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With quarterback Nathan Overholt and running back Cooper Mootz, the Wildcats seek return to playoffs

SPOKESMAN FILE PHOTO: TANNER RUSS - Senior runningback Cooper Mootz will return to the gridiron for one more season with the Wilsonville Wildcats. Had it not been for the efforts of last year's state champions Hermiston, Wilsonville looked well on its way to earning its second state title. After a close game ending in a 35-27 loss against the Bulldogs, Wilsonville ended its season with a 10-2 record. Looking into the 2018 season, Wilsonville hopes to regain its position deep in the playoffs, and earn another berth in the state title game.

The road there will not be easy though. After a rearranging of the 5A football leagues, Wilsonville finds itself seated in Special District 1, a 14-team grouping made up of the remnants of the old Northwest Oregon Conference (NWOC) along with teams moving up from 4A and several moving down from 6A.

Of the four teams that are moving down from the 6A level, Wilsonville will square off with three of them. The Wildcats' first encounter will be against the Cleveland Warriors on the road Sept. 14. In them, they face a team that last year went 3-6, and just 2-6 in the Portland Interscholastic League (PIL).

After that, Wilsonville plays Forest Grove (1-7 in the Greater Valley Conference, 1-8 overall) at home Sept. 28, and the Wilson Trojans (0-7 in the PIL, and 0-9 overall) Oct. 19. The 6A teams will be playing down in an effort to increase competition between teams.

Moving up from 4A will be Scappoose, a strong team from the Cowapa League that went 5-0 to capture the league title, and advanced to the state quarterfinals.

There will be familiar faces as well, as old NWOC foes St. Helens and Hillsboro will be on the schedule as well. Last year's squad handled the challenge they faced, putting up more than 50 points against both teams in lopsided affairs.

Though Wilsonville ran through the NWOC, they were hit hard by graduation in the offseason and are looking to rebuild using returning all-league players.

Wilsonville offense

The primary scorers of last year's offense will return. Incoming seniors Nathan Overholt and running back Cooper Mootz will take to the field for their final seasons, and look to take the team to the state championship.

Overholt will be in his second year as starting quarterback. Last year the then-junior threw for 1,996 yards, had a passing percentage of .667 percent, and a quarterback rating of 127.4. Overholt also threw for 19 touchdowns, but he was not only dangerous while passing. Whether it was scrambling out of the pocket or running on specifically designed plays, Overholt was the team's second best running back. He scored seven touchdowns on foot, and picked up 337 yards.

Mootz will be the player the Wildcats look to in implementing their running game. The incoming senior was far and away the most productive back Wilsonville had last season, averaging 6.1 yards per carry to total 1,206 yards by seasons end. On top of that, he was also the team's leading scorer with 24 rushing touchdowns, along with two passing to boot.

Solid receivers Jacob Herr and Manav Raghubansh have also graduated. Returning to the fold to step up into the senior roles will be Isaac Haqq, Sam Westing and Trevor Antonson, among others.

On the front line, Wilsonville takes a bit of a hit. After graduating first team all-league players Draco Bynum, Fernando Salazar, and Bridger Youd, Wilsonville will have to rebuild its front line to protect the backs that were so dangerous last season.

Also returning to the offensive fold this season all-leaguers such as wide receiver Jonah Gomez, tackle Kalei Kauhi.

One other important player that coach Guenther will need to replace will be first team all-league kicker Austin Kness, Kness was 57-of-61 in field goals and PAT's last year.

Wilsonville defense

Players lost to graduation weren't limited to offense. On the defensive line, all-leaguers AJ Burkhead and Bynum. Also missing are a trusty set of linebackers in Andrew Gay, Raghubansh and Chance Hansen.

There are some clear inheritors to those positions though. Wilsonville safety Kevin Burke returns at safety after recording 19 tackles and a pair of interceptions last year, along with Cade Edmonson. Edmonson had 21 solo tackles over the course of the season. Defensive linemen Caleb Baker and cornerback Antonson will also make a return to the defensive fold. Baker had 48 total tackles and four sacks; Antonson had two interceptions, and four passes defended. All of those returners were all-league honors recipients.

The defense will need to be on top of its game when it gets into league play, as there are several teams with noteworthy offensive weapons. Against Hillsboro, second team all-league guard Sanje Freeman and tight end Nate Smith will be big up front for the Spartans.

In Forest Grove, the Vikings return a host of all-league honorable mention offensive players, along with a strong defensive unit. Of former 4A school Scappoose's extensive first team all-leaguers, only sophomore center Tommy McKedy will be returning.

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