With a relatively new look, new head coach, and a new season in front of them, the Newberg high school football team hoped its Sept. 3 opener at West Salem would serve as a springboard for the program's continued ascent. Instead, the Tigers (0-1) lost 34-29 to the Titans (1-0), taking a basket full of important lessons back home with them to the Chehalem Valley that could prove important come October.
The foremost lesson, which new coach Jeremy Johnson spoke of after the game, was to come out of the gates stronger. Newberg fell behind 20-0 early and looked flat on both sides of the ball.
"Early on, it just took us a bit to get our feet underneath us," he said. "When you fall behind early, you've got to battle back the rest of the game, and that takes a different level of effort. We showed that effort, but we just didn't have that next part to take us over the edge."
West Salem opened the scoring with a 31-yard touchdown pass from Brooks Ferguson to Zach Dodsen Greene. That combination proved lethal for the Titans early, as Ferguson found Greene again on the next drive for a 74-yard gain that set up a five-yard touchdown run by Johnny Withers.
Early in the second quarter, West Salem's lead ballooned to its largest of the night on a 10-yard touchdown grab by Greene, making it 20-0 before a missed extra point.
Midway through the second, Newberg finally got on the board with a nine-yard touchdown run from junior Hudson Davis. A minute later, an errant snap sailed over the West Salem punter's head for a safety, narrowing the margin to 20-9.
In the final minutes of the half, Newberg shaved a few more points off the deficit on a six-yard run by Davis where he bowled over his defender. Senior Price Pothier punched in the two-point conversion, making it 20-17 West Salem thanks to a 17-0 scoring run by the Tigers.
Newberg's run game is integral to its identity and Johnson acknowledged the strong effort of Davis and Pothier, who combined for three touchdowns and picked up a number of key chunk plays on the ground.
"I'm not surprised in the least," Johnson said of his running backs' performances. "These kids churn and churn and churn. The linemen are doing a good job of finding the guys who are stepping in the gaps. Give West Salem credit, though. Their defense stunted and gave us a lot of different edges and forces we had to account for. I thought our guys kept battling."
The Titans recaptured momentum heading into half, scoring a miraculous 40-yard touchdown on a cross-field pass from Ferguson to Greene. At the break, it was 27-17 West Salem.
At the midpoint of the third quarter, Pothier scored a touchdown of his own from 19 yards out, and a blocked extra point made it 27-23 West Salem.
With 6:58 to go in the fourth quarter, the Titans responded on a rushing touchdown by Hudson Giertych.
Trailing 34-23 with under four minutes left, Newberg mounted a comeback attempt on the back of a touchdown pass from senior Levi Durrell to senior Sam Murphy. A failed two-pointer made it 34-29, but the Tigers weren't able to get the stops they needed to get one final potential game-winning possession.
"The heart of the kids and the belief in each other right now is off the charts," Johnson said. "They know how to compete, they know how to battle and they know how to stick together. We're going to come right back together as a team and keep attacking."
Next up for Newberg on its challenging non-conference slate is a home game against McNary. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. Sept. 10 at Loran Douglas Field.
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