Running back duo tops Lions' all-league picks
The running game, and stopping it when on defense, was the bread and butter for St. Helens football this season.
Coaches in the new Class 5A Special District 1 seemed to recognize that in their all-league voting.
Five St. Helens players were voted to the all-West Division second team.
Seniors Isaiah Bettencourt and Shawn Lee were the only running backs named to the second unit.
On defense, senior linebacker Alex Cross and sophomore cornerback Ashton Smith also made the second team.
And Lions junior Kyle Parnell was named the West's second-team place-kicker.
Then came the all-division honorable mention list. It included 11 members of the Lions, who finished 4-5 overall and were third at 3-3 in the seven-team league standings.
Three St. Helens defensive linemen, who spent much of their time plugging the middle or chasing down opposing ball carriers, were honorable mention picks — seniors Connor Koelzer and Parker Miller and junior Alden Finch.
Two defensive backs — senior safety Kruze Katzenmeyer and cornerback Bettencourt — also got honorable mention.
So did senior wide receivers Chris Beatty and Lane Clift, junior tight end Canon Beisley, senior offensive tackle Daniel Suon, junior offensive guard Jayden Smith and Parnell again, this time as a punter.
Bettencourt carried 62 times for 516 yards (8.3 average) and five touchdowns rushing in 2018. Lee had 50 rushes for 276 yards (5.5). Lee also was a key linebacker for the Lions, making 59 tackles, one behind team leader Koelzer.
But what they did overall — starting in the offseason — made just as big an impression on their coaches and teammates.
"If you ask any of our kids in the weight room who has put in the most time, I don't think any of them would argue against Isaiah and Shawn," head coach Cory Young says. "And not just this year, but over four years."
The duo worked together well in the Lions' attack, which relied on a bit of deception and having more than one featured running back.
"On a lot of Isaiah's big runs, Shawn was a key blocker," Young says. "Isaiah was a really good slasher inside, and Shawn got to where he could really finish off some runs."
Bettencourt was listed at 5-9, 160 pounds. Lee, who had 18 solo tackles on defense, was down for 5-10, 180.
"They're not huge, but they're pretty strong kids, pound for pound," Young says.
Cross was credited with 43 tackles this season (17 solo). He came back from an early-season injury during the 2017 season.
"Alex held up the boundary, did a great job playing the run," Young says. "You never saw him out of position. He would always be doing what he was supposed to be doing."
At 5-7, 165, "he wasn't one of the bigger guys, either, but he's really strong and played with great leverage and great intensity," Young says.
Ashton Smith led the Lions in interceptions, snaring four of the team's 10.
Kicker Parnell hit 20 of 22 extra-point tries. He also punted 22 times for a 21.5-yard average.
"Kyle was much more consistent compared to last year," Young says. "With his punting, he got to where he could directional punt away from people, which helped us with field position."
The defense kept St. Helens in several games this season.
"We played pretty tough defensively most of the year," Young says. "Our D-linemen were pretty fast and got off the ball and did a good job chasing the ball."
Koelzer, 6-1, 205, made the move closer to the line of scrimmage after playing linebacker for much of his career. "He was pretty hard to block coming off the edge," Young says. Koelzer also got playing time in the offensive backfield and scored six rushing touchdowns.
Miller, 6-2, 205, put his athleticism to good use at defensive end and "was pretty savvy for not having been in the game, really, since youth football."
Finch, 5-11, 265 and a former running back, "had a good get-off and leverage."
Young says his defensive line "was really where it started for us. As a coach, you're probably a little biased, but I felt those guys were second-team (all-league) guys. Other than (No. 1-ranked) Wilsonville and Scappoose, everybody in the league had trouble with them, and they got better and better as the season went on."
Beisley, 6-0, 175, earned his HM honors on offense, but he also was a factor on defense, making 45 tackles, including 20 solo stops.
The 5-10, 265-pound Suon was a steady force up front for the St. Helens ground game, which averaged 176 yards per game and 5.0 yards per attempt.
Fellow O-lineman Jayden Smith "understood his job and role," Young says.
Smith, 6-0, 195, "got better speed- and agility-wise during the season. He was coming off a knee injury the year before, but he was able to do what we ask our guards to do, to run, cut and move and be on the edge blocking on sweeps."
The Lions missed having Smith on the field for their league playoff game against Parkrose, which the Broncos won to earn a spot in the 5A playoffs.
"Jayden was a heck of a guard for us," Young says.
Beatty, 6-3, 180, was the team's leading receiver, with 24 catches for 342 yards.
Clift, 6-3, 205, had 15 receptions for 198 yards.
Beatty also led in touchdown grabs, with five.