Valiant football shuts down Indian offense in stormy conditions

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic senior running back Kevin Eckrosh tries to break a Scappoose tackle attempt in the second half of the Valiants win over the Indians.

If you're going to beat the champs, you have to knock them out.

And, fittingly, with the biggest win in Valley Catholic football program's history hanging in the balance against Scappoose, it was Daniel Hardy — who had a day most players can only dream of — that landed the haymaker heard around the Beaverton area Thursday night.

Protecting a delicate 13-7 lead after Scappoose marched down to the Valiant 12-yard line with just 37 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Hardy read an out route near the goaline perfectly, picked off Scappoose senior quarterback Quinn Searle's pass attempt and hoofed it 88 yards to the house to seal a monumental 20-7 upset win over the two-time defending Cowapa League champions at Valley Catholic High School.

“It's been a long time coming,” said Hardy with smile. “This wasn't just a week of preparation. This was four long years of preparation to win this game. They definitely made us work it and props to Scappoose who played a great game...we just wanted it. We practice every day for these situations. We were ready.”

Valley moved to 5-2 overall and 2-2 in Cowapa with one final road game at Tillamook next week to close out the regular season.

“This a program-defining win and it's not even close,” said Valley Catholic senior quarterback Alex Tranquill. “We've been looked down on and we won't be anymore, let's put it that way. Our program is going to be reinvigorated for sure after a couple of bad years there. We're going to have a lot more confidence in the future.”

Scappoose (4-3 overall, 3-1 in league) entered the game seemingly stout and swaggering after manhandling Banks 30-12 to put itself again in the driver's seat for a league title. Yet, the Indians ran up against a vastly improved Valiant defense that played fast, loose and physical. And, playing into a foul, havoc wreaking wind and a non-stop rain that came down in dump trucks and grounded both teams' normally aerodynamic offenses, the Indians couldn't get their famed spread attack into gear.

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Scappoose junior wide receiver Tevin Jeannis gets taken down by Valley Catholic corneback Aidan Welsh in the first quarter of the Valiants win on Thursday.

Excuses, though, fell on deaf ears with the Indians. Backed inside their own 20-yard line with just 2 minutes, 30 seconds to go in the fourth, Searle hit Tanner Kramer for a 45-yard insane circus catch down the right sideline that put Scappoose inside Valiant territory. A few positive plays later, however, Scappoose shot itself in the foot inside the red zone and turned the ball over at a critical juncture. Many times throughout the night, for whatever reason, the Indians just couldn't get jump-started.

“I don't think it was the elements, it was all on us,” said Searle. “We expected the name on the front of our jersey would make us win. We didn't play as hard as we should've.”

Both of Scappoose's giveaways were flipped into touchdowns: Hardy's icing pick-six late in the fourth and a Hardy scoop-and-score off a Searle fumble in the second quarter that gave Valley a 6-0 lead with just over five minutes left in the first half.

“We made mistakes and they didn't,” said Scappoose junior running back Jimmy Jones. “We played bad all around. We came in with the wrong mindset. We were too relaxed.”

Still, Scappoose controls its own conference destiny. Defeat Astoria next Friday at home and the Indians take their third straight Cowapa crown.

“I'm still confident in our team,” said Searle. “There's a lot of stuff we need to work on to beat Astoria next week. We just have to watch film and play how we usually play.”

Just seven games into his young head coaching career, Valley rookie head coach Nick Hegwood already has a premium program win, one that will have an extended shelf life not just into next week's season finale versus Tillamook and possibly into the Class 4A playoffs, but the long-term future as well.

“It validates everything we've been doing,” said Hegwood. “It's a step we needed to take and it shows that what these guys are capable of is a whole heck of a lot. They've bought in and this proves it. I think this also shows to kids looking at Valley Catholic that the football program is the real deal and we can win games and do some pretty special things. Football can be a marquee sport for us.”

