“Three years ago our goal was to simply finish the year with an 11-man varsity schedule.”
Head Neah-Kah-Nie football coach Chris Bennett’s thoughts about their past team really put in perspective just how far the Pirate program has come in three short years.
By Max Kirkendall
The football team’s regular season is over, but they are far from turning the page on 2018 as they are advancing on to the OSAA State Playoffs as one of the best team’s in 2A football. The Pirates continued their historic season last week with a 54-6 win at Vernonia, claiming the title of outright league champions and boasting a perfect 6-0 league record.
After a close game against Warrenton on Homecoming night, the Pirates were looking to get back on track against a young Vernonia squad Oct. 19.
“Our offensive line blocked very well all night,” Bennett said. “It was very nice to see our offense rolling without a hitch. Our backs ran hard and we got some great downfield blocks from our receivers as well. Coach Hall called a great game and we really exploited the weaknesses in the Vernonia defense.”
The Neah-Kah-Nie backs took full advantage of the great o-line blocking as junior Mychal Kelly led the team with 269 yards rushing and four touchdowns. Seniors Tristan Bennett and Josh Elinsky both ran well as Bennett tallied 187 yards on the ground with two touchdowns and Elinsky had 26 yards and a score.
But a good offense is only as good as its defense and the Pirate defense was playing lights out all night. NKN held Vernonia to just two first downs all game and just 25 offensive plays.
“Our defensive ends and outside linebackers played very well stretching out the sweep all night,” Bennett said. “Tristan led us in tackles once again followed by Jack Porter, Travis Bennett, Travis Jonsson and Ben Holm, who were all swarming the ball very well. We usually had two to four tacklers on the ball all night.”
While the rest of the Northwest League is back in action this week for their final games of the regular season, the Pirates will have the week off to rest up before the playoffs start. However, Bennett said the team has a lot of work to do to prepare for the grind of the State Playoffs.
“This bye week for us comes at a good time to get everyone a little bit healthier,” Bennett said. “At this point in the season a few players have some nagging minor injuries and it will be good to get a week to recover.”
Regardless of what happens in the post-season, Bennett and the rest of the coaching staff are proud of the effort and commitment of this year’s team. As the Pirates became league champions for the first time in 23 years it is clear that their hard work has paid off.
“These young men have worked very hard to get to where we are,” Bennett said. “They have really bought in to our summer workout plan and have made great strides as a team.”
Bennett said the goal last year was to finish with a winning season and make the playoffs. They ended up 7-1 in 2017 and lost to Heppner in the first round of the playoffs.
“That loss lit a fire under many of our boys and we had more consistent numbers in the weight room this last summer,” Bennett said.
The goal this season was to beat Knappa, win a league title and win in the playoffs. They have already accomplished two of those goals and they will have a chance to accomplish the third in the coming weeks.
“I am looking forward to seeing our home matchup for either the 2nd or 3rd of November,” Bennett said. “We would love to get a home playoff win for our fans.”