Neah-Kah-Nie Pirates pull 4-0, remain undefeated
By Travis Champ
Linebacker Jack Porter pulled down a pair of interceptions in the second half, as Neah-Kah-Nie came away with a 34-14 win at Warrenton on Sept. 15. The Pirates began the game with an impressive 65-yard drive, capped off by a 9-yard touchdown run by Mychal Kelly.
After going three-and-out on their first possession, Warrenton gained some momentum on the ground, controlling the clock, and taking a 7-6 lead on a 1-yard run, with 10:11 remaining in the half.
Neah-Kah-Nie wasted no time in responding.
On the next play from scrimmage, quarterback Josh Longfellow darted around the end, breaking through the Warrior secondary for a 65-yard score.
Warrenton briefly recaptured the lead, but a 23-yard strike from Longfellow to Kelly gave the Pirates a 20-14 edge going into halftime.
With the Warriors threatening
on their first possession of the third quarter, Jack Porter jumped a fourth down pass, returning the interception across midfield. Two plays later, Longfellow
connected with Destin Donaldson on a 40-yard bomb down the sideline, putting the Pirates up 28-14.
The remainder of the second half unfolded as a defensive battle, marred by a slew of questionable penalties.
With just over a minute left on the clock, and Warrenton in dire need of a quick score, Porter intercepted another short pass, this time taking it to the house, and sealing the Pirates’ third straight road victory.
Neah-Kah-Nie 44, Gervais 12
Josh Longfellow had his strongest performance of the season this past Saturday, rushing
for three touchdowns and passing for two, as the Pirates defeated Gervais 44-12.
On defense, the Pirates gave up some early yards, both on the ground and through the air, but tightened up and shut down the Cougars each time they closed in on the red zone. Middle linebacker Tristan Bennett was all over the field, blowing up the running lanes, and sacking the Gervais quarterback on back-to-back plays during the final drive of the first half.
Neah-Kah-Nie entered halftime with a 16-0 lead, after Longfellow scored in each of the first two quarters on runs of 7 and 77 yards.
Capitalizing on a Gervais turnover early in the second half, Longfellow crossed the goalline again, after keeping the ball on the option, and bolting 19 yards through the middle of the Gervais defense.
On the next offensive possession, Longfellow found Bryce Bridge in the corner of the endzone for a 15-yard touchdown
that put Neah-Kah-Nie up 30-0.
The Pirate defense continued
to disrupt the Gervais game plan, holding the Cougars scoreless
until the closing minutes of the 3rd quarter.
Longfellow capped off a brilliant night with a second touchdown pass to Bridge, giving the Pirates a comfortable 38-6 lead with under eight minutes
remaining in the game.
With the win against Gervais, Neah-Kah-Nie is off to a 4-0 start for the the first time since 1996. The Pirate offense is averaging 46 points per game, while the defense is giving up less than 10 points to the opposition.
Neah-Kah-Nie has a bye week this Friday, before hosting
the Knappa Loggers in the league opener on October 6th.
Neah-Kah-Nie vs. Knappa
More Than Playoff Implications
In the fall of 1995, the Neah-Kah-Nie Pirates were football champions of the Northwest League. With a hard-nosed defensive unit lead by seniors Ryan Burr and R.C. Bigelow, the Pirates recovered from an 0-4 start, to sweep their division, and earn a home playoff matchup with Sheridan, a game which Neah-Kah-Nie lost by a score of 8-6 in a torrential downpour at Neal Abrahamson Field.
The next season, the Pirates hit an early stride, rolling unbeaten through their first 7 games, and climbing to a #2 ranking in the statewide coaches poll, behind reigning 2A champions Dayton. The offense that year boasted one of the highest powered backfields in school history. John Malcolm, Mike Glover, and Kent Miller collectively chalked up staggering
yardage in games that were usually blowouts before entering halftime. It was a well-oiled machine, and it was difficult to imagine any defense, at the 2A level, being capable of stopping Malcolm and company for a single quarter, let alone an entire game.
When the Pirates traveled to Knappa that October, 1996, there was a general sentiment that the team was destined to meet Dayton
in November at Portland’s Civic Stadium for, what would have been, a re-match of the 1985 State Championship, when Neah-Kah-Nie was defeated on the icy turf 38-20, and iconic Dayton coach Dewey Sullivan hoisted his first of five championship
What occurred that evening in Knappa was nothing short of disaster.
After marching down the field to score on the first possession
of the game, the Pirates forced a punt and were threatening
again, moving the ball deep into Knappa territory. Fullback Kent Miller took a handoff from Malcolm up the middle, and was stopped for a short gain. As Miller rose from the ground he left the ball on the grass, where a Knappa defender pounced on it. In an act of gross misjudgment,
the nearest referee ruled the play a fumble, recovered by Knappa. Miller protested, and was ejected. On the ensuing play, Knappa scored on an 85-yard pass over the middle, and went up 7-6 on the extra point kick.