In a game filled with star-worthy performances, particularly on the defensive side of the football for the Valiants, it was Hardy who played the role of hero, accounting for all three of Valley's touchdowns. Midway through the second quarter, Searle tried an option pitch with Jones, but Valley senior defensive end Jack Grasberger blew the play up before it could get off the ground and forced the exchange to tumble out of the Indian quarterback's grasp. Hardy scooped the loose ball off the wet turf, shook off a tackle attempt and took it to the end zone to give Valley a 6-0 lead.

Jones and company answered with a two-yard touchdown run that gave Scappoose its first and only lead of the night, 7-6, with 3:21 left in the second quarter.

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic senior quarterback Aidan Welsh escapes the Scappoose defense in the first quarter of the Valiants win on Thursday.

However, on the very next play from scrimmage, Valley senior quarterback Aidan Welsh threw a pass across the middle that ricocheted through the extended arms of a covering Indian linebacker into Hardy's watery, gloveless hands five yards behind the initial tip. The crazy catch seemed to freeze Scappoose's defense for a half second, but by then Hardy had hightailed it 20 yards downfield en route to a miraculous 63-yard score that gave Valley a 13-7 lead with 3:05 to go in the half. Subsequently, the increasingly confident Valiant defense shut down Scappoose yet again, getting a big Ian Birrell sack with 30 seconds left in the half to send Valley into the locker room with 13-7 halftime lead.

Despite the solo heroics, Hardy heaped praise on his comrades for their efforts in helping him reach pay dirt three times.

“None of those touchdowns happen without my teammates,” said Hardy. “Jack (Grasberger) sacks the quarterback and that leaves the ball free for me. (Welsh) throws a great pass and I'm right there. The last one was just instinct. After repping it so many times in practice...we saw that play all week in practice. I just jumped it and kept going. Credit the coaches and the scout team, they put us in position to makes plays.”

In the face of a domineering opponent with a state championship pedigree and a copious amount of speedy athletes — one that railroaded Valley to a combined score of 128-13 the past two seasons —Valley stayed true to a mantra that's become the team's echoing rallying cry. The inclement weather and sometimes suspect officiating were out of Valley's jurisdiction, but its effort, preparation and intensity were the deciders in a game some thought was a mismatch on paper.

“We just control the controllables,” said Tranquill. “The weather was just one of those things we couldn't control. We just kept playing through it.”

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic sophomore wide receiver Ethan Wilborn makes his way up field against Scappoose.

Defensively, Valley was a fulcrum of ferocity and intelligence, sagely sniffing out Scappoose's jet sweeps on the ground, blanketing the Indian wide receivers outside while keeping Searle contained in the pocket. Jones, Kramer and Michael Gift often found themselves stopped in their tracks by Grasberger, Hardy, Welsh, Birrell, Joey Braun and a wealth of Valiant defenders who wrapped up tackling-wise and didn't allow Scappoose's dangerous playmakers to break free after getting their hands on the football. In addition to the two takeaways, Valley bagged three fourth down stops and five three-and-outs.

“It took a lot of hard work,” said Hardy. “Every day we go into practice with the mindset that we're practicing against the best team in the state. We try to be ready for anybody or any challenge that comes our way.”

Tranquill said Valley's coaching staff was in their teams' collective ears all week, reminding the Valiants of the past whitewashings and how if they wanted to be great and dethrone the king, they'd have to get out of their comfort zones and strive to be better. But for every push or prod, Hegwood and company harped on belief and positivity, that Valley was fully capable of an all-time stickup if they leaned on each other rather than their individual instincts.

“We started new today,” said Tranquill. “It's such a big win for the program and you couldn't ask for better people to do it with. We're a close bunch. Every day we bond more and more together. It just says so much about the people on the this team, the character of the program and what the coaches have gotten out of us.”

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Scappoose senior quarter Quinn Searle uncorks a deep ball down field late in the fourth quarter against Valley Catholic.

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