Pirates battle Bandon in first round of state playoffs, host Lost River Saturday

The Neah-Kah-Nie football team continued its historic season last Friday by winning their first state playoff game since 1990.

The Pirates faced the No. 14 seed Bandon Tigers on Friday Nov. 2. But the Tigers certainly did not play like they were a double-digit seed, as the Pirates escaped Friday night’s game with a 22-14 win.

By Max Kirkendall

It looked like it was going to be a defensive grudge match in the first half, as the Pirates only managed eight points late in the second quarter, while holding Bandon scoreless. With less than a minute left in the second quarter, junior quarterback Mychal Kelly completed a long pass to senior Josh Elinsky to set the Pirates up for a late first half score, giving them a 16-0 advantage going into the half.

However, the Tigers came out of the half and scored 14 unanswered points to cut the lead to two in the fourth. Head coach Chris Bennett said the Bandon defense kept the Tigers in the game, as they seemed to make the plays when they needed to.

“Bandon’s defense was very tough and flowed well to the ball,” Bennett said. “We missed several key blocks throughout the night offensively and that made for some tough running for our ball carriers.”

But despite their efforts, Neah-Kah-Nie was able to grind out the fourth quarter with strong runs by Kelly and senior Tristan Bennett, who punched in the Pirates’ final touchdown of the game, sealing the first round victory.

“I was very pleased with our boys effort Friday night,” coach Bennett said. “It was great to get a playoff win in front of our home crowd. We had an amazing turnout for the game.”

During the first round matchup, Kelly made his mark on the game both on the ground rushing the ball, as he ran for 116 yards on 14 carries, as well as through the air, where he completed 5-10 passes for 87 yards and two scores.

Bennett said turnovers were key for his squad in the game as Elinsky and junior Destin Donaldson each came up with an interception and senior Tucker Camp and junior Jacob Waldron recovered fumbles in the game.

“Winning the turnover battle has been the key to our success this season,” Bennett said. “We will need to keep that going in order to remain successful in the playoffs.”

But the true workhorse of the night was Tristan Bennett, who carried the ball 27 times for 107 yards and a score on offense. On defense, he once again led the Pirates in tackles, tallying 16 on the night.

Next up for Neah-Kah-Nie is Lost River, who upset No. 6 Coquille in their first round game. The Raiders have a similar style of play as the Pirates, where they try to bully their opponents with a strong, physical run game.

The second round matchup is scheduled for Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. and if the Pirates advance, they will face the winner of the Sheridan and Kennedy game. Neah-Kah-Nie has made it past the quarterfinals just once, back in 1985, where they lost to Dayton in the Class A state championship game.

Although there is a buzz around Pirate football this season, Bennett and his team are going to take it one game at a time and are focused on Lost River this week.

“We will have to hold our own at the line of scrimmage and keep our linebackers free to make plays on the ball carriers,” Bennett said of Lost River. “I’m looking forward to a very physical football game.”

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