Defense carries No. 1 St. Paul into 2A football quarterfinals
In two playoff games, opponents have thrown the kitchen sink at St. Paul in an attempt to disrupt its powerful running game.
Both Lost River and Heppner feature strong defensive lines that gave the Bucks problems early, but each time the No. 1 Buckaroos have tweaked their attack to get things going.
The offense has been afforded ample time to diagnose and make those adjustments because the defense has been stellar.
St. Paul had a couple of breakdowns in its 46-13 opening-round win over the No. 16 Lost River Raiders, but were near impregnable Saturday, holding the No. 8 Heppner Mustangs to 107 yards of total offense in a 26-0 victory at Newberg High School.
"We had a great game plan and they played real disciplined, very smart," SPHS coach Tony Smith said. "We do a lot of stuff defensively to adjust to all their formations and everything that they're doing and I don't know that we really had a misstep."
The Bucks (10-0) also blanked Heppner 40-0 in the season opener, but the Mustangs were without their top quarterback and freshman Jayden Wilson was thrown into the fire.
Kevin Smith, a 6-foot-7-inch senior, eventually returned, but Heppner elected to keep Wilson at the helm and moved Smith to wide receiver and by season's end, the offense had evolved quite a bit.
"It was a totally different look, completely different look from the first time that we had seen them," Tony Smith said. "But they're always good. They're so well coached and they really improved, but our kids have, too. Coach Davidson does a great job with the defense and the kids just played so hard on defense."
St. Paul drove to the Mustangs' 35-yard line on their opening drive before turning the ball over on downs, but the defense forced two three-and-outs to keep the game scoreless in the opening quarter.
The Bucks finally gained some traction on their third drive of the game, driving 80 yards in 10 plays, with Holden Smith throwing a nifty fade to a leaping Jaidyn Jackson in the right corner of the endzone for a nine-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 10:29 remaining in the second quarter.
After another three-and-out from Heppner, St. Paul opened up the passing game more, with Smith hitting Jackson twice to convert third downs before Herberger capped the drive with a seven-yard scoring run. The Bucks missed the first of two extra point attempts to make it 13-0 and carried that lead into the break.
"We see something different every week, the last two weeks more with people trying to stop what we do well, so it takes us a little while," Tony Smith said. "But even in that, our ability to throw the ball was a big difference. We didn't a lot in the second half because we had the lead, but early on we did and that was the difference."
The Mustangs (6-4) moved the ball for the first time on their opening drive of the third quarter, gaining most of their yardage on a long completion that was nearly intercepted, but St. Paul eventually forced a turnover on downs when Zach Brentano sacked Wilson on fourth down and 10 from the Bucks' 31-yard line.
The ensuing drive was all about the interior run game, as Saul Martinez carried the ball on four of seven plays, including a 22-yard touchdown run that made it 19-0 and pretty much put the game away.
Holden Smith added a one-yard touchdown on a quarterback sneak late in the fourth quarter to wrap up the scoring. The senior signal caller finished 9 for 13 passing for 104 yards and one score, providing balance to the ground game, which churned out 262 yards. Martinez was the workhorse, toting the ball 26 times for 138 yards and one score, with Herberger adding 108 yards and a touchdown of his own on 17 carries.
"Heppner is a good defensive team," senior Campbell Smith said. "When we were up there, we just got lucky with all the turnovers they had and this time they didn't have that."
The Bucks will face another familiar opponent in the state semifinals as Tri-River Conference rival Santiam (9-1) blasted No. 4 Grant Union 50-14 to advance to Saturday's 4 p.m. contest at Cottage Grove High School.
St. Paul won the regular season contest 38-12, holding the No. 5 Wolverines to their lowest point total of the year. Since that defeat, Santiam has outscored its opponents 297-54. The Wolverines defense allows just 11.1 points per game, which is second in 2A to the Bucks' 9.8 mark.
"They are going to be tougher," Martinez said. "But we're going to be tougher, too."