That score would hold for the duration.
Later, in the first half, running
back Mike Glover left the game with a fractured ankle, followed to the sideline shortly thereafter by Billy DeLoe, Miller’s backup at fullback and starting inside linebacker. Without
Miller and Glover, the Pirates still executed well on offense, but faltered in Knappa territory, turning the ball over each time they threatened to score.
The second half manifested like dream of being trapped in a vehicle without brakes or transmission, immersed in heavy traffic on the downhill side. As the final seconds ticked away from the scoreboard, reality fell like an anvil. The season, which, only hours before, had seemed like a cakewalk to glory, was now reduced to shambles, bleak and irrecoverable.
Current Neah-Kah-Nie head coach, Chris Bennett, was a sophomore on that 1996 team, starting the entire season at offensive
tackle and defensive end. To reflect back on that night in Knappa is still a sore subject for Bennett.
“It’s that kind of loss that always sticks with you,” Bennett said. “I don’t think there is any other game I ever lost that could compare to it.”
After the meltdown at Knappa, the Pirates were able to regroup to beat Vernonia in the final regular season game, but because of how the playoff bracket was structured in that era, Neah-Kah-Nie drew a first round matchup with undefeated Dayton.
On a Friday afternoon, two weeks after the loss at Knappa, the Pirates made the drive down Highway 47, through the dry rolling landscape of Yamhill County, to Dayton. Civic Stadium seemed much further away than could be measured in miles. From the opening kickoff, the night was insult to injury. Glover, hobbled by an unhealed ankle, struggled to make it through each set of downs. The passing game, utilized minimally throughout the regular season, was uneffective. The Pirate defense, feeling the absence of that ferocity Ryan Burr and R.C. Bigelow had brought to the table in the previous year, caved to the relentless rushing attack of Dayton. The result was a 35-0 rout, and a dark, quiet bus ride back through the Willamette Valley, over the mountains, to Rockaway Beach.
Three weeks later, Dayton eviscerated Weston-McEwen 49-3 in the 2A title game at Civic Stadium.
The following year, after losing key returning players, due to transfer, injury, substance abuse and apathy, along with the tragic drowning death of offensive
coordinator Todd Beamer, Neah-Kah-Nie went 1-8: a hard fall that culminated with a 77-13 humiliation at Scio.
Excuses are plentiful, and blame is subjective, but one glaring certainty is that the Neah-Kah-Nie football program has yet to fully recover from that loss to Knappa in October of 1996. In the past 20 years, not a single Pirate team has delivered a winning
season, yet alone earned a playoff appearance. Oregon 2A football is currently divided into six leagues, comprised of a total of 31 teams. Of those 31 football programs, Neah-Kah-Nie has the longest running playoff drought.
Knappa football, on the other hand, has qualified for the playoffs 13 times during the same 20-year stretch, winning the 2A State Championship in 2008. In fact, the entire athletics
department of Knappa has flourished in this recent time period, producing multiple state titles in basketball and baseball. At the concessions stand of Knappa sporting events, one can even purchase a t-shirt bearing the slogan Knappa. We’re kind of a big deal. They have earned the right to such arrogance, especially
when facing off against Neah-Kah-Nie.
Since 1995, the Pirates have defeated Knappa only once on a football field, winning 48-23 in 2002. That team, lead by Chris Bennett’s younger brother Eric, lost narrowly in their final two league games to Clatskanie and Corbett, failing to make the state playoffs, and finishing the season with an overall record of 3-6. It was one of the “good years” of football in the last two decades at Neah-Kah-Nie. For the most part, it’s been fistfuls of salt rubbed in an old wound, as the Pirates played the flimsy doormat one might scrape their cleats upon each autumn.
As we approach the midway point of the 2017 season, the Neah-Kah-Nie Pirates enter league play with an untarnished record of 4-0. Many programs around the state would write off those victories, citing weakness of schedule. It’s a valid dismissal,
if one has yet to observe this Pirate team in action. But, at the very least, their dominating performances thus far should raise a few questions at the local level.
Is this Neah-Kah-Nie team for real? Can this offense move the ball consistently against a playoff caliber defense? Is the Neah-Kah-Nie secondary prepared for the high-powered Knappa passing game? Are the Pirates entering a new era, where they can once again compete with 2A powerhouses such as Regis and Grant Union? Has the perennial doormat finally risen from the threshold?
Win or lose, these questions
will likely be answered on October 6th.
A loss to Knappa would certainly not negate a potential playoff appearance this November,
nor would a victory guarantee
a slot in the postseason, as both Vernonia and Nestucca will bring well-balanced offenses into their matchups with Neah-Kah-Nie in the coming weeks. That said, the showdown next Friday night at Neal Abrahamson Field is not only shaping up to be the big game of the 2017 season for the Pirates, it is arguably the most important night for the program in the past two decades.