FOOTBALL PREVIEWS: Local gridiron seasons start on road trips

Local football teams will take their first real steps into the 2015 schedule tonight, but all of the contests will be on the road.

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Mooks challenge Eagles
Tillamook travels to Stayton for a 7 p.m. contest against the Eagles. Both teams participated in the Astoria jamboree a week ago.
In 2014, the Eagles finished third in the Oregon West Conference with a 2-3 league record that tied the team with North Marion. Stayton was 3-6 for the season, ranked 28th and lost its final three games.
One of the three victories was a 22-19 win over the Cheesemakers in Tillamook. They closed out the season with a 21-0 loss to undefeated Cascade (5-0 in league and 8-2 overall) and two straight losses to Philomath. After losing a 42-28 decision to the Warriors, the two teams met again in a 4A play-in game, with the Eagles dropping a 39-19 decision.
Both teams were tied late in the second quarter of the first meeting, only to have the visiting Warriors score twice in the final 1:01 of the first half, taking at 26-14 lead into the half that Stayton could never recover from.
In the play-in game, Stayton scored first – and last in the first half. However, Philomath had four straight scores to take a 24-13 halftime lead. The Eagles had one score in the second half as Philomath pulled away for the win.
For Tillamook, the loss to Stayton in the opener was the first of five straight losses. The Cheesemakers beat Astoria by a narrow 21-14 margin for the first win, then picked up a 20-6 victory over Valley Catholic in the season finale of a 2-6 season.
The game at Stayton will be the beginning of the Kye Johnson era with football.
The new coach came away from the jamboree in Astoria a week ago impressed with his team’s intensity as well as their numbers.
“The guys who came out are working their tails off and it has been a real enjoyable start to the year,” he said.
“We’ve got just a shade under 50 kids signed up. Right around 20 freshman also, which is great. We would have liked to have gotten a few more guys out — but we aren’t spending a lot of time worrying about it. If some student athletes want to turn out late – we’ll have that discussion, and we’d really enjoy to see a few more of those freshman out.”
He was impressed by the effort the team showed on defense in Astoria. “I was encouraged by a lot of the high-energy effort from our front defenders. They have a shot at being a pretty good unit along the defensive front.”
Johnson is also hoping to build a strong base of support from the community. “I know how important our high school athletic teams are in this community. For kids, parents and fans. And we are trying really hard to start building the foundation of a proud football program.”
Nestucca hopes to return to playoffs
After a 2-3 non-league start in 2014, the Bobcats ripped through the Northwest League, losing to champion Knappa by a 28-6 margin.
They dropped a 16-8 loss to the Union/Cove squad in the battle of Bobcats in the first round of the playoffs.
Now, they are starting the new season the same way the Bobcats started the 2014 season – against the Waldport Irish.
A year ago, Nestucca opened the season at home with a 21-0 win over the Irish. Waldport went on to finish the season without a win (0-9).
Senior Ryan Leslie and sophomore Wyatt Link are slated to see action at quarterback for the Cats.
Wyatt McKillip, another senior, will be leading a crew of groundpounders that the coaching staff will punch holes in the defenses. In addition to McKillip, Nestucca will have Kyle and Brad Zeller, along with Oli Samek hitting the openings the offensive line can open.
Nestucca will have some size on the line, especially when Brett Elder (6-foot-four, 225 pounds), Jackson North (6-1, 230) and Chase Cook (6-0, 195) in the lineup. Elder is slated to handle the tight end duties on offense, but be on the defensive line when the other team has the ball.
The Bobcats will have 11 seniors and eight juniors on the roster this season.
Pirates have tall hopes for big season
Neah-Kah-Nie may have an embarrassing amount of riches when it comes to height.
Now, the goal is for the Pirates to improve on a 2-6 in 2014 where they finished with wins over Waldport and Vernonia.
Junior Max Halverson returns to handle the quarterback duties, but he still needs to do a little growing to become one of the Pirates’ biggest assets.
The team will have 11 players who are six feet or taller. He has three, juniors Johnny May and Garret Meyer, along with freshman Travis Johansson, who are six-foot-three. May and Meyer are slated to see action as wide receivers.
The team has only four seniors in the lineup, Chet Tidwell, Levi Hill, Johnny Vargas and Milton Hoffman.
There are a dozen juniors, six sophomores and six freshmen to fill out the squad.
Halverson and Juan Pozos are the team captains.
In 2014, the Pirates came close to finishing third in the five-team Northwest League. They beat Vernonia by a 30-21 score for the only NWL win. However, Neah-Kah-Nie narrowly dropped a 16-14 decision on the road at Gaston.
Knappa was 5-0 in league, followed by Nestucca at 4-1. Gaston took third at 2-2 with wins over Neah-Kah-Nie and Vernonia (0-4).
The Pirates open the season on the road Friday against Portland Christian, a team with a lot of question marks.
The Royals won the 2A state football championship in 2012 and made it to the semifinals a year later.
However, in 2014 the school moved up to the 3A level — and promptly cancelled the football season. The private school team lost its coach and then its star player.
Then they found out that only about 15 players were going to come out for the team for its inaugural 3A season, prompting the athletic director to announce the cancellation in late spring to allow players to make arrangements to play for public school teams in the area.
Now, Portland Christian is in a co-op for football with Columbia Christian and joins the 3A Lewis & Clark League with Clatskanie, Warrenton and Rainier. They also have a varsity roster of 23 players.
Junior Hunter Endressen is listed as quarterback, but sophomore wide receiver Aidan Perry returns to the Royals after playing for Parkrose last season.
Portland Christian/Columbia Christian won’t be the last 3A team on Neah-Kah-Nie’s schedule. The Pirates travel to Warrenton Sept. 18 to play the Warriors.
Warrenton/Jewell has also gone through some changes, with Travis Freeman taking over as the new coach for the 3A Warriors.
The Washington native played at Royal High School in Royal City, then moved on to play collegiate football at Whitworth College in Spokane. He is just the third coach the Warriors have had in the last 41 years. Freeman was an assistant coach under the previous coach, Ian O’Brien, who finished his three-year stint with the program with a 15-14 record.
It is Freeman’s first head coach job.
In between, the Pirates will have a home opener Sept. 11 against Corbett, a 4A independent football program.
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