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Scappoose Indians to meet familiar foe, North Bend, in mutual step up to Class 5A ranks

PHOTO COURTESY: JOHN BREWINGTON - Connor McNabb (left) of Scappoose starts a long run with a stiff-arm during last week's league playoff victory over La Salle Prep. The Indians are back at home this Friday, facing North Bend in the Class 5A playoffs. In a couple of ways, the first playoff game at the Class 5A level will be a throwback experience for the Scappoose and North Bend football teams.

This will be the third playoff game between the Indians and the Bulldogs in recent memory. And, in a true old-school move, the game will be played on natural grass.

Friday's Oregon School Activities Association first-round game kicks off at 7 p.m. at Scappoose High. Tickets cost $8, $5 for students.

In recent seasons, Scappoose has played state playoff home games on artificial turf fields at St. Helens High or in Hillsboro. But Indians coach Sean McNabb believes playing on their home field can be an advantage this time.

"I feel like it's a little bit of an advantage for us. The teams that we're playing against, they're not used to playing on grass. Our kids really like that," McNabb says. "We're pretty big up front. Sometimes when you're big up front and you can run the football, being on the grass is kind of a nice deal."

Scappoose (7-2) enters the state playoffs seeded sixth among the 16 qualifiers. North Bend (7-2) is the No. 11 seed. The winner will face either No. 3 seed Pendleton or No. 14 Crescent Valley of Corvallis in next week's quarterfinals.

Both teams will carry momentum into this game. Scappoose has won three in a row, most recently a 64-28 thumping of La Salle Prep in last week's 5A Special District 1 seeding game. North Bend earned its state playoff spot by beating South Eugene (a 6A school playing 5A football), 55-22, in a Special District 2 elimination game. The Bulldogs finished third in the 5A Special District 2 North Division.  

As those scores indicate, both teams' offenses have been tough to stop.

North Bend averages 44 points per game and has scored more than 50 points five times. The Bulldogs losses' came on the road to Thurston of Springfield and Ridgeview of Redmond, both playoff teams and both long bus rides from their Coos Bay home.

Scappoose averages 41 points per game, but has scored 49 or more in four of its last five. The Indians' offense has found its footing thanks to a strong offensive line and the maturation of junior quarterback Jakobi Kessi.

Last week against La Salle Prep, the 6-0, 200-pounder threw for 203 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 118 yards and two scores.

In most situations, Scappoose plays at a fast tempo. Before each play, the quarterback has several options to choose from, for example a run play and a couple of pass plays. McNabb says Kessi has become better at reading defenses and getting the Indians into the best play at the line of scrimmage.

"He has to process a lot of information quickly. ... His level of confidence has gotten a lot better, which allows us to be more balanced with the ability to throw the ball downfield," the coach says.

The big offensive line is one reason McNabb believes the Indians can thrive playing on their grass field. Junior center Jerico Archer (6-3, 250), junior left guard Thomas McKedy (6-5, 305), sophomore right guard Cutter Sandstrom (6-0, 265), senior left tackle Liam McMullen (6-4, 260) and senior right tackle Terrence Lewis (6-3, 260) have developed into an efficient unit.

"That's our heartbeat. That's what keeps us moving," McNabb says. "They've just done a fantastic job."

The blockers' effectiveness can be found in the statistics piled up by Kessi and senior running backs Connor McNabb and Quincy Cleveland. Connor McNabb (6-0, 190) has run for 1,103 yards and 13 touchdowns. He has gained at least 100 yards seven times and averages 7.9 yards per carry. Cleveland (6-1, 230), who played on the offensive line last season, has 643 yards and 10 TDs and averages 8.8 yards per carry.

Connor McNabb has also thrived in the screen game, catching a team-high 35 passes for 449 yards and five touchdowns.

Improved play from 6-6 senior receiver Gavin Larson has helped diversify the offense. His height makes him a matchup challenge for opposing defenses. Larson has 23 catches for 416 yards and five touchdowns.

The challenge for the Scappoose defense will be North Bend's speed. Bulldogs senior receiver Jonathan Chilcote was the 4A 100-meter dash champion in the spring, and sophomore running back Jake Posey was fifth in that race. With Posey nursing an injury last week, powerful junior Divenson Willis (5-10, 205) ran for 208 yards and two touchdowns (on 22 carries) against South Eugene.

It helped the Indians' preparation that North Bend's shotgun offense, with quick sophomore Coleman Compton at quarterback, is similar to the offense Scappoose runs.

"But they do some things that make you be disciplined with your preparation," Sean McNabb says. "We have to stop their run game and force them to throw the football. They like to run the ball. If you can handcuff them a little bit and make them more one-dimensional and make them throw the football then you're taking them out of their rhythm, and that's what we're trying to do."

A Scappoose defense led by senior linebacker Matt Roth (team-leading 66 tackles, nine tackles for loss), among others, has steadily improved.

"I feel these last three games we've seen a lot of improvement in our back-end play with our defensive backs, and I feel we're playing a lot more physical," McNabb says.

Physicality has been the emphasis at Scappoose all season, and the Indians coach thinks that can be a factor against the Bulldogs.    

"You can wear a team out by playing physical, and those fast kids, you can really slow them down by playing physical. I feel like we're getting better at that every week," the coach says.

The coaching staffs at Scappoose and North Bend are the same as when the Bulldogs edged the Indians, 21-20 in the 2013 4A quarterfinals and when the Indians prevailed 37-21 in the 2015 4A semifinals.

This time, each team is trying to establish itself as a 5A playoff program.

"We know they have a lot of tradition there. They know we have a lot of tradition here," McNabb says.

Playoff history — Scappoose is 37-19 all-time in state playoff games. The Indians have played for the state championship six times, winning three consecutive Class titles from 2000-2002. Scappoose lost in the AA finals in 1972 and 1973 and in the 4A finals in 2015.

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