On Saturday (March 6), Mapleton hosted Chiloquin High School for the season’s first game, with the Sailors soundly defeating the Panthers 52-20.
Coach Jeff Greene noted that despite the fact that four of his student athletes were coming in with little to no playing experience at the varsity level and nerves were running high, the game went considerably well.
“It was a good first game for us,” said Greene. “They were pretty nervous coming out. It took a little bit of time to get going in the first quarter. Said Greene. “But once we got the ball going, momentum started kicking in and our kids settled down. Then we just started playing like we could.
“They were so excited to be out there to play. It's been so long. Just to feel some kind of normalcy again.”
Fortunately, it didn’t take the Sailors too long to catch their wind, as linebacker JJ Neece was able to nab a pic six on a 42-yard return into the end zone. According to Greene, “On the fourth down, Chiloquin was scrambling, [they] went to throw it and JJ intercepted it. That kind of got the ball rolling.”
When the Panthers went back on offense, Mapleton’s defense put pressure on Chiloquin’s quarterback, whose pass on the third down was deflected by Neece. The ball was snatched up by Sailor senior Jeremy Bender, who returned it for 32 yards before he was taken down.
Once the defense had propelled Mapleton’s momentum forward, it was time for offense to catch up.
Greene said his offense struggled at first because they couldn't get the snap going. After a timeout, the Sailors brought in Emily Neece at center — and the offense came together.
“[Emily] came in and it was the first time she's ever played. She snapped the ball and it was perfect,” Greene said. “You have so many different emotions when you come in for the first time, especially [at] center. She's going up against a boy. She came in and she did well.”
As soon as the Sailors got the snap, JJ Neece scored on a 40-yard run and, before they knew it, the Panthers were down 14 to 0.
Mapleton picked up one more touchdown and two-point conversion before Chiloquin was able to score its first eight points, bringing the score to 22-8.
At this point, the Sailors first snapped the ball to run a pass play, and senior AJ Moso ran a post-route to receive from JJ Neece.
“JJ threw it about 45 yards in the air,” said Greene, “and right in stride AJ caught it and ran the rest of the way for a touchdown.”
Mapleton then scored another touchdown on another pass from Neece to Moso, along with the two-point conversion.
“AJ made a pretty spectacular catch. It was the last play before the half, and that kind of sealed it,” Greene said.
At halftime, Mapleton led 44-8, prompting the “mercy rule” running clock for the remainder of the game due to the Sailors’ more than 35-point lead.
The whole team contributed to the success of the Sailors. Senior Phillip Burnett caught a ball on a counter and ran it for 42 yards to score a touchdown. Junior Joe Shepard had two two-point conversions, one rushing, and one caught in the end zone.
One proud moment for Greene was watching sophomore Mason Flansberg catch his first-ever pass in game, on a throw from Moso.
“[Flansberg] ran for 12 yards, and he was so excited when he caught it. It made his day,” Greene said. “I thought it was pretty thrilling to see that; you always remember the first time you catch a ball, so I thought it was pretty cool.”
The bulk of Mapleton’s touchdowns came from JJ Neece, who had six in total.
“He’s just a phenomenal athlete,” Greene said of Neece, who had a pick six, threw for a touchdown and ran for four touchdowns. He finished with two touchdown catches for 100 yards, had seven carries for 159 yards, four sacks and three cause-fumbles in the game.
“JJ was a wrecking ball, he plays at a high level. He’s just bigger, faster and stronger than most of these kids. And when he comes in there, it's fun to watch.”
On defense, sophomore Jeff Bernhardt had a couple of sacks at defensive end. Senior Jesse Hughes had a sack on the quarterback, and seniors Ryan Bernhardt and Moso each had a sack as well.
Greene was delighted with his team’s efforts.
“I was really proud. It's a good team win with everything that went down, and they had so much fun. They’re creating memories,” said Greene. “The bus ride there, and going to McDonald's on a Friday night after the game and having fun. That's what you remember about team sports — the camaraderie with each other, the relationships you have, and how much fun you have on the road.”
Mapleton’s next game is a non-league game this Friday (March 12) at Lost River (Hidden Valley High School) at 2:30 p.m.
As with all sporting events this season, no spectators are allowed to attend the game.