Gladstone rides three big plays to 23-20 road win over Estacada
Midway through the fourth quarter, Gladstone offensive linemen Brady Fox and Gage Newberry helped open a hole in Estacada's defensive front that was big enough to drive a truck through.
All tailback Mason Scheehean had to do was get there.
The dicey footing was made even dicier by the rain that had turned parts of Estacada's Buzz Randall Field into a mud pit, but that didn't slow down Scheehean.
At least, not enough to make a difference.
The 6-foot, 185-pound senior busted through the hole, and then got past Estacada's Hunter McDonald and Garrett Shaver and was gone, breaking a 65-yard touchdown run that helped seal the Gladiators' 23-20 victory Friday over the previously-undefeated Rangers.
"It was a counter play," said Scheehean, whose second touchdown run of the game gave Gladstone a 23-12 lead with 5:19 to play. "I cut it right and I almost slipped. I gathered myself when I saw that hole and then I just ran for my life.
"It was hard to make big plays in this weather and with these field conditions, but we executed and made plays when we needed to."
Gladstone quarterback Hudson Meyer threw a 49-yard touchdown pass to Mateo Burgos in the first quarter, and Scheehean added a 64-yard TD run in the second quarter that gave the Gladiators a 14-6 halftime lead.
After a scoreless third quarter, Burgos hit a 22-yard field goal, Estacada quarterback Isaiah Schaffer answered with a 2-yard touchdown run, and then Scheehean popped the biggest play of the night to help the Gladiators improve to 3-1 overall and 1-0 in 4A Special District 2 action.
"They were fortunate plays," Gladstone coach J.J. Jedrykowski said of his team's three big scoring plays. "Every time we called them, I'm crossing my fingers and saying, 'Gosh, I hope this hits,' because Estacada was pretty much stopping everything else.
"But we caught them with some misdirection a couple of times, and then I think that last one kind of broke them a little bit."
Estacada's Kaden Settle caught a 36-yard touchdown pass from Schaffer at the end of a nine-play, 80-yard drive, and Sam Garrison tacked on a two-point conversion run that lifted the Rangers within a field goal, 23-20, with 2:12 to play.
Gladstone had no trouble fielding the squib kick on the ensuing kick off and then ran for a couple of first downs before Meyer took a knee a couple of times to seal the deal.
"We bottled Gladstone up tight, minus about three or four big plays," Rangers coach Andy Mott said. "Great plays by Gladstone, but our defense played really sound, minus those plays.
"The turning point there was in the second half when Scheehean broke loose on that big run and put us down a couple of scores. We knew we had enough fight in us to claw back in the game, but with about five minutes left, it was an uphill battle to put a couple of scores on the board."
It was a disappointing result for the Rangers (3-1, 0-1 SD-2), who were looking to start 4-0 for the first time since 2015.
"It was a tough game and I think we played really tough out there," said Garrison, the Rangers' senior running back/linebacker. "Gladstone has a lot of talent on the front line, but when we really wanted it and we found that energy to go for it, we were moving the ball. We just didn't have it the whole time.
"This one hurts, it really does. We're going to have to let it settle for the night, get angry, and then move on to Woodburn next week — and hope we get another shot at Gladstone in the playoffs."
A little rain? A muddy field? A slippery football? Those were all factors in the game, but those things also were actually bigger issues for the Rangers, whose first two possessions of the second half ended with fumbles.
On the second turnover, Gladstone's Ethan Finnigan knocked the ball loose from Schaffer and Fox, the senior lineman, recovered at the Estacada 25. The Gladiators then went on an eight-play, 29-yard drive that ended with Burgos' 22-yard field goal, pushing the lead to 17-6 with 9:14 to play in the fourth quarter.
In addition to the two defensive takeaways, the Gladiators also recovered an onside kick after their first touchdown in the first quarter. The extra possession didn't produce any points, but it kept the ball away from Estacada's offense for three minutes in a game where one more possession for the Rangers might have made difference.
"Any chance we could get, we wanted to hold onto the ball," Jedrykowski said. "We needed to just keep chewin' clock, keep chewin' clock, be patient and keep the ball out of Estacada's hands."
Estacada, coming off consecutive wins over Valley Catholic, Molalla, and Astoria, had the ball four times in Friday's first half. The Rangers turned the ball over on downs on their first possession, punted on the next two, and then went on a seven-play, 64-yard touchdown drive that ended with Jose Vasquez scoring on a 23-yard run that made it 7-6 with 4:26 to play in the second quarter.
In the second half, Estacada again had the ball four times. After the first two drives ended with fumbles, Schaffer scored on a 2-yard run to cap a five-play, 45-yard drive that pulled the Rangers within 17-12 with 7:01 left in the fourth quarter.
Point of attack
When Gladstone had the ball, the marquee matchup featured the Gladiators starting offensive line — center Josh Heywood, guards Andrew Gray and Fox, and tackles Andrew Czernik and Stefan Smith — going head-to-head with Estacada's defensive front of Conner McNulty, Dominic Nacoste and Jackson Turner.
The battle in the trenches was a virtual toss-up for much of the first three quarters, although Estacada gained a slight edge when Gray, the Gladiators' 5-11, 235-pound senior, was ejected for unsportsmanlike conduct — he allegedly threw a punch while playing defense — with 2:23 to play in the third quarter.
On the biggest play of the night, the Gladiators had Fox and Newberry leading the push to the left, Heywood and backup guard Tristyn Schmidt with the push to the right, and Smith on stunt up the middle, leading interference for Scheehean as he ran untouched to the end zone.
"It was a pretty good battle," said Smith, the 6-5, 280-pound senior. "Estacada's a good football team, no doubt about that. We were going back and forth, but we overpowered them in the end.
"We made a couple of mistakes up front here and there, but what team doesn't? We've been getting better each week and that's the best part about it. We're always striving to make each other better. Steel sharpens steel."
For the game, Gladstone finished with 296 yards total offense, led by Scheehean's game-high 154 yards rushing on 10 carries. Sebastian Peiffer added 18 carries for 64 yards, and Hudson completed 4 of 6 passes for another 67 yards.
Estacada had 291 yards total offense with Schaffer completing 7 of 13 passes for 137 yards, while Garrison and Schaffer had a combined 125 yards rushing on 31 carries.
"Estacada is a good football team and they do some things really well," Jedrykowski said. "They're young, but they have a helluva coaching staff and I knew their kids would be ready. They were fired up emotionally and I'm not sure our kids matched their emotional level, but we've got a little more experience and I think that helped us out tonight.
"For our kids, we figured out early on that it's not about who we play, it's about how we play. If we shoot ourselves in the foot with common-sense stuff, we're going to lose ballgames, so wins like this are a big growth opportunity for us."
Jedrykowski has seen the Gladiators made significant strides in the mental side of the game from Week 1 to where they are now, heading into next week's home game against The Dalles.
"Tonight, the kids stuck together, they weren't whining, and they weren't chipping at one another," Jedrykowski said. "I mean, it was awesome in terms of sticking together and finding a way.
"If we had played this game four weeks ago, I don't think we win, just because of the behavior and the attitude we had then compared to now. So, this was huge."
By Jim Beseda
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