Huskies score another cardiac football win to set up showdown at Newport

Scott Swanson

Sweet Home pulled out its second nail-biter football win in a row Thursday night, Oct. 11, with a 20-19 win over Stayton to stay unbeaten in the Oregon West Conference.

The Huskies, now 4-0 in league, 5-2 overall, will play for the outright league title Friday night, Oct. 19, at Newport (3-1, 6-1), which lost 24-7 at Cascade Thursday, leaving Sweet Home the lone undefeated team in the league.

Sweet Home got off to a fast start, rolling 55 yards down the field on its first possession until Stayton’s defensive line dug in and stalled the Huskies, stopping them for losses on three straight plays to take over on downs at the 21 yards line.

That was a preview of what was to come. The Huskies were, by turns, brilliant and sputtering, scoring on three touchdown pass plays, but giving up some big plays to the visitors, who whose top receiver, senior Sean Bodi, caught eight passes for 147 yards and a touchdown, and nearly delivered the win in the end.

“No. 7 was very good,” said Casey Tow, who had a big first quarter himself, finishing with seven catches for 134 yards and one score.

Stayton’s first score with 15 seconds left in the first quarter when Eagles quarterback Ben Rash hit Sean Bodi, who made a one-handed catch in the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown completion.

The Huskies’ strategy was to shut down Stayton’s ground game.

“They run the ball really well,” Head Coach Dustin Nichol said. “Our goal was to make them beat us with the pass. We put guys in the box and our outside backers on their running backs so they couldn’t run like they did at Cascade.”

It worked – most of the game.

“Our defensive backs kind of got beat early on in the game,” Nichol said, noting that the Huskies had some problems staying on their opponents in the secondary.

“We gotta quit doing these close games, you know,” said senior Hayden McDonald. “We need to keep the throttle on and keep it going throughout the whole game. None of this letting-up stuff.

“I think that they knew that our secondary is a little week, but we’re working on that every day in practice. We’re getting better and better, able to cover passes and stuff like that.”

Tow had six catches for 100 yards in the first 13 minutes of the game and, a minute into the second quarter, he got Sweet Home on the scoreboard, fighting off a defender with one hand to pull in a 48-yard pass from Colton Smith and sprinting to the end zone for Sweet Home’s first touchdown. Jake Swanson’s kick made it 7-7.

Tow said defenders were keying on Nathan Virtue, who had had a couple of big games coming into the contest.

“They kind of bracketed him and focused on guarding him over there and so I just got a good couple of plays,” Tow said. “The line gave us some good time, the quarterback threw some good balls; it was just a good combination.”

Stayton mounted one long drive midway through the second quarter, pushing to the Sweet Home 6 yard line before a holding penalty – one of 13 called on the Eagles during the game, stopped their momentum and blocks on successive passes from Rash by Swanson and Nathan Virtue.

The teams went into the locker room at halftime tied 7-7.

Midway through the third quarter Smith found Virtue wide open behind the Eagles secondary and connected with a 62-yard touchdown pass with 4:58 on the clock, and Swanson connected with another point-after to make it 14-7 Sweet Home.

Both teams buckled down on defense after that and neither went more than eight plays through the rest of the third and into the fourth quarter until, with 8 minutes on the clock, Rash threw the ball up from his 21 yard line and Joshua Belliard snatched it away from a defender 20 yards downfield and scampered to the Sweet Home 3, where Tow ran him down. Jared Mitchell scored on a 3-yard run on the next play, but Sweet Home blocked the Eagles’ kick attempt to stay in the lead, 14-13.

After exchanging four-and-outs, Smith completed four passes and ran 10 yards to drive the Huskies downfield from the Stayton 44 to the 20, where he hit a diving Swanson in the corner of the end zone for another touchdown, with 1:01 left on the clock. The Huskies’ kick failed and it was 20-13.

Smith made what might have been the play of the game when, on the first play of that drive, he was caught by Eagle defenders and, going down, launched the ball into the air over an onrushing defender into the waiting arms of Tow about 20 yards downfield, to give the Huskies a first down at the 19.

“I felt myself going down and I saw Casey’s guy come right at me, and I knew if I could get it over Casey’s guy that he wasn’t dropping it,” Smith said. “It was not textbook at all.”

Tow said he anticipated a pass, “so I just was waiting for him and he did it so I just made a play.

I was just kind of open and he just got it over the defender and I made a catch. That was a big first down. That was nice. Colton did a heck of a job.”

Rash then came back with four straight pass completions of his own to take Stayton from the 36 to the end zone, threading the needle between Husky defenders to hit Spencer Gaul for a touchdown with 28 seconds left. Rash’s first pass for a two-point conversion was caught by Bodi in the back of the end zone, but Stayton was called for an illegal formation on the play, giving the Huskies another lease on life. This time, Bodi couldn’t pull the ball in at the same spot in the end zone and Sweet Home remained on top, 20-19.

