Forest Grove turns motivation into win
It was Senior Night for St. Helens. Unfortunately for the Lions, the Forest Grove Vikings found some motivation as well.
"We want to make a deep run in the playoffs," Forest Grove senior linebacker/tight end Caleb Silva said. "We want to go far, because we know this team can go far."
The Vikings took a needed step toward that goal with a 28-14 victory Friday on the final night of league play in Class 5A Special District 1.
Forest Grove, which led all the way after a scoreless first 13 minutes, 22 seconds, locked up the No. 4 spot in the West Division, while St. Helens dropped to sixth place.
It was not the way the Lions' seniors wanted to go out on their home field.
"Emotions are high," senior lineman Jayden Smith said. "I spent four years on this field. I played with all these players for four years. They mean the world to me.
"Knowing this is the last time I'll ever play on this field, it hurts. But it sure brings back all the good memories and all the good times."
Senior wide receiver Cody Woodruff called it "kind of surreal. I started back in third grade, and I never expected it to end, and here it is. I never thought this day would come, and it came so quickly. I'm not ready for it to be over."
St. Helens dropped to 2-6 overall and 1-5 in the division. The Lions, who have lost four in a row, will close out their season at 7 p.m. Friday with a game at Putnam.
"We've got to go out with a bang," Woodruff said.
The Vikings (4-4, 3-3) snapped a three-game losing streak and earned a state play-in game against Special District 1 East Division No. 3 La Salle Prep.
"The last few weeks have been kind of rough, but we put it together tonight," Forest Grove senior running back Isaiah Ahmad said. "Getting this 'W' meant a lot."
The Vikings led 14-0 and 20-7 on Friday, but St. Helens twice closed to within a touchdown.
An 8-yard TD pass from junior quarterback Jakob Robbins to senior tight end Canon Beisley on fourth-and-goal cut the deficit to 20-14 with 11:01 left.
However, the Vikings responded on their next possession with a 65-yard TD march in eight plays.
Senior QB Jarod Miller completed a play-action scoring pass to Silva for the final eight yards with 6:17 remaining.
"That's a play we run all the time in practice," Silva said. "That's just repetition. I was just lucky they (the Lions) went and swarmed Jarod and tried to sack him. I was just sitting there, and he threw me a great pass. And the linemen blocked. It was a whole team effort."
That entire drive down the stretch "was when the brotherhood of us really showed," Silva added. "We had trust in each other completely, and we knew no matter what, we were going to go down there and do whatever we needed to win this game."
Vikings coach Patty Herbst said he felt the Lions' defense "got a little worn down" late in the game, "but I also think our front line did a really great job of blocking. It was nice to see us get down in the trenches and get it done."
The Lions tried to rally, and they got to the Forest Grove 24 inside the three-minute mark. But Vikings senior defensive end Cameron Bennett and company sacked Robbins on third and fourth down to seal the deal.
"We prepared really well throughout the week," Bennett said. "We knew what they were going to be running, and our linebackers did a great job of filling the gaps, especially in the second half. Things just started to fall together.
"We knew if we focused on just one thing: playing for each other, we'd get the job done. We had confidence in each other."
Forest Grove's defense was key early in the game as well, getting two first-quarter turnovers that quashed St. Helens threats.
The Lions' first five offensive plays, all runs, netted 44 yards and three first downs and got them to the Forest Grove 21. But a miscue on a run play resulted in a fumble that senior linebacker Darian Noll recovered for the Vikings.
St. Helens reached the Forest Grove 31 the next time it had the ball, only to have Forest Grove senior defensive back Cameron Ulloa intercept a Robbins pass.
Forest Grove's offense ran just six plays for minus-4 yards in the first quarter. After that, though, the Vikings showed good balance, mixing the passing of Miller with the running of Ahmad and senior Christopher Doyle.
The Vikings took an 8-0 lead at the 10:37 mark of the second quarter, with Miller finding Bennett through the air for 16 yards and Ahmad running for a two-point conversion.
Moments later, a bad punt snap that went past St. Helens' Kyle Parnell gave the Vikings the ball on the Lions' 5, and Ahmad covered that remaining distance on the next snap, giving Forest Grove a 14-0 advantage with 8:34 left in the half.
St. Helens went to a no-huddle offense on its next possession and was able to get the Vikings' defense on its heels. The Lions moved 65 yards in nine plays and 3:28 on the clock and scored on fourth-and-goal from the 7, with Robbins passing to senior wideout Cody Woodruff.
Forest Grove senior defensive back Sage Perrin intercepted a Robbins pass late in the second quarter near midfield to protect the 14-7 lead.
Forest Grove extended its edge to 20-7 in the middle of the third quarter with Ahmad's 2-yard touchdown run. That capped a 13-play, 71-yard drive in which Miller hit five consecutive passes and was 6 of 10 overall for 58 yards. Miller also ran 15 yards for a first down on third-and-10.
"Our offensive line really stepped up tonight," Forest Grove coach Patty Herbst said. "They got things going. And our quarterback did a good job of settling down when we came out for the second half. He just picked things apart.
"And our defensive got the stops we needed. We got the ball away from St. Helens.
"They're a good team, but I thought if our defense played really well, we'd be fine. I thought we could move the ball on them. Our quarterback did a good job of settling down when we came out at half, and he just picked things apart."
The Lions were left to lament that they just weren't able to play their 'A' game.
"We shot ourselves in the foot," Woodruff said. "That deense couldn't stop us, it was just stupid mistakes that cost us. We stopped ourselves, really. We were definitely the better team, but little mistakes … they (the Vikings) didn't beat us, St. Helens beat us."
Junior center Garrett Cook said he felt the offensive line "broke down" too often as the Lions tried to sustain their ground game.
"They were blitzing all night," he said of the Vikings, "and we couldn't handle it. We couldn't make the right calls. We tried, but we just couldn't stick blocks and keep those linebackers from penetrating.
"We always come out with the intensity that we're going to win, but as we wear down and get tired we tend to slow down a little bit. I think if we just keep it going the whole game, we can win."
Smith said the Lions "effort-wise get a B" grade.
"We were running the ball really hard, but we missed blocks," he said. "I missed blocks, I missed tackles. It was little mistakes.
"They shut us down a little and got in our heads a little, but we snapped out of it and started getting some motivation off of it, and the line started getting hyped. But then the little mistakes hurt us."
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