Sports

Pirates Clinch Playoff Berth


Senior receiver, Giovanni Barr, had a breakout performance Friday night, hauling in a pair of long touchdown catches, and snaring a clutch, one-handed reception in the final minutes, that set up the game-winning score, as Neah-Kah-Nie beat Vernonia, 26-20.

Citizen Photo/Brad Mosher
Pirate sophomore Destin Donaldson (34) is stripped of the ball at the end of a long kickoff return by Vernonia’s Jackson Fletcher (50). The Loggers recovered the fumble and went on to take a 20-14 lead before Neah-Kah-Nie rallied for a 26-20 win.

Senior receiver, Giovanni Barr, had a breakout performance Friday night, hauling in a pair of long touchdown catches, and snaring a clutch, one-handed reception in the final minutes, that set up the game-winning score, as Neah-Kah-Nie beat Vernonia, 26-20.

By Travis Champ

Coming off a 58-0 blowout victory over Gaston, the Pirates traveled to Vernonia, well aware that the winner would likely earn an automatic playoff bid as the Northwest League’s 2nd place team. Vernonia, hungry for an upset, came out swinging on defense, shutting down the Pirate running game, which had been unstoppable in the previous week. As a low fog settled over the field, it was obvious that the evening could turn into a classic slugfest between the longtime league rivals.
The teams battled through a scoreless first quarter, until early in the second period, Neah-Kah-Nie struck first, when Josh Longfellow found Giovanni Barr down the sideline for a 40-yard touchdown.
Mychal Kelly’s 2-point conversion gave the Pirates an 8-0 lead.
Later in the quarter, Longfellow connected with Bryce Bridge on a deep post route, splitting the Logger secondary for a 75-yard score.
With 2:25 remaining in the half, it appeared as though Neah-Kah-Nie would be carting off a 14-0 edge into the break, but the Loggers took advantage of a Pirate defense playing soft pass coverage, and with under one minute left on the clock, Vernonia quarterback, Gunnar Harral, found a wide open receiver along the visitor’s sideline, cutting the Pirate lead to 14-6.
Nearing the end of a scoreless third period, the Loggers put together a long drive, culminating in a short touchdown run on the opening play of the fourth quarter. A failed 2-point conversion left Neah-Kah-Nie clinging to a slim 14-12 lead.
The Vernonia defense continued to shut down the running game, and the Pirates failed to convert on a key 3rd down near midfield, punting the ball back to the Loggers.
With all the momentum shifted their way, Vernonia was again driving the ball into Pirate territory. A routine pass into the flat turned into the Loggers’ biggest play of the night, as senior running back, Jake Patton, broke multiple tackles, zigzagging through the Pirate secondary for the go-ahead score.
Neah-Kah-Nie’s playoff hopes now seemed in great jeopardy, down 20-14 on the road, with time running out.
But Longfellow, unrattled by the deficit, quickly drove the Pirates into Logger territory, before finding Barr down the sideline for another 40-yard score.
A failed 2-point conversion left the teams tied at 20-20 with 7:45 left to play.
Vernonia took the kickoff, and started back down the field, chipping away at the Pirate defense, running down the clock, and picking up multiple first downs. On fourth and 3 inside the Pirate 40-yard line, the Loggers ran the ball up the middle, but were stopped short of the first down marker, and the Pirate offense took over on downs with under 3 minutes remaining.
After a first down across midfield, Longfellow found Bridge for a 25-yard gain. The chains reset, and the clock continued to wind down. Longfellow took the next snap from shotgun, and fired a bullet over the middle to Barr on a shallow crossing route. The pass arrived behind Barr, who reached back with his right hand, bringing it in for the catch, and giving the Pirates a 1st and goal at the Logger 8 yard line.
On the next play, after Barr’s clutch reception, Longfellow handed off to Mychal Kelly, who tore through a hole in the depleted Logger front line, cruising untouched into the end zone.
Moments after the Pirates were unsuccessful on the 2-point conversion, a mishandled onside kick resulted in a Pirate recovery, and Neah-Kah-Nie was able to run out the last minute of the game clock, coming away with a 26-20 win, and clinching the school’s first appearance in the state playoffs since 1996.
With their final game of the regular season this Friday, at home, against Nestucca (0-7), the Pirates need to close out their league schedule with a convincing win, before finding out where they will land in the playoff bracket.
There are many possibilities, as far as first round matchups for the Pirates. As of this past weekend, Neah-Kah-Nie (6-1) sits at #6 in the 2A rankings, though it is likely that #7 Santiam (7-1) will jump the Pirates with a win against #14 Central Linn (3-4). Columbia Basin Conference Champion, #9 rated Heppner (4-3) is guaranteed a top 8 seed, and a first round home game in the playoffs. It seems unlikely that current #8 Reedsport (5-3) would move ahead of Neah-Kah-Nie with a win, at home, against Myrtle Point (0-8), nor would it be probable that the winner of #10 Lost River and #13 Oakland would climb into the top 7 teams, based on the latest computer rankings. Along with Reedsport, Lost River, Oakland, and Heppner, Enterprise (#12) and Kennedy (#11) are also potential opponents for the Pirates in the opening round.
All of that will be decided this coming Saturday night, after the final week is in the books. Until then, Neah-Kah-Nie needs to focus on securing another solid home victory. The Bobcats will be coming into the game desperate for a win, and the Pirates shouldn’t underestimate this Nestucca team, who lost narrowly to Warrenton in Week 4, by a score of 41-35, and would like nothing more than to put a dent in Neah-Kah-Nie’s record.
After Nestucca, the Pirates will have one week to get prepared for whatever matchup they draw in the first round of the playoffs. Defensively, Neah-Kah-Nie did not look strong against Vernonia. Missed tackles and blown coverages are a recipe for an early exit from the postseason. It’s a great accomplishment to make the state playoffs, and hats off to all the players, and the excellent coaching staff. The 20-year playoff drought is officially over, and the Pirates should be proud of the season they have put together. But it’s one thing to show up in the playoffs, just happy to have arrived, and it’s another thing, entirely, to prove you belong there with a big first round victory.

Neah-Kah-Nie’s Giovanni Barr pulls in a pass for a touchdown with 7:45 left in the game to tie the score Friday at 20-20 in a crucial Northwest League showdown in Vernonia.