After closing out the 2016 season with a convincing 46-6 home victory over the Vernonia Loggers, the Neah-Kah-Nie football team finished with an overall record of 3-5, and clinched 3rd place in the Northwest League standings. Returning the majority of their starters on both sides of the ball, the Pirates begin the 2017 season with an experienced, game-tested core of players.
By Travis Champ
Joining head coach Chris Bennett and assistant Travis Porter on the Pirate staff this year is Clayton Hall. At his former program (Provo High School, Utah), Hall specialized in coaching quarterbacks and defensive backs. At Neah-Kah-Nie, Hall will take on the responsibility of offensive coordinator, introducing a similar spread formation which proved highly successful in Provo.
“Offense has been our primary focus during the summer,” said Coach Bennett. “Learning the system and finding out which role each player is best suited for.”
This past weekend, Neah-Kah-Nie traveled to Vernonia for the pre-season jamboree, where they got an early look at all four Northwest League opponents.
The new offense came out swinging. Junior quarterback, Josh Longfellow, exhibited composure and decisiveness in the pocket, connecting multiple times down the sideline to receivers Mychal Kelly and Bryce Bridge. When forced to scramble, Longfellow picked up some big gains, including runs of 19-yards against Vernonia and 15-yards against Gaston.
In his first action since transitioning from offensive line to fullback, Tristan Bennett showed hints of his potential to develop into a dominating ball carrier. On one set of downs, Bennett tore through a hole in the Nestucca front line, barreling over a Bobcat cornerback for a 12-yard gain. Three downs later, Bennett scored on a 2-yard run up the middle.
Another impressive offensive performance came from senior transfer Giovanni Barr. Against Gaston, Barr scored on a 10-yard sweep around the left side, moments after Longfellow connected with Kelly on a 15-yard out pattern. Later, while facing last season’s league champions Knappa, Barr scored again, this time on a 35-yard pass from Longfellow, just two plays after the Pirate QB tossed a 12-yard touchdown to Bryce Bridge in the corner of the endzone.
On the defensive side, the Pirates looked solid in their first three matchups against Nestucca, Vernonia, and Gaston, giving up only a few first downs on the ground, and picking off the Vernonia quarterback twice in nine plays from scrimmage. In the final head-to-head against Knappa, the Pirate defence started off well, until sophomore cornerback Destin Donaldson, left the field, slightly shaken, after the second of two fierce tackles for losses. The Loggers proceeded to score on three long passes, giving the Pirate secondary an idea of what improvements in downfield coverage and will need to be addressed before the teams meet again in October.
This Friday, Neah-Kah-Nie travels to Portland Christian for the first of four non-league games. Last season, the Pirates lost to the private school 26-19 at home in the season opener. With the revamped offense, Neah-Kah-Nie will be looking to light up the scoreboard, against a 3A team whose roster has been dented significantly by the departure of eleven senior graduates.