Bragging rights on the line
Under any circumstances, it's a big game.
But a few things make Friday's 7 p.m. St. Helens-at-Scappoose football game a little different, special and, yes, big for both teams.
It's their first meeting as league rivals in the new Class 5A Special District 1 for football.
It's the first time they've met since Scappoose moved up this year from 4A.
It's a chance for St. Helens to continue its upward trend and extend its win streak to three games.
It's also a game Scappoose needs to win to bounce back after suffering its first loss of the season.
"We've told the kids this is the best team we've played this season," St. Helens coach Cory Young says of Scappoose. "So, like we've said every week, we need to get better and keep getting better."
"They've won their last two games. They're playing with a lot of momentum," Scappoose coach Sean McNabb says of the Lions. "We've got our work cut out for us."
Scappoose lost last week at home 47-27 to Pendleton, which is ranked No. 1 in 5A by the Oregon School Activities Association and No. 5 in this week's 5A coaches poll.
The defeat stung a bit, but could have its benefits, McNabb says. It was a battle of two teams that figure to be competitive in the playoffs, with Pendleton a title contender in the eyes of many.
"It was a learning experience," McNabb says of the loss. "Now, what do we need to learn and do to win close games and beat good teams? It's all about how you respond to setbacks, and I look for us to come out and execute well this week and get after St. Helens on Friday."
St. Helens has pulled off consecutive, tight victories at home over Milwaukie and Wilson. The Lions beat the Mustangs 21-13 on Sept. 14, then last week drove 69 yards in the final minute to stun Wilson 42-35 in a wild, back-and-forth battle.
"Offensively, we made some huge strides in the second half of the Wilson game," Young says. "The offense really came through and bailed out the defense. We'd been playing good defense here and there, but the offense came out that second half and got our rushing average to where we want it to be, well over six yards per carry. We moved the ball, controlled the ball, and that was really exciting to see.
"We knew that was going to come as the offense keeps evolving and these young kids keep working. We just weren't sure when we were going to get it."
Both coaches and teams are going into Friday's game with a healthy respect for the other side.
In assessing the Indians, St. Helens coach Young says "they're a very well-disciplined team on offense and defense, physical and fast. They know what they want to do."
McNabb says of the Lions: "They have some good athletes. They do some things defensively that can give us some trouble. So we have to be ready for that."
Strategically, the coaches have zoned in on what they think the other team does best.
"Scappoose probably runs the ball better than they have the past couple years, with their backs," Young says. "Their O-line moves well, and their backs make them right a lot of the time, too."
"St. Helens runs a lot of misdirection out of kind of a wing-T," McNabb says, "so they have a lot of guys who are going to touch the ball. You've got to be disciplined defensively against them. We've got to make sure we're running to the football and getting everybody around the ball.
"They have some good receivers, so we have to be ready for that, too. If they throw the ball up in the air, they've got some guys who can go up and get it. So we have to defend better in the back end."
Both coaches say they would like to have their teams keep doing what they do best.
Says Young: "You always want to run it, if the matchups are good. But, if the matchups are good on the outside, we don't mind throwing the ball. If that's where we're going to get our yards, we'll throw our quick stuff and short stuff to the outside. Those plays are no different than the sweep. So we're fine, throwing or running. We're not too caught up in that. We just want to take advantage of whatever the defense gives us."
Says McNabb: "We want to be able to run the ball like we've been doing. But we have to throw it a little better, too. But we're going to do what we do, and hopefully do it better than we did last week."
McNabb points out that "a lot of these kids know each other and have played against them in other sports. They grow up playing youth football and middle school basketball or summer baseball against each other." So, St. Helens versus Scappoose "is always a big game — doesn't matter which sport it is, doesn't matter what we're doing."
Rivalry somewhat aside, though, Young says the Lions "have to take that next step this week, and it's perfect that we're playing Scappoose. You don't get better by playing worse teams, you get better by playing good teams."
Scappoose won last year's meeting, 62-6, but St. Helens won 41-27 in 2016.
The Indians are ranked seventh in 5A this week by the OSAA, while the Lions are 32nd out of the 36 teams.
But McNabb says he feels more established 5A teams "don't want to lose to the new team on the block that's just moved up from 4A," and he figures that will be the Lions' thinking as well. And you can just add the emotion of the rivalry to that equation.
"We don't want to lose to them, and they don't want to lose to us," McNabb says. "There are big bragging rights involved, for sure.
"Everybody gets excited about the crosstown rivalry. We expect a big turnout here, and a battle out on the field."