but offensively I still think we need some work,” he said. “I think we just need some more team bonding and to get our offense together.”

Smith was proud of the shutout.

“We held them to zero points,” the defensive back said. “You can never complain about that.”

But with four failed point after attempts, the kicking game certainly left much to be desired.

“That’s a work in progress,” Adams said. “We’re going to hopefully try to figure it out, because at some point that’s going to come back and win us a football game again. It’s just kids not being used to it, and needing more reps and time in practice.”

Nichols, who scored two touchdowns despite his sprained shoulder, plans on continuing to suit up through the injury, he said.

“It hurts, but football is more important to me,” the senior explained. “So I’m going to play through it. It hurts, but we’ll live.”

Sweet Home next takes on Special District 3 leader Marist Catholic (3-1) on the road at 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 30.

Scoring Summary

Sweet Home – 6 8 0 12 – 26

Cottage Grove – 0 0 0 0 – 0

First Quarter

SH – Kayo Ebbs 9 run (Brady Nichols pass from Jeremy Zook for two point conversion).

Second Quarter

SH – Brady Nichols 34 pass from Heath Nichol (kick no good).

Third Quarter

No Scores.

Fourth Quarter

SH – Trenton Smith 54 interception (kick no good).

SH – Brady Nichols 6 pass from Heath Nichol (kick no good).

Sweet Home Individual Statistics

Rushing – Kayo Ebbs 11-77; Jeremy Zook 8-54; Heath Nichol 5-37; Brady Nichols 1-15; Kaden Zajic 1-7.

Passing – Heath Nichol 14-20-0-180.

Receiving – Brady Nichols 5-80; Von James 3-40; Trenton Smith 3-12.