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Defensive Braves set the tone in Cowapa League opener against the previously undefeated Cheesemakers.

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - A team of Banks defenders tackle a Tillamook ball carrier during the Braves' game against the Cheesemakers Friday, Sept. 27, at Banks High School.Perfection, as they say, is unattainable. But while far from it Friday night, the No. 1-ranked Banks Braves continue to strive for it — and they keep winning games in the process.

Banks used a series of big plays, the hard-nosed running of senior running back Martial Stegemeier, and a suffocating defense en route to a dominating 31-7 Homecoming win over Tillamook Friday night, Sept. 27, at Banks High School.

The win was the 15th straight for the Braves going back to last season, and with it they improved to 4-0 on the year and 1-0 in conference.

Ever the perfectionist, Braves head coach Cole Linehan spoke well of his team shortly following the game, but was quick to point-out the imperfections that included a handful of turnovers, a few very big penalties, and some missed opportunities in the red zone both early and late in the game.

"There's still a lot to clean up," Linehan said. "I like the way we came out in the second half and responded, but there were a lot of missed opportunities. I know it was 31-7, but were looking at the points we left off the board with turnovers and holding calls."

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Banks quarterback Tanner Shook takes a shot from a Tillamook defender during the Braves' game against the Cheesemakers Friday, Sept. 27, at Banks High School.Thankfully for the Braves however, the good far outweighed the bad. First year starting quarterback Tanner Shook threw an interception on Banks' first play from scrimmage and added a second pick late in the third quarter, but in between the senior threw two touchdown passes and competed 13 balls for 237 yards. Far from ideal, but ultimately a step in the right direction for a quarterback making just his second varsity start.

"It wasn't our or my best performance, but the guys rallied behind me and kept me going," Shook said. "When we get in tough spots, these guys don't just roll over and die, these guys fight. We have a lot of injuries and a lot of guys playing hurt, but we keep chugging along."

One of those "fighters" is senior Jarred Evans, who prior to last week's game at Marist was the Braves' starting quarterback. But despite solid performances in his first two games, in an effort to get more firepower on the outside the Banks coaching staff decided to put him at receiver — and he didn't disappoint. Evans hauled in seven balls for 142 yards against the Cheesemakers, including a 69 yard touchdown on the Braves' second possession. In addition, he returned punts and played defensive back, gathering two interceptions on the night.

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Banks' Martial Stegemeier carries the ball during the Braves' game against the Cheesemakers Friday, Sept. 27, at Banks High School.The 5-foot-10 senior was one of three Braves that played on all three of Banks' state championship teams last season, and in the wake of the baseball title was quick to point out his role in carrying on the legacy of last year's senior class: a group that helped set an example of what the school hopes is a foundation of winning for years to come.

And is he fulfilling that promise?

"I hope so," he said with a smile. "I feel like were being successful, I feel like I'm doing my role well, and trying as hard as I can."

The game started oddly, with Banks recovering the opening kickoff at Tillamook's 10 yard line as the Cheesemakers stood idly by as the ball rolled helplessly to a stop near the sidelines. The Braves however failed to capitalize when Shook threw an interception on the first play from scrimmage, giving the ball immediately back to the visitors. After moving the ball out to midfield, Tillamook punted and Banks wasted little time getting on the scoreboard when Shook hit a streaking Evans on a 69 yard score up the left sideline, putting the Braves up 7-0 following Jacob Slifka's successful extra point.

On the Cheesemakers next possession, Evans stepped back into the spotlight, tipping a Chad Werner pass attempt, then hauling in the batted ball and returning it to Tillamook's 10 yard line, where Shook hit Jackson Walker for a 9-yard score to put Banks ahead 14-0 with 4:44 remaining in the first quarter.

Banks' defense held strong again, but on the Braves ensuing possession, Shook fumbled on a quarterback scramble and the Cheesemakers got on the board thanks in large part to what would be their only real offensive threat — Werner's legs.

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Banks' Jarred Evans fights with Tillamook's Kellen Shelley for a pass reception during the Braves' game against the Cheesemakers Friday, Sept. 27, at Banks High School.
The senior signal-caller ran four times for 26 yards on the drive, the last of which was a 3-yard plunge that cut the Braves lead to 14-7. On a night when Tillamook running back Brauly Mendez managed an unthinkable -12 yards on 16 carries, Werner rushed 12 times for 101 yards, including what would be their only touchdown of the night.

It was all Banks from there. Slifka caught an 11-yard touchdown pass just three minutes after the Cheesemakers' score that made it 21-7 at the half, then Slifka added a 34 yard field goal midway through the third quarter to push the lead to 24-7, and Banks capped the scoring when Stegemeier ran one in from three yards out to make it 31-7 with 2:23 left in the third. Stegemeier, who typically splits carries with sophomore running back Jamar Flippen, did the bulk of the heavy-lifting on this night, carrying the ball 17 times for 96 yards.

"Stegemeier was a guy possessed all week," Linehan said. "He was flying around and game ready on Tuesday. I'm not sure what got into him, but I loved to see it."

Defensively, the Braves were led by Bryson Cook who tallied 10 tackles, including four for a loss. Four more defensemen gathered six tackles apiece, including Evans, Slifka, Stegemeir, and Tyler Exline. Evans had two interceptions, while Flippen nabbed a pick of his own.

In the end, Banks continues to look like the defending 4A state champions, but while similar in many ways, Evans said they're also different and certainly have their own identity.

"This team is definitely similar in ways," he said while comparing last year's team to now. "We have the same mentality on defense and are flying around, but offensively we have a more experienced line and can pound the rock a little more."

And how does that ultimately have him feeling about their prospects going forward?

'I feel amazing about this team," he said matter-of-factly. "These are my guys."

Banks travels to Astoria for a game with the Fishermen at 7 p.m. next Friday, Oct. 4, at CMH Field.


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