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Oregon City has had success both rushing and passing, and the Pioneer defense is much improved over a year ago

by: PHOTO BY JOHN LARIVIERE - OREGON CITY COACH BRUCE REECEThey’ve had some adversity, with the loss of their head coach early in the season. But it appears that Oregon City is headed to a very successful season of football.

The Pioneers are off to their best start since 2001, going 3-0, with convincing wins over Gresham (40-14), Crater (42-20) and David Douglas (35-0) to begin the season.

Defense appears to be where the Pioneers have made the biggest improvement over last season. A year ago they allowed opponents an average of 36 points a game. So far this season they’ve outscored their opponents by an average score of 39-11.

An improved defense was somewhat expected, since the Pioneers return eight defensive starters from last season’s team that finished with a .500 record — seniors Austin Bjorkman (6-0, 195) and Matt Oades (6-2, 205) at linebacker; seniors Tony Corvi (6-0, 250), Andrew Etzel (6-0, 235), Zak Merwin (6-3, 225), Josh Miller (6-3, 280) and D.J. Vandervort (5-10,220) in the defensive line; and sophomore Trevon Bradford (5-10, 170) at defensive back.

Miller is also a third-year starter in the offensive line, where he earned first-team all-league honors last fall, along with Bjorkman (linebacker), Bradford (cornerback), and Corvi (6-0, 250, tight end).

Oades also returns at wide receiver, where he was a second-team all-league selection.

The Pioneers return a veteran center in 6-1, 270-pound senior Keith Arnold, who received honorable mention league all-star honors a year ago.

Senior Jon Hall (6-0, 205) returns at quarterback, where he has shown vast improvement, and senior Nick Martin (5-7, 145) returns at wide receiver. Hall completed 10-of-14 passes for 242 yards and five touchdowns in last Friday’s 35-0 rout of David Douglas.

And the Pioneers have found a replacement for second-team all-state running back Mitch Thompson, who graduated, after rushing for close to 2,200 yards and 24 touchdowns in 10 games.

The replacement, 5-9, 180-pound sophomore Conner Mitchell, has been truly impressive in the Pioneers’ first three games, rushing for 634 yards. Mitchell carried 40 times for 311 yards and two touchdowns in the 42-20 win over Crater; he rushed 27 times for 164 yards and a touchdown in the Pioneers’ season opener with Gresham; and last Friday Mitchell netter 159 yards in 18 trips with the pigskin.

Oregon City coach Bruce Reece has said of Mitchell, “He’s an outstanding football player, without a doubt, Our challenge will be to keep him healthy, because he goes both ways and were not super deep at any position....”

Hall connected with 6-2, 200-pound junior wide receiver Hunter Knighton seven times for 147 yards and three touchdowns last Friday. In three games, Bradford has hauled in seven passes for 250 yards and five touchdowns; Oades has seven catches for 50 yards.

Reece commented: “Jon Hall threw the ball very well (against David Douglas) and our receivers did a nice job getting open.

“The defense was outstanding. Our team play and ability to swarm to the ball was incredible.

“We are very excited to be 3-0 and are ready for league play to begin on Friday.”

The Pioneers have a new kicker who has been money this season in senior Alex Canchola. Besides making all but one of his extra point attempts, Canchola has split the uprights on five of seven field goal attempts.

Hall says much of the Pioneers’ success this season is due to the offensive line.

“I think we have the best offensive line around,” he said. “Those guys are 100 percent reliable. Without them, we’re nothing.”

Oregon City senior co-captain Clay Valenzuela-Reece said, “We’ve had our adversity this season, with the loss of our head coach. But our new head coach [Bruce Reece] is an experienced coach.... Our seniors have stepped up as leaders to help run the team, and I think we’ll do just fine....”

But Valenzuela-Reece cautioned, “The Three Rivers League is a very tough league. Everybody’s got talent.... I think the league title is up for grabs.”

The Pioneers will likely be tested this Friday, when they entertain Lakeridge in their league opener. The Pacers (3-0) have been impressive as they’ve rallied around junior quarterback Eric Dungey in wins over Reynolds (35-18), Centennial (58-21) and North Salem (48-7). Dungey rushed for two touchdowns and completed 16-of-20 passes for 252 yards and four more touchdowns in last Friday’s rout of North Salem.

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