Huskies clinch playoffs berth with win over JC

Scott Swanson

With three running backs out with season-ending injuries, it would be an optimum time for the Sweet Home football team to chalk this one up to bad breaks and lack of personnel.

Not a chance. The Huskies, after blowing La Pine out the previous week, put the clamps on a resurgent Junction City team Friday night in a 33-6 win that clinched a berth in the playoffs.

“It was a really good night for the team,” Coach Dustin Nichol said. “That was a dandy one. The guys did a really good job.”

Junior wide receiver and now running back Hunter Jutte hauled in two touchdown passes from Cole Horner and threw one himself to Brandon Keenon as Sweet Home found success in the air.

Keenon scored one more TD on a 10-yard run in the fourth quarter and Austin Rice celebrated Senior Night by returning an interception 52 yards for another touchdown and to ice the win.

“It was right at me – the receiver didn’t even look,” said the senior, who had bobbled a potential big-yardage reception earlier. “It was like taking candy from a baby. Earlier in the game I had made a bad play so I wanted to make up for it. It was a good way to end my senior year on Husky Field.”

The win guarantees the Huskies, 3-1 in league and 4-4 overall, a spot in the playoffs, but their league finish will be up in the air until next week when they travel to face undefeated Cottage Grove.

The Lions beat Sisters 61-14 on the road Friday as Brad Bonds scored four touchdowns, finishing with 150 yards receiving and three touchdown catches on top of 125 yards on the ground. Quarterback Scotty Hitner threw for five scores and Brandon Boxburger rushed for 103 yards and two touchdowns.

Elmira, to which the Huskies fell three weeks ago, beat La Pine 55-6 at home.

Sweet Home was a little slow in getting their rhythm Friday, but quarterback Cole Horner, who had some trouble overthrowing receivers early on and was intercepted in the first quarter trying to throw the ball away, found Jutte for a 33-yard touchdown pass with 3:29 left in the second quarter to get Sweet Home on the scoreboard.

Junction City, operating out of a basic double wing offense, challenged the Husky defense all night with a wide variety of looks and misdirection, but Sweet Home defenders stayed home for the most part and limited the Tigers’ ground game to 165 yards on 42 carries.

Sweet Home also picked off Junction City quarterback Dacoda Gustafson three times, the last coming late in the fourth quarter when Rice, lurking in the backfield, intercepted a desperation pass for the Huskies’ final score.

The Huskies had the momentum already when Jutte took a pitch and started looking for a receiver in a double-pass play that had backfired earlier. This time he found himself under pressure from defenders as he rolled out toward the Junction City sideline, so he reversed direction, juking his way past the pursuit and, as defensive lineman Ben Terry leveled the lone remaining Tiger defender in the backfield with a crushing block that could be heard all over the field, Jutte found Keenon in the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown.

Jutte, who finished with 11 carries for 114 yards and three catches for 66, said he’s been able to step up his contributions since the Huskies lost senior running backs Spencer Knight and JT Weld and junior Kevin Seiber for the season to injuries.

“Seeing those seniors go down, I was under them,” he said. “Now that they’re gone, I can see my spot, I can step up. People expect big plays out of me, so I just have to step up and make a play.”

Credit for the win goes in large part, though, to the defensive line, which shut down the Tigers’ Double Wing rushing threat, holding them to 165 yards on 42 carries. The Huskies finished 247 yards on the ground and another 105 through the air.

Nichol said his defensive coaching staff kept the Huskies fresh with constant rotation and credited, by name, Terry, Troy Hazelton, Shawn Worthen, Patrick Bell, Jason Miller, Chris Melcher and Jacob Maas.

“That offense right there, I told the kids this week it was going to test their manhood and their discipline,” he said. “They’re going to come right at you and say, ‘We’re tougher than you are.’”

He said his players “stayed home” and were not fooled by the misdirection and trickery attempts the visitors delivered.

“They had to be patient because this is a slow-developing offense,” he said. “The guys did a marvelous job.”

Austin Horner, one of the defensive leaders from his linebacker spot, echoed that assessment.

“Against the double wing, the main thing is everybody doing their one job, because they will try to confuse you and slip by you and they only want three yards a play. Our guys did a good job of doing their one job. It may have been the last chance our seniors have to play on this field and I think that’s what lifted us up tonight.”

Sweet Home is now tied for second in the league as it prepares to face Cottage Grove on the Lions’ artificial-turf field Friday, Oct. 25, at 7 p.m.

The playoff picture will get a lot clearer Friday night. Cottage Grove is undefeated and in first place, with Elmira and Sweet Home at 3-1, followed by Junction City at 2-2. La Pine and Sisters are winless in league.

The question will be who’ll be where after Friday’s games.

“There are multiple scenarios,” Nichol said. “If we go down and beat Cottage Grove and Elmira beats Junction City, we’ll have a three-way tie for first. We will have all beaten each other. If Cottage Grove beats us us and Junction City beats Elmira, then it’s a two-way tie for second. It’s a head-to-head competition and we get the second-place bid. If Elmira wins, we’re third.”

Unlike last year, Sweet Home’s losses to Banks, Central, North Valley and Elmira have left the Huskies with a poor RPI ranking, thanks to Redmond’s current 1-6 record and the facts that two of the Huskies’ wins are over teams that are winless in the RPI’s eyes. That means there probably won’t be a great chance of a lot of home games for Sweet Home this time around, unlike 2012, when the Huskies would have stayed home for most of the playoffs if Philomath had not upset them in the first round.

That makes it a must-win situation for Sweet Home to even have a chance to play at home again this year.

Nichol believes the Huskies can give the high-powered Cottage Grove offense led by Hitner, a 6-4, 215-pound Division I prospect, a run for its money.

“I think we have a shot,” he said. “We have a good rivalry, a healthy rivalry. I think the artificial turf will be good for us, that it will benefit us as well.”

Stopping Hitner will be a major order of business, as he runs as well as throws, particularly inside the 20-yard line.

“When they get down to the 15, 20 yard line, he’s probably run 60 to 70 percent of their touchdowns on quarterback read options,” Nichol said. “It’s one of those deals where there will be a lot of pressure on our secondary. But we cannot lose containment. Our linebackers need to be staying home.

“We just have to take care of business.”

Scoring Summary

SH – 0 6 6 21 – 33

JC – 0 0 0 6 – 6

Second Quarter

SH – Hunter Jutte 33 pass from Cole Horner, run failed. 3:29

Third Quarter

SH – Hunter Jutte 31 pass from Cole Horner, run failed. 2:42

Fourth Quarter

SH – Brandon Keenon 15 pass from Hunter Jutte. Eric Flierl 2 pt. conversion pass from Cole Horner. 8:29

JC – Bradley Silver 5 run. Kick blocked. 4:54

SH – Brandon Keenon 10 run. Pass failed. 1:50

SH – Austin Rice 33-yard interception return. Jacob Maas kick. 1:30

Rushing – Sweet Home Total: 30-247; Brandon Keenon 14-118; Hunter Jutte 11-114; Austin Rice 5-15. Junction City Total: 42-165; Bryon Brown 13-79; Bradley Silver 19-57; Mason Erager 10-29.

Passing – Sweet Home: Cole Horner 6-14-1-90; Hunter Jutte 1-2-0- 15. Junction City: Dacoda Gustafson 3-10-4-56.

Receiving – Sweet Home: Hunter Jutte 3-66; Brandon Keenon 2-21; Eric Flierl 4-18. Junction City: Mason Erager 1-22; Nick Gibson 2-14; Malachi Ward 1-20.