Bickler, Skyhawks stun Beaverton at The Dam
Bradley Bickler walked out of The Dam no taller than his listed 6-foot-7.
But no mistake, the Southridge quarterback and his troupe of tried Skyhawks teammates had grown on an intense, exhilarating Friday night facing their heated crosstown rival Beaverton in a game befitting of the Hatfield and McCoy-like feud of the Metro League.
The Beavers had a 33-28 lead with just over two-and-a-half minutes to go in the fourth quarter. Southridge was 63 yards from pay dirt. On Southridge's previous drive, Beaverton's defense knocked down four of Bickler's passes from the Beaver 3 yard line to prevent the Skyhawks from reclaiming the lead.
In the past, perhaps Bickler might have let his emotions get the best of him and allowed the gravity of the moment to negatively affect his team and his personal performance.
In a cauldron of noise and pressure, the Skyhawk signal caller faced his demons and stuck a burning spear in them.
With the game on the line, Bickler completed 5-of-5 passes for 57 yards, the last two coming on a white-knuckle slant pass to Keyvaun Eady for the go-ahead touchdown that gave Southridge a 34-33 lead. Then, for good measure, Bickler punctuated the drive by taking a designed quarterback rollout and lunging into the end zone that extended the lead to 36-33 lead with 1:33 left in the fourth.
A few sound defensive plays and a Nico Koppy sack later, Southridge stamped its first win of the season, 36-33, at Beaverton High School.
"I knew if we got the ball back, we would put it in the end zone," Bickler said. "We battled too hard, we'd come too far to lose. I wasn't going to lose this game. This was our game. Even when we got stopped (on the previous drive), it was never over. I just told the offense, (after we got that stop) that it was our turn."
For Bickler, Koppy and the rest of the Skyhawk senior class, watching their student section storm the field and mob all over the Beaver logo at midfield with the white-and-gold Skyhawk banner flying high while the Beavers made a beeline to the locker room instead of having their traditional post-game huddle, was particularly gratifying. Southridge hadn't beat Beaverton since 2013 back when Bickler, Koppy and company were middle schoolers. They've been a part of the lopsided scores, the losing, the incessant trash talk from across Beaverton lines and around the Metro League football scene as a whole. To quiet the haters and celebrate on their bitter rivals' turf was bliss.
"I know I've had my differences with those Beaverton guys, so to take it to them felt great," Koppy said. "It came down to discipline, effort and confidence. Our coaches have taught not to give up and we didn't. They've pounded that into our heads. You can't pull off a win like that unless you have confidence."
From the opening kickoff through the final horn, the latest chapter of the Southridge-Beaverton conflict was full-fledged topsy-turvy warfare. The game's lead swapped hands nine times in all, including six in the first half alone. The Beavers were able to move the ball at will with senior running backs Trevor McDonald and Matt Eppler ripping off big gains in the run game. Senior quarterback Alex Brown threw touchdown passes to DeSean Wilkins and Ethan Wilborn, both in the first half.
Yet, the Skyhawk defense scored two touchdowns off fumble recoveries (one from Matt Davis in the third quarter) and forced five turnovers. Connor Fajardo finished the game with two interceptions. Neither team could fully stop the other from scoring when they s chose or put the other away when it had the chance. In fact, the biggest lead either team held was six points, when McDonald scored on a 5-yard touchdown run and tacked on the two-point try. Though Koppy, Wilkins, Kade Hustler, Evan Kepner, Albert Yim, and Sam Wagner-Forster all went to the woodshed at times to crush people defensively, the game's outcome boiled down to who could make the fewest mistakes while capitalizing on big plays.
In the most timely instances, Southridge stood tall while Beaverton tended to shoot itself in the foot with the giveaways and a few crippling penalties. As a result, a winnable game for Beaverton was snatched away in a steely Skyhawk display of poise and playmaking.
"It's on us as a team, we lost that game because of what we did," McDonald said. "Our mental mistakes really brought us down. Southridge is a great team, but we are too. We didn't play our best tonight. We're going to learn from this, learn from our mistakes, come back next week and be ready to go."
Near the end of the first half Beaverton was flagged for holding and an unsportsmanlike penalty that not only negated a big McDonald run but backed the Beavers up to their own one-yard line. On the next play, Brown dropped back deep into his own end zone, but as he cocked back to throw the ball, the pigskin slipped out of his right hand. Chaos ensued with an eight-player pile up forming in the end zone. It wasn't until the referee peeled off the heap of humanity that Bickler emerged with the ball for the fumble recovery score with less than a minute to go. The following PAT regained a 21-20 lead for Southridge.
"It was a battle to see who wanted it more and we were hungry," Eady said.
Beaverton unveiled its punishing two-back set rushing attack with McDonald and Eppler and a bone-crushing defense that made Southridge's offensive playmakers pay the price time after time. McDonald, a senior transfer from Willamette, scored two touchdowns and Eppler added another.
"I think we're gonna start running the ball being a mean team that punches forward and lets teams know they can't keep up with us," McDonald said.
But on Friday the Beavers didn't have Bickler, the biggest, strongest, most athletic dude on the field. Simply stated, Beaverton had no answer for the big man. In the pocket, where Bickler has made the most noticeable strides, the Skyhawk field general ate up yards with on-point seam routes, short outs, bubble screens and deep balls to his cache of talented pass catchers. Southridge's wide receivers: Eady, Michael Pluck and Fajardo, amongst others, stepped up huge, laying their bodies on the line, making challenging, high degree of difficulty catches with the Beaver secondary scouring the lot looking for knockout kills.
Fajardo's incredibly clutch 41-yard catch down the right sideline on Southridge's final drive of the night set up the game-winning score. Pluck took a number of jarring hits, but that didn't prevent the senior from venturing over the middle and catching a touchdown in the first quarter. Eady caught two touchdown passes on the evening. And when Bickler's targets were covered downfield or Beaverton's defensive line closed in tight, Bickler used his God-given gifts, namely his long athletic legs and sturdy 240-pound frame, to gash the Beaver defense for long runs.
"At the end of the day I just want to do whatever I can to help my team get the win," Bickler said. "That's all that matters. If I score four touchdowns or no touchdowns I don't care as long as we get the win. I'm just going to put my all into every play."
On the go-ahead score to Eady, Beaverton senior linebacker Stephanos Mason actually came through the line clean, sprung into the air and got his left hand on the ball as Bickler unloaded. While the pigskin fluttered, it didn't drastically fall off course and Eady was able to shield off Wilborn to make the catch in the end zone.
"I can always trust Keyvaun to make that catch," Bickler said. "If the ball hits his hands he's catching it."
Not only was Bickler excellent offensively, but he brought the intensity and effort to the defensive side of the ball with his fumble recovery in the end zone and a third-quarter sack. A freak athlete with all the tools who's long had the sort of potential college coaches and scouts drool over, Bickler is beginning to realize how good he can be. He's coming of age before teammates very eyes.
"When (Bickler) is playing that way, it unifies everybody," Koppy said. "I've been on varsity as long as he has and I've seen him grow. It's an incredible thing. He's playing offense, he's playing defense. That kid is a big-time athlete."
Southridge is 1-2 overall and 1-0 in Metro. The Skyhawks host Jesuit next week. Beaverton (1-2, 0-1) travels to 0-3 Aloha, who lost to Westview 27-17 on Friday night.