Husky varsity rookies get rude awakening at Hidden Valley, but respond

Scott Swanson

Two plays into Friday night’s opener for the Sweet Home football team at Hidden Valley, the majority of the Sweet Home players got a rude introduction to the game at the varsity level.

That was how long it took for host Hidden Valley to take advantage of the Huskies’ inexperience and score its first touchdown, en route to a 35-2 win.

Senior quarterback Dan Virtue, starting his first varsity game at that position, was on the run for most of the night – if he even had time to get his feet moving – under constant pressure from an aggressive Mustang defense and a porous offensive line.

Inexperience was the name of the game Friday for Sweet Home. That, and younger players taking on hardened veterans at nearly all positions. It showed in the final game statistics: Hidden Valley amassed 378 yards on the ground and held Sweet Home to 83 yards, 69 of them through the air. The 65 yards that the Mustangs gave Sweet Home in penalties was a gift, especially since the Huskies played a clean game – three penalties for 13 yards.

“If you look at it, on defense we had only three starters from last year at the beginning of the game,” Coach Dustin Miller noted. “We had only two on offense – Josh Rice and Dan Virtue – and one’s playing a different position,” referring to Virtue, who was an All-League wide receiver last year.

“We have 14 sophomores or more on the roster that were seeing time out there who had never seen varisty on Friday night and we had six or seven juniors who’d seen limited playing time.”

Things got even tougher for Sweet Home when Rice, a key lineman, injured a knee a few minutes into the game and had to sit the remainder of the contest, which further depleted Sweet Home’s experience. Nichol said Rice is being checked out by doctors this week.

After Hidden Valley’s Jaykob Pereira took a pitch and ran around the right end for a 64-yard score 70 seconds into the game, the Mustangs followed that with another on their next possession, quarterback Ethan Hill plunging in from one yard out to give the hosts a 13-0 lead.

“If we could have scored some time in the first quarter, it could have sparked the fire, but we couldn’t find it,” Nichol said.

But following those initial shocks, with mostly sophomores on the field, the Huskies started to put up some resistance, holding Hidden Valley to a field goal in the second quarter to trail 16-0 at the half. Hayden Nichol recovered a fumble by Hill to end one drive and the Huskies’ defense stiffened against both the Mustangs’ hitherto powerful running game and forced Hill to miss on some passes.

Dustin Nichol said he told his team in the locker room that it was up to them to decide what was going to happen in the second half.

The conversation, he said, went like this: “You guys are playing like a lot of sophomores and juniors who don’t have a lot of varsity experience. You don’t have to. Just play aggressive and at a high rate of speed. Don’t be standing around. If you make mistakes, we can fix those later. The effort has to be in you. It is something you have to put out there.”

The Huskies went four and out to open the third quarter as the Mustang defense sacked Virtue for the fifth time – out of an eventual total of seven.

Hidden Valley then struck back in two plays as Hill connected with Elijah Castro on a 65-yard touchdown pass to take a 22-0 lead after Tanner Bingham connected on his second extra point for the night.

Virtue then went to the air but couldn’t find open receivers with as many as four defenders closing in on him on nearly every play. On a couple of throws, when he did get the ball off, receivers weren’t looking or dropped catchable balls.

The Huskies never quit.

Sophomore Hayden McDonald put the Huskies in positive yardage with seven runs for 28 yards, all in the second half.

“These guys kept putting on their helmets and going out and trying,” Nichol said. “That speaks volumes. We had to have three people make major mistakes for them to score a touchdown. We would go five or six plays, three people wold make a mistake, and they would score.”

After Hidden Valley scored its fourth touchdown, five minutes into the third quarter, on an 11-yard run by Nick Elmore to finish off a two-play drive that Elmore started with a 50-yard ramble, Sweet Home’s young defenders blocked Bingham’s kick.

Despite having difficulty containing the edges of the Mustangs’ own read-option offense and letting Elmore break away too many big gains throughout the game, Sweet Home noticeably improved and by the fourth quarter the Huskies were making cleaner tackles and some big plays, including a strip of Hill by Austin James that Hayden Nichol recovered at Sweet Home’s 10 yard as Hidden Valley tried to close in for another score.

After regaining possession following Hill’s fumble, the Huskies went to work then, delivering their only real drive of the game. Virtue willed his way up field on carries of 15 and 24 yards and Nichol added 10 more. Then Virtue went to the air and found Nichol for 29 yards to take Sweet Home deep into Mustang territory, then hit Keegan Holly for 15 more to take the Huskies to the 3.

The drive stalled there, but when Hidden Valley took over on downs, the Huskies held tight and on third down caught the quarterback in the end zone for a safety to avoid a shutout.

The Mustangs’ Austin Green broke away one last time on the final play of the game for a 32-yard touchdown run, literally as time ran out. Hidden Valley didn’t attempt the extra point.

With the inexperience and a brand new read-option offense – similar to what the Mustangs had seen for years from their own offense in practice, the growing pains were inevitable.

“These are nice, good kids,” Dustin Nichol said of his team. “I love their attitude. Given the opportunity, and once they get experience, they’re going to do good things. Every kid out there had a moment of greatness. Now we have to get them all doing it the same time.”

A particular concern is inexperience at center, where two rookies were trading off, he said.

“If we don’t have a good center, it doesn’t matter what kind of skill players we have. We’ve got two new guys working at center. They’re doing good on short notice, but we need them to step it up.”

Friday night, the Huskies will host Crook County – for the first time in four games, since Husky Field wasn’t ready last year for the opener and Sweet Home had to travel to Prineville.

The Cowboys, who lost 20-14 to Phoenix in overtime last Friday, are experienced and run a very similar offense to Hidden Valley.

“They’re going to be good,” Nichol said. “They have a lot of players and they field a lot of guys. They run some counters and booleg stuff we haven’t seen yet, so they add another quirk we’ll have to keep track of.

“This is a big game for us.”

Scoring Summary

Hidden Valley 13 3 13 6 – 35

Sweet Home 0 0 0 2 – 2

First Quarter

HV – Jaykob Pereira 64 run. (Tanner Bingham kick) 11:12

HV – Ethan Hill 1 run. (Kick blocked.) 7:50

Second Quarter

HV – Tanner Bingham 4-yard FG. 9:40

Third Quarter

HV – Elijah Castro 65 pass from Ethan Hill. (Tanner Bingham kick) 8:41

HV – Nick Elmore 11 run. (Kick failed.) 6:57

Fourth Quarter

SH – Safety 4:44

HV – Austin Green 32 run. (No kick). 0:00

Individual Satistics

Rushing: SH – Hayden McDonald 7-28; Daniel Virtue 15-(-8); Hayden Nichol 7-(-1). Total – 14. HV – Nick Elmore 13-157; Jaykob Pereira 5-111; Ethan Hill 19-45; Austin Green 1-39; Garrett McNair 9-22; Elijah Castro 2-4. Total – 378.

Passing: SH – Dan Virtue 5-21-1-69. HV – Ethan Hill 7-13-0-85.

Receiving: SH – Hayden Nichol 2-47; Keegan Holly 1-15; Jake Swanson 2-7. HV – Jakob Pereira 2-27; Kasey Kopeland 2-8; Elijah Castro 1-35; Parker Wright 1-3; Ethan Hill 1-12.