Undefeated Huskies earn playoff bye

For the second straight year, Sweet Home, with a perfect 9-0 record this year, stands at the top of the Capital Conference, which was clinched with their 41-29 victory at North Marion.

It didn’t come easy. And it wasn’t always pretty.

“Good teams have to win ugly sometimes,” said coach Rob Younger. “But if you told me 12 weeks ago that we would be 9-0 and in this position, we would have been ecstatic. Sometimes we lose focus of that. I want to make sure we enjoy what this football team has accomplished.”

It turned out that it was a necessary win since Stayton upset Molalla that same night. Had North Marion been able to pull off their own upset, they would have forced a tie with Sweet Home for the league title and then become the number one rated team in the conference.

“I expected that we were going to win,” said offensive lineman Rob Martin, “but I didn’t want to overlook them.”

The linemen had to be prepared on a night when North Marion filled the box with eight players to stop the Husky rushing game. Each team was stymied on their first possession and forced to punt after just three plays. But Sweet Home began to set the tone with Travis Smith and Seth Graves pounding the inside and carrying tacklers after contact and Brandon Miner and Tim Matuszak getting free on the outside.

In their second series, Miner, who is always quick to give credit to his linemen for their blocking, broke loose for a 62 yard touchdown. On this occasion, it was the Martin brothers who opened up the initial hole.

“I think they were keying on the center of the field,” said Rob Martin. “Usually the other teams slant to our side. It was nice that we had man to man blocks.”

North Marion was able to come right back, not with their power I running game which Sweet Home shut down in the first half, but with three passes from Jacob Lambert to Raoul Rouzan, the last one a 21 yarder for a touchdown. Ismael Ovalle kicked the extra point and for the first time all year, a Husky opponent had the lead since Sweet Home had missed on their own extra point.

The scoring drive did not come without controversy. On third down and four at the Husky 28 yard line, Lambert completed an illegal pass to his center, which is a five yard penalty and loss of down. It would have been fourth and nine. However, the referee called it illegal procedure and marked it from the spot of the catch, penalizing them three yards and keeping it at third down.

Go figure.

The Huskies had to put that call out of their mind. At first, it looked like North was going to force another punt at 4th down and four at the 26 yard line. But Matuszak, seeing an opening on the right side, took a chance and the direct snap, scampering 28 yards for a Husky first down. Though they didn’t score on that series, Tyler Emmert, in his first duty as the Sweet Home punter, lofted a 46 yard punt into the end zone, which improved the Husky field position.

Younger was pleased with both the performance of Emmert and first time long snapper Brian Lindsey.

“I was nervous at first,” said Emmert, who averaged 36 yards per punt. ” I just wanted to get the ball off. The line did a good job of keeping them off me.”

North Marion opened this drive by running their tailback five consecutive times, only to watch their attack die after Emmert sacked the quarterback for a seven yard loss.

“Our defensive line played their best game of the season,” said Younger. “They had a good attack at the line of scrimmage and that freed our linebackers up.”

Brandon Martin, who led the Huskies with 11 tackles, agreed.

“I don’t think I got touched more than three times,” said Martin. “I was able to roam quite a bit.”

Perhaps the biggest play of the game, according to Younger, and the one that shifted the momentum of the game drastically, was Miner’s blocked punt. Miner went untouched on the fast field and knocked it down, allowing Mac Reynolds to recover it at the North 9 yard line. Fullback Travis Smith, who missed last week’s game, took it into the end zone on the next play. Graves ran in the two point conversion.

“I was looking forward to playing all week,” said Smith. “When we were down a point, both Seth and I felt like we had to run that much harder.”

For the rest of the half, the defense thwarted North Marion at every turn and the Sweet Home offense came up with big play after big play.

The Huskies’ next series of three plays included two big strikes, a Smith 23 yard run followed by a Matuszak to Emmert 45 yard touchdown pass on an option rollout. Then Matuszak completed a pass to Matt Morneault for another 2 point conversion.

The Huskies next possession was even shorter, a ten yard run by Graves followed by another 60 yard sweep by Miner, where he juked past the last two defenders, leaving them grabbing nothing but air. What was once close ended up to be a 29-7 halftime margin for the Huskies. Sweet Home had 233 rushing yards at halftime, of which Miner had 123 in just four carries.

“Graves and Smith just pound it and pound it,” said Miner. “Their inside game opens up the outside game.”

But North Marion did not fold it up in the second half. They came out with two touchdowns on their first two possessions, closing the gap to 29-22. They went to fullback Mike Van Tassel on a counter trap for 32 yards on their first score and then Lambert connected with Nathan Kelleher on 34 yard pass play. Lambert completed 10 of 20 passes for 197 yards for the game. Of the ten passes he completed, seven were for first downs and two were for touchdowns.

Once again, Sweet Home had the character to respond. They immediately came back with their rushing attack and scored on a Smith 35 yard trap play. Then, on the ensuing kickoff, Lindsey recovered a North fumble. That led to a time-consuming 14 play drive, during which they converted three fourth down plays, including the final three yard touchdown run by Matuszak.

On the next North Marion series, Matuszak picked off the first of his two interceptions for the night, which gave him the high school’s career record for interceptions at 16. For awhile, he had almost given up on the record, especially when he had to focus more on his new job as the quarterback.

“I wanted to get it over with early in the year instead of have it hanging over my head,” said Matuszak. But he achieved it in typical fashion, tipping the pass and then coming down with it, his fifth for the year.

Matuszak, who ran for 50 yards in 5 carries, is feeling much more comfortable as the team’s leader.

“I let the game come to me, instead of trying to think too hard,” stated Matuszak. “I just let the other guys get the job done.”

Younger thinks the team has begun to grow around Matuszak’s lead.

“He gives us a presence of confidence,” explained Younger. “He’s stepped in and provided the continuity and leadership we needed.”

North Marion did score one last touchdown on another counter trap with six minutes to go. But by then, the Huskies had achieved one of their goals, the conference championship. Now they have one week to go back to what Younger calls “daily double mentality” where they focus on basic fundamentals that win football games.

Younger is giving the coaches an extra couple of days of rest since they have been working six or seven day weeks all year. Friday, he will give the players a day off. And then the Huskies embark on the second phase of their goals: a state championship.

Their first opponent at home on either Friday the 14th or Saturday the 15th will be the winner of a playoff game between the second place team in the Far West conference, Brookings, and the third place team in the Skyline conference, Phoenix.