St. Helens coach hopes last week's battle with Indians prepped team for upcoming league game

PHOTO COURTESY: JOHN BREWINGTON - Isaiah Bettencourt, a senior safety for the St. Helens Lions, returns an interception for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage in the Sept. 28 game at Scappoose High.It's bounce-back week again for the St. Helens Lions football team.

They've done it before. And, if they play their game and take the lessons they've learned in both wins and losses this season, they could do it again on Friday.

The Lions are returning home to face Cleveland at 7 p.m. On paper, St. Helens would seem to have the edge. The Lions are 2-3 and 28th in the Oregon School Activities Association Class 5A computer rankings. Cleveland is 34th out of 36 teams. The Warriors are 1-4.

Both teams have played Wilson this season. St. Helens defeated Wilson, 42-35, while Cleveland lost to the Trojans, 28-27.

The Lions are coming off a loss, and Cleveland won its last game. But the quality of the opposition was totally opposite — St. Helens had to play a top-10 team in rival Scappoose on the Indians' home field (and lost, 49-25), while Cleveland took advantage of a game against a young and rebuilding and winless Benson team, beating the Techmen 56-28 at Cleveland.

The Warriors and Lions last met in 2012, with St. Helens winning 36-22 at home to open the season.

Cleveland coach Eric Fraser is in his third year heading the Southeast Portland school's football program. The Warriors were 1-8 in his first season (2016) and 3-6 last year.

St. Helens coach Cory Young says his team has showed improvement in several areas throughout this season, which began with losses of 44-21 at Redmond and 28-7 at home against Hillsboro. The progress began to show in Week 3, with a 21-13 victory in a hard-fought clash at home with Milwaukie. The following week, the Lions came up with 35 second-half points and a last-minute touchdown drive to pull out the victory over Wilson. Last week, even in the loss to Scappoose, the Lions had plenty of good moments and scored 21 points in the final 15 minutes to recapture some of their momentum offensively.

The second-half flurry last week also showed that the Lions have the ability to add big pass plays to their bread-and-butter running game. Some clutch passes and catches enabled St. Helens to rally against Wilson, and then against Scappoose the Lions got touchdown passes of 23 and 20 yards from backup quarterback Leif Nelson to wide receiver Chris Beatty.

Nelson, a team captain, got into the game after intermission in relief of junior Jakob Robbins.

"Leif's a senior and has been in the program for four years. We asked him to step in, and he did some good things," Young says. "They've split a lot of reps all season. Leif has probably a little more experience under center. We have two quarterbacks we can use, and they both need to be ready to play."

Another one of St. Helens' four captains, senior Isaiah Bettencourt, had a big game on both sides of the ball. He picked off a pass on the first snap of the Scappoose game and returned the pick 45 yards for a touchdown and 7-0 lead. And, in the fourth quarter, he ripped off a 38-yard run up the middle for the game's final points.

And he wasn't the only one picking up tough yards into the teeth of the Scappoose defense.

"A lot of guys were running hard — Connor Koelzer inside, Alex Cross with some big yards, and Jakobi Allen playing really well on both sides of the ball," Young says.

The Cleveland game is the final one scheduled for home for St. Helens this year, though an opponent and site have yet to be determined for the 5A Special District 1 league playoff round on Oct. 26.

Playing Scappoose last week helped clarify a level the Lions can aim to play at the rest of the year.

"The effort was good. Now you've got to have a short memory, fix some things and move forward," Young says.

Cleveland will give the Lions a chance to even its season record and improve to 3-2 in league.

"It'll be another big, physical game for us," Young says. "We challenge our kids all the time to get better. You can't simulate (the Scappoose competition) in practice. So we battle through it and make ourselves better.

"This is a fun group to coach, and I'm lucky to be coaching these guys."

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