The Lions haven't beaten Sherwood since the Bowmen entered their league

by: FILE PHOTO - Reciever Justin Helgerson makes a leaping catch in last year's home loss to Sherwood. Helgerson and quarterback Gage Bumgardner have connected a team-high nine times this seaon for 107 yards.St. Helens hasn’t had much room for error this football season. All three of their games have been decided by a score in the last three minutes of the fourth quarter, and this week that margin shrinks once again. Traveling to face No. 2 Sherwood, the Class 5A defending champions, is about as tough as they get.

Last season’s meeting between St. Helens (1-2, 0-1 in the Northwest Oregon Conference) and Sherwood (3-0, 1-0 NWOC) ended badly for the Lions. Behind five interceptions on defense and over 600 yards of total offense, the Bowmen flattened St. Helens 42-0 in the Lions’ only shutout of the season.

Nearly all of those yards, 512 to be exact, were on the ground. The pair of quarterbacks attempted only nine passes, a trend that returning senior Kevin Larkin has continued. In their 63-9 demolishing of No. 9 Hermiston, Larkin completed just one pass for 49 yards.

Conversely, the running game is lights out for the Bowmen. Two players are averaging over 100 yards per game on the ground. Senior Keegan Lawrence has been hailed as one of the top running backs in the state with over 540 yards in three games. Fellow senior Mickey Schaefer isn’t horribly far behind with just over 105 yards per game. All in all, Sherwood has had 22 different players run the ball in their three blowout victories on the road at Milwaukie (68-19), at home against West Albany (48-0) and at Hermiston.

   What the Lions need to do

First and foremost, attention has to be given to Sherwood’s backfield. The Bowmen rely heavily on their main two running backs, Lawrence and Schaefer. The interesting thing about the pair is they both average 100+ yards, but neither have carried the ball more than 10 times in a game. When they’re given the ball, they can be wildly dangerous because they’re not being worn out. Both stand at about 6’1,” with Lawrence the heavier of the two at 190 pounds, making them more of a threat to run over smaller defensive backs that step up and fill gaps on the defensive line. Getting to the gaps quickly and hitting the ball carrier low is essential, as once Lawrence hits the secondary, there are few defensive backs that can catch him.

Because of Sherwood’s ‘rush by committee’ philosophy, it’s difficult to tell where the ball will be going to. Often during the game against West Albany, even the cameraman had trouble following the ball carrier, and it has to be equally hard for linebackers. Sherwood creates a lot of deception in the backfield, putting pressure on St. Helens’ defensive backfield to make the right read and not fall for fakes. In addition, the Bowmen find much of their success in yards after contact. Multiple 60+ yard touchdown runs, not unlike what you might see at an Oregon game, are a commonplace. The only way to avoid those scoring plays is to wrap up and make sure the player goes down when hit.

On the other side of the ball, there hasn’t been much progress made against the Sherwood defense. Milwaukie’s 19 points are easily the most the Bowmen have surrendered, and only one was a touchdown from scrimmage. That play was on fourth and goal after Milwaukie returned a punt to the 10 yard line. Capitalizing on any and every mistake Sherwood might make is the only way for a team to keep up with the Bowmen.

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