“Their quarterback threw the ball in the right spot,” Nichol said. “They had athletes who made plays.”

That’s when the heat really came on for the Husky defense, as the Eagles recovered an onside kick and Rash took his team downfield, hitting Bodi with a pass to the 36 after the ball bounced off Husky defenders. But Bodi’s next attempt fell incomplete and Nick Frith’s field goal attempt, with seven seconds left, dipped under the bar to save the game for Sweet Home.

“That was even more thrilling than comeback against Cascade (the previous week),” McDonald said. “We could control that. We couldn’t control that field goal.”

Nichol admitted he was nervous at the end. “That was one game I was glad we won.”

He said the Huskies did “a lot of good things,” particularly the receiving by Swanson, Virtue and Tow.

The offensive line struggled a little bit, he said, and the Huskies had one apparent scoring run by McDonald called back on a holding call.

“I thought the defensive line did a good job,” he said, noting that McDonald, Levi Baird, Noah Moore and Damion Schocker played particularly well.

“They did their job,” Nichol said, adding that he thought his team a good job containing the run. The only breakdowns, he said, were when Rash got loose in the backfield.

“We let him escape and didn’t keep him in the pocket and gave him opportunities.”

Baird said he thought the linemen held up “really, really well, and it was just on a couple of plays that were in the backfield that we slipped up and that almost cost it.

“There were a couple spots where we were kind of sitting there grinding gears and everything, a couple of little arguments amongst ourselves. But that kind of happens in the heat of the moment – the wrong play gets called and stuff, just some little stupid thing.”

The Huskies finished with 85 rushing yards, but Smith had his biggest night through the air this season, completing 15 of 29 for 261 yards and three scores, with one interception.

Nichol said he was particularly pleased with his players’ attitudes, even when their backs were against the wall in the waning moments of the game.

“I didn’t see one kid on our team hold their head down and give up. I didn’t see any Sweet Home player say ‘Oh crud, we’re done.’ It was ugly, but they found ways to win. That’s the most important thing.”

Players acknowledged it wasn’t their best performance.

“We didn’t play very good,” Smith said. “They played really well. They did their job on defense. Sometimes we did our job on offense, other times we didn’t. But we pulled out a win and that’s all that matters.”

The win leaves the Huskies all alone at the top of the 4A Special District 3 after Newport’s loss, and the matchup with the Cubs will be a big factor in what happens after that for Sweet Home, which is ranked 12th in the state going into this week’s games.

If the Huskies lose, they’ll be in a three-way tie with Cascade and Newport – “a mess,” Nichol said.

“It will come down to power rankings to determine who’s league champion,” he said. “If we don’t get ranked high enough, the raw we get in the playoffs will be a harder team. Marist (to which Sweet Home lost 28-12 on the road in the first week of the season and since has lost three games) hasn’t been helping us out by winning a lot of games.”

He noted that Newport hasn’t played teams the Huskies have, like Marist and Banks, the latter he considers among the top teams in the state.

“I think the best four teams are Seaside, Banks, Marshfield and Gladstone. Then there’s everybody else. The rest of them, I think on any given Friday, you can roll the dice.”

He said the Cubs run a wing T-type offense, similar to Scio, which the Huskies played in a jamboree at the beginning of the season – “a lot of counters, misdirection, option-type stuff.”

The game will be Newport’s Homecoming and Senior Night, so Sweet Home will have to be ready for them, he said, adding that his team is “confident, but not cocky.”

“The thing I like about this team is they play together with a lot of heart,” he said.

1 2 3 4 F

Sweet Home – 7 0 7 6 – 20

Stayton – 7 0 0 12 – 19

Scoring Summary:

First Quarter

SH – Casey Tow 48 pass from Colton Smith (Jake Swanson kick).

Stayton – Sean Bodi 21 pass from Ben Rash (Nick Frith kick.)

Second Quarter

No Scores

Third Quarter

SH – Nathan Virtue 62 pass from Colton Smith (Swanson kick).

Fourth Quarter

Stayton – Jared Mitchell 3 run (Kick failed).

SH – Jake Swanson 20 pass from Colton Smith (Kick failed).

Stayton – Spencer Gaul 36 pass from Ben Rash (Two-point conversion failed).

Sweet Home Individual Statistics

Rushing – Colton Smith 7-45; Hayden McDonald 14-27; Travis Thorpe 4-13.

Passing – Colton Smith 15-29-1-261.

Receiving – Casey Tow 7-134; Nathan Virtue 2-68; Jake Swanson 3-48; Travis Thorpe 1-6.