Wildcats finish dramatic season with fifth-straight playoff appearance

by: JEFF GOODMAN / FILE - The Wilsonville football team finished its 2013 season with a 6-5 record and a 4-3 tally in league play. Above, senior Tyler Carskadon (8) charges upfield after an interception in the Wildcats' loss to Sherwood.In coach Adam Guenther’s mind, the Wilsonville football team wasn’t far from going 10-1.

He knew not much was expected of the Wildcats this year. But as he thinks back on the season, he makes the case that their record could have been wildly different.

Flip the script on their heartbreaking, double-overtime loss to Putnam. Erase a few “interesting” penalties in their close game at Bend-Mountain View. Undo the insertion of an academically ineligible player into the closing moments of their dominant win over Milwaukie. And alter the ending of their first-round playoff game at Corvallis-Crescent Valley, which they led in the fourth quarter.

Let those scenarios play out, and Wilsonville’s only remaining loss came at the hands of top-ranked Sherwood.

“There are a few what-ifs in there,” Guenther said. “After graduation last year, we were picked to finish anywhere from third to sixth in the league. But we finished second again for the fourth time in four years.

“We came into the year with the knowledge that nobody was going to expect anything out of us. We preach to the kids that they have to believe in each other and believe in the program. If they had that belief, anything was possible.”

The Wildcats ended up with a 6-5 overall record and a 4-3 mark in league play, advancing to the Class 5A playoffs for the fifth year in a row. In four years under Guenther, they are 30-13 overall and 22-6 against conference opponents.

Guenther’s teams have lost in the first round in three of the last four years, but the coach said he’s pleased with the direction of the Wilsonville program.

“The scoreboard doesn’t necessarily reflect it, but this year’s senior class has continued the legacy of what we want Wildcat football to be,” he said. “We had 59 kids, which is a record, our numbers continue to grow and we have great depth coming back. Wilsonville’s going to be in for a ride.”

A roller coaster of a season

The past season was quite a ride for Guenther’s team.

Wilsonville started its year with a head-turning win over Sprague, an eventual 6A playoff team.

It opened league play with a thrilling 21-12 triumph at St. Helens, which was sealed by Tanner Crooks’ interception return in the fourth quarter.

The Wildcats made a statement with their 42-6 blowout of Parkrose, putting the clamps on a team that ended up tied for second in the NWOC with a No. 9 ranking in 5A.

Wilsonville then entered the most difficult stretch of its season. It fell to Putnam in double overtime, lost to a Bend-Mountain View team that also knocked it out of the playoffs last year and crushed Milwaukie only to forfeit the victory a few weeks later after discovering and reporting a violation to the OSAA.

Then the Wildcats slogged through their most lopsided loss of the year, a 61-0 shellacking at the hands of Sherwood. It was the last league meeting before the rival Bowmen jump to 6A next year.

Wilsonville showed resolve over the following two weeks. It used a dominant second half to rout Liberty, and it erased a halftime deficit in a stirring comeback win over Sandy that featured a game-winning field goal by Harry England.

Since that victory didn’t secure an automatic playoff berth for the Wildcats, they earned a spot in the bracket with a 35-7 shutdown of Eagle Point in the 5A play-in round. A week later, they squandered a fourth-quarter lead and lost to Crescent Valley in the first round.

Historical perspective

Wilsonville maintained several series streaks against conference opponents. It improved to 8-0 all-time against Liberty, 6-0 against Parkrose and 4-0 against Sandy. It defeated St. Helens for the fourth year in a row, improving to 6-2 all-time.

Guenther’s team was undefeated at Randall Stadium this year.

The Wildcats are also 4-0 on the field against Milwaukie, although their perfect mark against the Mustangs was later blemished by the forfeit. They also lost to Putnam for the first time in school history and fell to Sherwood for the ninth-straight time.

Under center

Wilsonville struggled early in the season to find consistency at quarterback, experimenting with Tyler Carskadon and Chase Eisenbrandt before settling on sophomore Elijah Benedick as the starter.

Benedick finished the year with 605 yards and seven touchdowns on 38 completions in 89 attempts. He also threw three interceptions.

Regardless of which player was under center, the Wildcats relied heavily on their running game. Senior running back Derek Sunkle rushed for 1,888 yards and 14 touchdowns on 255 carries.

‘Our mainstay’

Wilsonville had a stellar year on defense, holding seven of its 11 opponents to 14 points or fewer. Five of those teams didn’t score more than seven.

“Our defense was our mainstay all year,” Guenther said. “They held those seven teams to 14 points or less, but a lot of those teams scored on the first drive. So, really, they held them to a touchdown in the last three and a half quarters.

“We just ran the stuff that we’re good at, and we executed it really well. And it helps to have guys like Cooper Whittaker and Tyler Carskadon and Colin Cubbage and Tanner Crooks. We weren’t the strongest team, but most times we were the fastest. These guys swarm. You’re not seeing one guy make a tackle. It was five or six or seven. Our defense was fun to watch.”




Record: 6-5 (4-3 in the Northwest Oregon Conference)

Playoffs: Lost 36-29 to Crescent Valley in the first round

Key fact: Held seven opponents to 14 points or fewer

Best win: 17-14 over Sandy despite trailing by 14 at halftime

Toughest loss: 61-0 at the hands of top-ranked Sherwood

All-league first team: Derek Sunkle, Parker Nielsen, Tyler Carskadon

All-league second team: Colin Cubbage, Cooper Whittaker, John Bohard

Honorable mention: Brandon Chao, Steven Sawyer, Sam Garrison, Jose Velazquez Rojas, Tanner Crooks, Cole Wilson



2010: 8-2 (6-1 in the NWOC); lost 42-41 to Churchill in the first round

2011: 9-3 (6-1 in the NWOC); lost 49-14 to Marist in the second round

2012: 7-3 (6-1 in the NWOC); lost 21-14 to Mountain View in the first round

2013: 6-5 (4-3 in the NWOC); lost 36-29 to Crescent Valley in the first round

Totals: 30-13 (22-6 in the NWOC); four playoff appearances

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