Defense showed strides during opener at Redmond, but St. Helens wants to be even more physical and active

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: STEVE BRANDON - The St. Helens Lions are excited about playing their home opener Friday night against league foe Hillsboro. Senior co-captains Alex Cross (left) and Shawn Le say bringing lots of energy and cutting down on mistakes will be keys in the game.The St. Helens Lions learned some things about themselves in Redmond last week.

Now it's time to see if they can put that knowledge, and some adjustments, to good use at Doc Ackerson Stadium.

Kickoff is 7 p.m. Friday against Hillsboro for the first of seven Northwest Oregon Conference games in seven weeks for the Lions.

"It feels really good to have a home game," says senior co-captain Shawn Le, after a midweek practice. "We've been out here basically since May, so it'll be great to play on our home field and feel the support from our fans and everyone here."

Both teams are 0-1.

St. Helens dropped its first game, 44-21, on Aug. 31 at the Redmond Panthers.

Hillsboro fell 38-14 to crosstown rival Glencoe at Hare Field.

The Lions had some downs and ups in their Oregon School Activities Association Class 5A nonleague clash last week.

Redmond was playing its first game under a new coach, Brent Wasche, who had coached in the Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas and in Port Angeles, Washington. The Panthers controlled much of the game with their rushing attack. They ran for 377 yards, with 178 yards and three touchdowns from 23 carries by junior Colt Folston. "Ultimately I feel our rushing attack was the difference in the ballgame. Colt Folston played extremely well and really kept chipping away," Wasche says.

The Lions defense adjusted to Redmond's quick snaps, though, and limited the damage as the game went on.

"We had a lot of underclassmen who hadn't had a lot of varsity time, so it took us awhile to fly to the ball," Le said, "but around the second quarter, things started to pick up and we were able to execute a lot better."

"We had a tough time going against the run. As the game went on, we definitely improved," adds St. Helens senior Alex Cross, also a captain.

The Lions had their moments at Redmond, too, and they repeatedly fought back.

"We got down early, 16-0, but on the sidelines, the kids didn't look nervous at all," Lions coach Cory Young says. "They didn't blink. They weren't happy with how they were performing, but they didn't panic.

"We settled down defensively in the second quarter. Our guys, a lot of them sophomores, had their eyes opened at the start, but things slowed down for them once they'd seen what Redmond was doing.

"And our offense moved the ball, we just didn't cash in a few times. We missed a few guys early on things that would have been touchdowns."

On offense, St. Helens senior Lane Clift caught a touchdown pass. Other highlights for the Lions included senior Isaiah Bettencourt's third-quarter kickoff return for a touchdown and three consecutive PATs.

"Special teams were a real bright spot. We covered kicks really well. Coach (Brian) Bigham is doing a good job with those guys," Young says.

Redmond coach Wasche says the Lions made it tough for his team to put the game away.

"St. Helens is a tough team and has some weapons," Wasche says. "We were pretty worried after they scored a long touchdown to open the second half.

"They proved they can score at anytime and with that kick return really refused to go away."

Two-way players Le and Cross turned in strong performances for the Lions last week.

"Sean ran hard, and played almost every snap at middle linebacker," Young says. "He plays hard, plays fast and plays with a lot of toughness.

"On defense, some of the adjustments we made in the second quarter Alex was doing on the field. He was getting us in the right situation, the right front. He played well on the edge, too, and did a good job of helping us against the run."

Redmond junior QB Cooper Browning hit on 7 of 11 passes for 153 yards, and ran for a score against the Lions.

But while the Panthers came at St. Helens with a run-first, power football approach, the Spartans are likely to put the ball in the air more often.

"It'll be the complete opposite," Lions coach Cory Young says. "Hillsboro will spread it out on offense and throw the ball. That's something we haven't been tested at yet, and we need to be ready for it.

"We'll need effort and to run to the football, because there's going to be a lot of their guys in open space. We've got to get our legs moving on defense and get more than one guy to the ball, and then tackle in the open field."

The big difference between St. Helens and Redmond was the level of physical play, Young says.

"Our physicality, on both the offensive and defensive line, is something we've got to improve on," he says. "Redmond was very physical. I tip my hat to them. They showed us an area we need to get better at. We need to fix the physicality up front, and make sure we're getting our eyes in the right spot.

"We watched film, and everything we need to fix is something we can correct as coaches pretty quickly."

That includes the St. Helens offense, with primary quarterbacks Leif Nelson, a senior, and Jakob Robbins, a sophomore.

"We need to cut down on mistakes and penalties, and focus on maintaining our blocks to the whistle," Le says. "That's essential for any of our runs or pass plays."

Hillsboro and St. Helens have met in football each of the past four seasons as members of the NWOC, and the Spartans have won every time.

Last year, Hilhi won, 47-20. The 2016 game was the closest of the four; the Spartans escaped with a 28-27 overtime victory when the Lions' attempt for two points and a win fell incomplete. In 2015, Hillsboro won 41-14. The 2014 score was 53-41.

"They do like to throw the ball, so we're trying to set our defense up more for that this week," Cross says. "We want to have more energy and get everyone flying to the ball."

St. Helens will be home for its next three games — after Hillsboro, the Lions will battle Milwaukie on Sept. 14 and Wilson on Sept. 21. It's a chance to make some noise — and have some fun — before the Sept. 28 game at Scappoose.

"Even though we lost last week, I had a lot of fun, because I feel like I was giving my all," Le says. "When we all fly to the ball and have fun, I think we can do things right, and that way people are doing things right and have the intensity and motivation to keep going."

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