Nov. 16, 2019 — “We talked about pressure,” Mapleton Football coach Jeff Greene said about his speech against state playoff opponent Camas Valley. “Whenever you have pressure, it means you’re doing something right. You are successful. The thing is, embrace it. That’s a good thing. They’re there for a reason — because they’re a good football team. Whenever you’re going to get a post-season opportunity, there’s always pressure to perform. That’s what a winner is. A winner goes through that pressure and adversity and gets it done.”
Greene’s voice swelled with pride.
“That’s what these kids are, they’re winners, man,” he said. “And I’m really proud of them. Seventeen years without going to state. We just talked about enjoying the moment. If they go out there and play their hardest, it doesn’t matter what happens.”
The Sailors played their hardest against Camas Valley, which was coming in with a perfect season of 7 straight wins. The Sailors had lost three in a row, but they weren’t intimidated.
“We scared Camas Valley, man,” Greene said. “They were worried. That’s what we talked about. Our best is just as good as theirs. We scared them pretty good. We were right there in the game for three quarters. It got a little bit out of hand in the fourth quarter. And that happens in football.”
Mapleton ended up losing, 50-86, a typical high score in eight-man between two well matched teams.
“It’s a shootout in eight-man,” Greene said. “But that team has only been scored on 7 times all year. And we end up scoring 50 in one game. That tells me offensively we did a pretty good job. We just struggled a lot on defense. A lot of it too was the penalties that we received. We have to be disciplined. We let our emotions get the best of us at times. That happens.”
However, looking back at the season, Greene said they’ve come so far.
“They’ve overcome a lot of injuries. There were two season knee injuries that they overcome. They had to overcome eligibility issues, some poor decisions off the field on their part that they’ve overcome. But they were an ultimate team. They stepped up, and we just got over a lot of adversity this year.”
The year began with a reevaluation on what the coaches should focus on. It had been 17 years is a chance for the Sailors to play under November night lights, though they came close more than once. Starting in 2015, they made the league playoffs three years straight, but they just couldn’t close the deal.
But in the beginning of this year, Greene knew they had an opportunity.
“If these kids played together, bought in and worked hard, we knew the talent was there,” he said. “I just don’t think they realized how good they could be. When you play together, it’s amazing what you can accomplish.”
One of the first goals was to foster a relationship in the team.
“You get together with the kids and you bond with them. You do activities with them, like we went paintballing. We cut wood for a church together and helped the community out. We went to the Southern Oregon camp, and that was big, getting us to really like each other. We just spent time with each other. That was one of the big things to get these kids on board.”
When the kids were on the field, they were having as much fun as they were working hard.
“They like each other,” Greene said. “They like being around each other. They’re positive with each other. There’s nobody talking down to one another, there wasn’t a jealousy between them. It was just more of, ‘Hey, we get to get together and do this goal.’ You could see it, on the field and off the field.”
For the coaches, the focus was defense — something that needed improving if they were going to have a real shot at reaching the post season.
“That’s been the biggest improvement with our team throughout the year,” Greene said. “That’s the reason why we went to state. Our offense has always been good, it’s just that defense has never been our forte. We had to get better defensively, and we finally got good at that.”
There were some arguments at first. Some of the players wanted to play certain positions, “how many catches and how many rushing yards, all of that,” Greene said. “These kids had to buy in to the roles that they had to play and where we had to put them. And those kids did, and they enjoyed it.”
Their first non-jamboree game was at home versus Riddle. It only took 16 seconds for the Sailors to show their dominance, after Cody Soverns ran the ball 49 yards into the endzone.
“When you talk about coming out fast and being ready to go, especially on offense, I feel like we accomplished that on the first play,” Greene said at the time. “We had 30 points in the first quarter. When those kids are ready to go, it’s exciting to watch.”
They won the game 52-12. The next week, another home game, this time welcoming Chiloquin. Again, they scored early, the blares of the Mapleton Fire Department’s engine echoing through the canyon. The score was 48-0 at the end of the second quarter.
Then it was Siletz Valley, 62-20, followed by a win over Elkton, 52-6; the Sailors were on an unprecedented roll.
But as the wins were stacking up, so were the injuries. The team started the season with a roster of 15, but the number of eligible players began to dwindle. The roster fluctuated from 13, to 11, then 12 when the Sailors faced Lowell, which was defending a near-perfect season.
The Sailors’ small team coupled with the strong play of the Devils saw Mapleton lose its first game. By the time their next game rolled around, the roster was looking dire.
Against North Douglas, Mapleton only had seven players to finish the game.
“Most teams wouldn’t have been able to do what we did to survive all the issues,” said Greene. “It’s incredible that they went as far as they did. That’s a tribute to those kids, counting on freshmen at times to help us win games.”
Despite having a skeleton crew, the Sailors kept the North Douglas game from being a blowout, a final score of 20-36. When the Sailors faced off against Perrydale, the adversity began taking its toll. There were a slew of penalties, some earned, some not.
The loss forced them to play one of the best ranked teams in the state for their first playoff, at Camas Valley. The Hornets came out strong and scored on the Sailors first.
“And then we scored on them, made it 8-6,” Greene said. “We came out offensively, and we were matching with them. It went back and forth the first half. Either defense could stop each other, and we were just going back and forth.”
A personal foul at the end of the second quarter put them further behind.
“In the second half, we came out, scored right away, down 6 again,” said Greene. “We just couldn’t stop them on defense. They just kept scoring, and we just… They finally stopped us on offense, and they kind of broke the game open in probably the four-minute mark in the third quarter is when they started pulling away. So, they ended up winning 84-50, but the game was a lot closer than what the score said at the end.”
At the end of the game, Greene talked with team about the adversity they had gone through, how hard they worked to get to this moment.
“They’re going to remember that for the rest of their lives. And they had a lot of fun with it,” said Greene. “They enjoyed the moment that they were in. And that’s what we talked about. Leaving it all on the field. If you do that, you have nothing to have regrets about.”
For five Sailors, Camas Valley marked the end of their high school football career.
“Dylan Rogers is leaving, he had a season knee injury,” Greene said. “We’re losing Bradley Opperud, he’s our center.”
Cody Soverns will be gone, along with Justyce Wierichs, who had over 100 yards receiving and over 100 yards rushing his final game.
And then there’s Nate Neece, who Greene said did a good job of offense against the Hornets, and had had a great season.
“We’re going to miss those seniors,” Greene said. “But we’ve still got five or six kids that have a lot of experience and a really good junior class coming. You still have Philip Burnett, Robbie Burnett. You still got AJ Moso and AJ Neece.”
For the 2018 season, Greene had a parting message.
“What makes you successful is preparing for opportunities. You look at our football season, we had a lot of opportunities. The kids realized that they can go a lot further by preparing and playing as a team.
“That’s why they’re winners.”