Nov. 6, 2019 — “We haven’t practiced under the lights for 17 years,” Mapleton football coach Jeff Greene said. “This is the first opportunity we get, practicing with the lights on.”
For the past 17 years, the Sailors practiced during the months of September and October, just before Daylight Savings Time. They ran plays into the early evening, where cracks of sunlight make their way through the hill and the fog, illuminating the secluded football field above the Mapleton School District.
By the time November hits, along with early black skies brought on by the time change, the Sailors are benched as other teams continue into the playoffs.
But not this year.
Last week, Coach Greene was turning the lights on for a night-time practice.
“It’s the first time we’ve been to state in 17 years,” he said. “That was a cool thing for our kids. It’s the little things like that, you know? You want to make it to November. We made it. We’re in the sweet 16. Anything can happen.”
Greene believes the players haven’t really grasped the magnitude of the moment.
“This is a big deal for them, and we’re going to make it a big deal for them in Mapleton,” he said. “We’re going to get a banner up for them in the gym. I’m really proud of our kids and just how hard they fought all year. It never goes the way you plan it, but it’s a hell of an accomplishment.”
And it’s an accomplishment that’s been difficult to achieve for the rag-tag group of players. The team has battled injuries, concussions, two blown-out knees.
“We’ve overcome so much sickness and injury with our kids,” Greene added. “They made it over the hump we’ve been waiting to get over all these years. We made it to state as a large berth. All the stuff they’ve overcome — it’s been incredible. Most teams would have been done. With us, we man-up. That’s what I’m proud about.”
The adversity has been catching up to the Sailors recently. After a 6-0 win streak, they’ve lost the last three games on the road, most recently to Perrydale, 40-70.
“We started off really good,” Greene said. “We scored within a minute in the first quarter, going up 8-0 on them. Everything was looking good.”
Until it wasn’t. The Sailors’ bench was short from the get-go when Kody Soverns, the team’s starting running back and corner, had to call out due to sickness.
“So, we were short again,” Greene said, an issue that has been plaguing the Sailors the latter half of the season. Still, the Sailors persevered against Perrdayle — for a while.
“We felt like, ‘Gosh, we could beat this team,’” Greene recalled. “Then we just had too many penalties. We had over 200 yards in penalties. Penalties that I can’t find on the film, then there’s penalties where we deserved them.”
Some of the penalties were questionable, like a call against Nate Neece, who had been pushed in the back while on offense. The other player ended up on the ground as well, but Neece got the flag.
But for other penalties, it was all on the Sailors.
“Like a late hit or a hit out-of-bounds. We don’t let up out-of-bounds.”
This isn’t to say that the Sailor’s gave up against Perrydale. “I felt like our effort was there,” Greene said, noting that at one point in the second half the Sailors led by two points.
“But we ended up beating ourselves,” Greene said. “Perrydale certainly capitalized on our mistakes with penalties. Looking at a 70-40 final score, you may think you’re getting your butt kicked. But with 8-man, it’s different. It’s just a mistake here, a mistake there that cost you touchdowns. Little things mean everything in football, especially 8-man.”
And then things got a little chippy.
“Oh, there was chippy going on,” Greene said. “The whole game, one of their players got booted punching our center. There was a lot of stuff going on in the game. We just have to do a better job of controlling our emotions. And controlling what we can do. We can always control ourselves.”
All told, the Sailors lost 16 points due to penalties. After the game, Greene had a heart-to-heart with the players.
“I said, ‘You know guys, opportunities are going to come your way,” Greene said. “In football, we’ve had a lot of opportunities. It’s what you do with those opportunities that’s going to decide if you’re going to be successful in life. Football is teaching you that. The opportunities have been there, but we haven’t cashed in on them. This is a lesson learned for all of you. You have to be prepared for the opportunity. When that opportunity comes, you’ve got to make the most of it.”
The Sailors’ next — and possibly final — opportunity to line up on the gridiron will come Saturday, when they play an elimination game on the road against Camas Valley. That means the Sailors will be back on the road traveling to Douglas County. It’s one of the few playoff games that will be played during the daytime.
The Hornets are having their own dream season, a perfect record, 7-0. Coming off a string of losses, it would be understandable if the Sailors went in with a sense of dread. Greene refuses that viewpoint.
“We had an opportunity to make some noise last Friday, but it didn’t happen. We can learn from it, we’ll get better. We’re going to move on to the next game.”
And if there’s one thing the Sailors have proven, they’re tough.
“We’ve weathered a lot of storms. That’s how life is. Life isn’t always going to be peachy. If you fall down, you have to get back up. That’s what they’ve done, and I’m really proud of them for that.”
Kick-off for Saturday’s game at Camas Valley is set for 1 p.m.
The game will be broadcast on KCST 106.9 FM.