Valiant football shows off potential in 56-7 loss at Scappoose
Led by a gifted sophomore signal caller with a vast array of potential in Daniel Pruitt and a group of budding youngsters, Valley Catholic could very well be the Cowapa League's team of the future.
But the kings of the acclaimed conference had a bone to pick with the youthful Valiants on Thursday, as one of the final stops on their self-proclaimed "Back in Black" tour.
Scappoose, still incensed over losing what's still the biggest win Valley's program history last year, incited a 42-7 halftime lead and ran away with a 56-7 win at Scappoose High School. Wearing all black helmets with jet-black jerseys broken up only by their bright orange numbers, the Indians have been out for vengeance against the teams that took them down a season ago including Valley, St. Helens and Cottage Grove. So far, Scappoose is two-for-three on its revenge-starved season-long mission,
"Last year stung," Scappoose senior wide receiver Tevin Jeannis said. "That was a big motivation for us tonight. Last year our offense was pretty bad, we had a lot of turnovers and dropped passes, but we've cleaned up a lot from last year. Last year was a building year for us. The guys that were juniors then are seniors starting this year."
"That's a good football team and we came in hear thinking if we gave it all we had and they still beat us, then hats off to them," Pruitt said. "Scappoose is a team that if they have a few things go their way they can win a state championship. It was a lot of fun playing against them, but I think a lot of our young guys showed a lot tonight and our seniors gave it everything they had. When we were down, we were still walking the sidelines trying to get our guys up. We're playing for our seniors and our young guys."
The Indians' time is now, their short-term future appears locked into another extended playoff that culminates in the Class 4A semifinals or even the 4A state title game. But for Valley, what lies ahead looking down the road is perhaps equally as optimistic. Though outmanned without star sophomore running back Trey Eberhart and outnumbered when it came to team depth, the Valiants flat out refused to stop fighting against Scappoose. Head coach Nick Hegwood and his staff expect nothing less than maximum effort and heart from each player on the roster regardless of stature or age and that was clear for all four quarters. Any skeptic would reverse course after seeing Valley's mud-coated, grass-stained white jerseys with the blue trim that were barely recognizable due to the grit and grime of a game the Valiants never tapped out on.
It was the tangible progress and heart that Valley made that had Pruitt most satisfied. Senior defensive end Ben Robbins bagged two sacks, hunting down Scappoose quarterback Jerad Toman and planting him in the soupy sod as the field general tried to backtrack away from the pressure. Robbins, sophomore safety James Baglai, junior defensive end Issac Flemmer, freshman cornerback George Eisenhardt, junior defensive back Abhi Rajendran, senior linebacker Isaac Hendrickson and junior defensive tackle Nico Hererra were constantly in the thick of multiple scrums and pile-ups, trying to thud Indian ball carriers from getting yards after contact, mixing it up inside.
"All of those have that will to win it, they show that they want it," Pruitt said. "That's the hardest thing to find in a football player, to have that will to not lose. We didn't let Scappoose really pass the ball. They got it done on the ground. At one point we kind of lost our discipline and let them drive down the field, but we were still running after them and that's what I liked."
Robbins, Flemmer, and senior defensive end Jack Grasberger combined for three sacks and three tackles for a loss against Scappoose.
"If we play up to our potential, I think we can have the best d-line in the state," Pruitt said. "Those guys are three of the best players in the Cowapa League."
Jeannis dropped a wide receiver screen, but the referees ruled it a fumble and the teeming Valiant defense ran to the pigskin and picked it up with 9:59 to go in the first quarter to the ball back to the Valiant offense. Valley was forced to punt on the subsequent series, but it was clear early that the Valiants didn't come to Scappoose as sacrificial lambs.
"I couldn't be more proud of our guys," Pruitt said. "A lot of teams that are down 49-7 quit and our guys just didn't. And I think that's going to help us not just in years to come but also next week against Astoria."
Pruitt's long-term potential was on full display on Valley's final drive of the first half. On 3 and 5 the sophomore found freshman wide receiver Matthew Nearman on a six-yard out that kept the chains moving. Then Pruitt dropped back in the pocket and lofted a perfectly thrown ball down the right seam to a streaking Luke Nguyen, who caught the dime in stride and galloped down to the Indian 5-yard line. On 2 and goal from the Indian 5, Pruitt put the ball in Hendrickson's stomach on a quarterback run-pass option play, but as the Scappoose defense closed in, the sophomore signal caller pulled the ball away from the mesh point, scrambled to the right perimeter, lowered his shoulder on an Indian linebacker, dove at the goal line and bullied into the end zone for Valley's first score of the game. Sophomore William Schultheis tacked on the extra point to make it 42-7 with 1:45 to go in the half. Timing, touch, arm strength and power on the ground. All Pruitt needed were three eye-popping plays to prove he's someone the Valiants can build their foundation on in the years ahead.
"That drive was fun," Pruitt said with a smile. "Even though we were down, I wasn't thinking about what the score and I don't think (the rest of the Valiants) were either. I love football. I grew up in a football family and I go out there and make sure to have fun every play. That's what we need — to have fun every game."
At 2-5 overall and 0-4 in league, Valley needs a win against Tillamook in its season finale to have a chance at a 4A "play-in" game, which if won, would send the Valiants to the 4A state playoffs. But regardless of what next week holds, the coming times should be compelling. As Pruitt progresses, so will Valley. The sophomore already possesses an incredibly high football intellect and the work ethic on the field and in the weight room to match. Flemmer is an anchor at left tackle who bullied Scappoose's defensive ends. Eberhart, who is nursing a pair of gimpy ankles, was the Indians' marked man offensively, the guy they were prepared to stop before the sophomore bell cow couldn't give it a go. Baglai was one of Valley's team leaders in tackles and Eisenhardt is the Valiants' fastest player already, according to Pruitt. There's a ton of talent for Hegwood to work with, all Valley needs is time and patience.
In the wake of beating Banks in the last seconds of the fourth quarter on a game-winning field goal a week ago, there was no letdown or let up when Scappoose took the gridiron on a short week. The Indians plainly didn't need a whole lot of motivation coming into Thursday after the Valiants toppled the Cowapa powerhouse in the sideways wind and rain last year, pulling off one of the biggest upsets in state history. Those flashbacks of errant passes dropped wet balls and crippling mistakes weighed on Scappoose's mind leading up to contest and acted as a spur to put Valley away early. Scappoose senior running back Jimmy Jones scored twice on the ground and once on a punt return in the second quarter when Pruitt placed a deep rugby-style punt down the left sideline that took two hard bounces to Jones. Seemingly penned in by the Valiant punt coverage unit, Jones slipped out of one tackle, waited for a wall of Indian blockers to formulate in front of him and followed Jeannis' lead all the way down the right sideline for a 46-yard touchdown return to make it 28-0.
And on the ensuing kickoff, Scappoose came up with the rock on a Valiant fumble. Jeannis found pay dirt on a designed handoff for a 28-yard score Toman linked up with Joe Abbott for a touchdown pass and junior Matt Roth powered his way up the middle for a 10-yard touchdown that gave Scappoose a 42-0 second quarter lead. With Scappoose's offensive line, led by Quincy Cleveland and others up front, the Indians were able to get their playmakers in space and let them use their athletic ability on the move.
"We have a lot of speed on our team, but I have to give credit to our offensive line," Jones. "They put in work and do a good job. They have film sessions all the time and practice hard. I'm really proud of them."
The Indians are 6-1 overall and 4-0 in league with their season finale against Astoria next Friday at Astoria High School at 7 p.m.