Pirates fall to loggers

NKN’s Tucker Champ chases Knappa’s Mason Hoover during the second half of Friday’s 36-20 loss to the visiting Loggers. – Citizen Photo/Brad Mosher

Turnovers proved the deciding factor this past Friday in Rockaway Beach, as Neah-Kah-Nie was defeated by Knappa, 36-20.
By Travis Champ
The night could not have started off better for the Pirates. A Knappa fumble on the first play from scrimmage set Neah-Kah-Nie up with excellent field position, which would not be squandered. After a 20-yard scoring run by Josh Longfellow, and successful 2-point conversion, Neah-Kah-Nie had an 8-0 lead.
The Knappa offense shook off the early turnover and proceeded to move the ball as they have all season: by the legs and arm of senior quarterback Kaleb Miller, and the explosiveness of their receivers. But as the Loggers closed in on the goal line during their second possession, the Pirates toughened up, and produced a big stop on 4th and 7 inside the red zone.
Neah-Kah-Nie marched right back down the field, and were deep into Knappa territory, threatening another score, when a broken play resulted in a fumble, recovered by Knappa.
The turnover was traded back to the Pirates a few plays later, after Miller lost his grip on the ball, while rolling out near midfield.
Early in the second quarter, Longfellow scored again on an 18-yard streak up the middle, and the Pirates looked like they were on the path to a major upset.
Knappa responded on the ensuing drive, finding the end zone, and bringing the score to 14-8.
With under 2 minutes left in the half, Knappa scored again, kicked the extra point, and took a 15-14 lead into the break.
The Neah-Kah-Nie offense came out from halftime focused and efficient, receiving the kickoff, and moving the chains at will. The Pirates appeared as though they were moments away from recapturing the lead, when an errant pitch off an option play was scooped up by a Knappa defender near the sideline.
That second turnover deep in Knappa territory would be the turning point of the game, as the two teams battled through a scoreless third quarter.
With 10:43 remaining on the clock, the Loggers found the end zone again, pushing the score to 22-14.
Though the Pirates continued to move the ball well, turnovers are often contagious, and a team like Knappa can turn a close game into a blowout within a matter of minutes, if given the opportunity. After a fourth lost fumble, and an interception returned for a touchdown, Knappa had taken a commanding 36-14 lead.
The Pirates were able to shake off the frustration, and drive the ball down the field in the closing minutes. Mychal Kelly’s 3-yard touchdown run sealed the final score at 36-20.
The Pirates obviously have a lot to improve upon in the coming weeks, but, even in a losing effort, Neah-Kah-Nie demonstrated that they can compete on the football field with an elite 2A team. If we are to remove the turnovers from the discussion, in regard to the loss to Knappa, we would be left with a one promising point of interest: this Pirate offense can move the ball consistently against a quality defense.
Coming into the matchup on Friday, Knappa had allowed only 20 points in four games. The Loggers are especially strong in the secondary, where lies the bulk of the team’s talent and experience. Yet, the Pirates did have a great deal of success through the air against that Knappa secondary, and credit should be given not only to the quarterback and his solid group of receivers, but also to the Pirate offensive line, which did a excellent job in pass protection, allowing Longfellow time to settle into the pocket and make good decisions downfield.
This Friday, Neah-Kah-Nie (4-1) will host Gaston (1-4). Coming off a 57-0 thrashing at Santiam last week, the Greyhounds will be aiming for an upset on the road, but should have their work cut out for them against a Pirate squad that will be dead set on claiming their first league victory.
The opening act of the season is in the books. Neah-Kah-Nie knows they have the talent and the game plan to put a lot of points on the board. They also know they have the ability to shut down opposing offenses. The road to the playoffs will not be easy. The Pirates will be tested on both sides of the ball each Friday, and the outcomes of the next three league contests will likely be decided by ways of execution, determination, and grit.