Huskies mow down Taft for first win of season

After three losses to tough teams, Sweet Home got its cleats into the turf Friday and used explosive offense and dominating defense to roll to its first win of the season, 42-0, over Taft.

Not only did the Huskies shut the Tigers out on the scoreboard, but they held Taft to minus-15 yards €“ and one first down €“ in the second half, for a total of 75 for the game. It was a dash of rhythm that Sweet Home had been lacking in the early-season losses to Stayton, Cascade and Central.

“The kids did a great job,” Coach Dustin Nichol said, crediting all facets of his team, particularly the offensive linemen, for the win. “Taft was an average team and we played very well. We tried to get everybody involved in the offense if we could and our defense did pretty well.”

Sweet Home got its ground game going early, marching 53 yards in eight plays, all but one of them runs, to score with 2:39 left when Patrick Long burst through from a yard out. Alex Santana converted the first of his six extra points to make it 7-0.

Kyle Sorenson, who carried 10 times for 91 yards on the night, popped a 21-yarder to the 10-yard line to set up the touchdown.

“One of our goals for the week was to put it on our offensive linemen so we could run the ball,” Nichol said. “On that first drive we pretty much pounded it down in there and scored. That was a part of our offense that was lacking (in previous games). We wanted them to prove themselves.”

On the Huskies’ second possession of the game, they struck from the air after forcing Taft to punt following a 15-play Tigers drive that stalled at midfield. It was quick and decisive as, on their first play, quarterback Keenon Martin threw a 56-yard bomb to Santana, who sped down the field and pulled in the pass to score.

The teams were relatively equal on the ground in the first half, with Sweet Home accumulating 72 yards to 67 for Taft.

But the tide turned for Sweet Home in the second half, as the Huskies scored on five of their seven possessions, racking up 153 yards on the ground and adding 37 on three pass completions.

Sorenson said the Huskies came into the game with an “optimistic” attitude and dialed that up in the second half.

“Once we got that rhythm going, there was no stopping us,” he said. “In the first half we made some mistakes but when we came out at halftime we made a goal €“ and we definitely met it.”

Following a 32-yard kickoff return that set the Huskies up on the Tigers’ 43 yard line, Santana caught his second touchdown pass after a six-play, 43-yard drive to open the half.

On the Huskies’ second possession, Sorenson scored his second touchdown on a 14-yard scamper to cap a six-play drive.

After Zach Miller intercepted a pass from Taft quarterback Brock Martin and returned it to the 6 yard line, the Huskies sputtered a bit and Taft stopped Patrick Long half a yard from the end zone to take over on downs. But they went three-and-out and the Huskies took over on the 30, rumbling down to the 3 in four plays, where Wade Paulus scored with 10:24 left and Santana’s kick made it 35-0.

Another interception, this one by Mitch Keenon, gave the Huskies the ball at their 42-yard line with 6:28 left in the game. Kris Newport, who was a force on both sides of the ball, carried three straight times, the last a 45-yard sprint for Sweet Home’s final touchdown with 5:15 left.

“Kris Newport had an out-of-the-body experience,” Nichol said of Newport’s performance, which included several decisive tackles and one pass knock-down. “He was everywhere. He was just lighting it up.”

Nichol said the second half was when Sweet Home really started to play quality football.

“I think in the second half the offense got some rhythm going,” he said. “In the first half we still committed some mistakes, things like fumbles and ball control.”

He said he was happy with the performance of the running backs and the fact that four different players scored for the Huskies.

“Keenon got his timing down with Alex,” he said. “I think that pass was 50 yards in the air and Alex caught it in stride. I like to let my athletes make plays. There were some guys who stepped up and did an excellent job.

He credited special team play for giving Sweet Home good field position, especially in the second half, when Taft never crossed the 50-yard line.

“It was nice for us to be on the giving side instead of the receiving side,” he said. “We’ve been on the receiving side the last three games.”

Among the bright spots on special teams were return specialist Hunter Bidwell and Keenon, who also recovered a fumble for the Huskies. Bidwell said the performance against Taft was the result of dedication on the practice field.

“We practiced hard all week,” he said. “We struggled on Monday but then we practiced harder and harder. After that first touchdown we got in the game.”

Jesse Comstock, who forced a fumble and made some big stops on defense, said the Huskies didn’t “rule ourselves out” after the early losses.

“I think we came in more confident,” he said. “We came prepared, ready to play. We practiced hard at all levels and we played it just like we were playing the No. 1 team in the state. We’ve learned to keep going.”

Nichol warned that Sky-Em League play, which starts Friday when the Huskies host Elmira for their Homecoming Game at 7 p.m., will include some tough teams and he was happy to get some momentum going before league competition begins.

Nichol said the Huskies need to learn to capitalize on their strengths and on the breaks they get.

“In my opinion we should have scored on every drive. On two drives there we basically stopped ourselves,” he said, referring to fumbles in the second and fourth quarters, the first ending a drive and the second killing their momentum.

“Sisters, Junction City, Cottage Grove €“ if they’re down two touchdowns with a minute left, they’ve got plays in their playbook where they can score, kick an on-side kick and expect to win the game,” he said. “There’s no quit in them.

“We need to learn right now, against teams like Taft, that we need to take our opportunities. We may not get another chance.”

Scoring Summary

Taft 0 0 0 0 €“ 0

Sweet Home 7 7 14 14 €“ 42

First Quarter

SH: Patrick Long 1-yd run (Alex Santana kick) 2:39

Second Quarter

SH: Santana 56-yd. pass from Keenon Martin (Santana kick) 7:42.

Third Quarter

SH: Santana 20-yd. pass from Martin (Santana kick) 9:50

SH: Kyle Sorenson 14-yard run (Santana kick) 5:38

Fourth Quarter

SH: Wade Paulus 3-yd. run (Santana kick) 10:21

SH: Kris Newport 45-yd. run (Santana kick) 5:15

Individual Statistics

Rushing €“ Kyle Sorenson 10-91; Kris Newport 3-50; Hunter Bidwell 7-40; Patrick Long 4-36; Wade Paulus 2-12; Zane Jackson 1-6; Keenon Martin 2-5; Ty Harvey 3- -1.

Passing €“ Keenon Martin 5-12-0 -102; Colton Holly 1-2-0-10.

Receiving €“ Alex Santana 3-92; Zach Miller 2-10.

Interceptions €“ Zach Miller 1; Mitch Keenon 1

Team Statistics

Total Yards €“ Sweet Home 337; Taft 55

Rushing €“ Sweet Home 32-225; Taft 45-42

Passing €“ Sweet Home 6-14-0, 112; Taft 3-10-0, 13

First Downs €“ Sweet Home 8; Taft 5

Penalties €“ Sweet Home 4-40; Taft 2-10

Turnovers €“ Sweet Home 1; Taft 3