Sailors top Mountaineers in farewell game

Mapleton senior JJ Neece outruns a Falls City defender during Friday's 76-48 rout of the Mountaineers. (Ned Hickson/Siuslaw News)

In its highest-scoring game of the season, Mapleton’s football team served a stunning defeat to the Falls City/Kings Valley Charter Co-op Mountaineers. Last Friday (April 9), the Sailors won 76-48 on a very special night, which celebrated Homecoming, six seniors playing their final season of Sailor football, as well as the final games for long-time coaches Jeff Greene and Brian Moore. Combined with Greene’s 20 years coaching at Mapleton, he and Moore have more than 50 years coaching Sailors.

Friday’s win marked a winning record of 4-2 overall, and second place in the 1A Special District 1 North League.

“I'm just really proud of our kids and how they came together,” said Greene. “As a coach, you always want to see improvement. And each week, we saw improvements; something just clicked with our kids.”

To see the Sailors play Friday was a true joy for fans as the team came together as a true unit.

“Falls City was not a bad team. They've won a lot of games,” said Greene. “But we came out and our kids executed — and they were ready to play.”

Greene explained the importance of this final game, and Mapleton had several reasons to leave it all on the field with the Mountaineers.

“We don't know if eight-man is going to happen for us next year, and there is a lot of uncertainty with the program now because of a lack of numbers,” said Greene. “We talked about the history, 80 years of football on that field, and how they don't know if that's going to be the last game in the last year for Sailor football. So, our kids had the mindset of leaving a legacy on a good note.

“They're going to remember that last game here on this field,” Greene said.

In addition to making the final Sailor football memory count, the team will graduate many seven seniors from its 11-player roster.

Greene explained to the only four athletes who aren’t seniors on the team, “This is their last game, and if I'm not a senior, I’m playing through them or for them.”

With COVID-19 putting a huge strain on the season, Greene said he felt fortunate that his team was able to make it successful at all, let alone having it end on such a high point.

“So much has been taken away from them,” he said, “and for them to come out and perform like that was really cool. You're not playing for anything, but we had to figure out something to play for besides the last game.”

And they played their hearts out with every member of the team contributing.

“It was a great team win. And it had to be a total team effort to win,” said Greene. “It's not just about one kid. Yeah, JJ [Neece] had a monster game. But you know, he wouldn't have gotten those yards without those kids — it's a team effort.”

Neece did have a monumental game, with 40 carries for 452 yards rushing and 9 touchdowns. He also had 15 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 interceptions and a pick six. Said Greene, “He's doing things that normally don't happen in eight-man. You don't have a kid with his ability playing eight-man. And the hits he was making! That one was like a gun going off, I'm surprised that kid got up! But it’s football, he played the game the way it's supposed to be played.”

Neece, who is attending Western Oregon University on a football scholarship in the fall, also received the Blitz Friday Night Lights Performance of the Year from KEZI.

“He's fun to watch,” said Greene. “When you get an athlete like that, it's like watching art, really. Or a ballet or a performance.”

In addition to Neece the rest of the team had a great game as well.

Mapleton senior AJ Moso was two for three from the pocket, with 109 yards and two passing touchdowns, as well as three catches for 54 yards.

Fellow senior Philip Burnett had 10 tackles on defense and scored on a 40-yard touchdown at running back.

Jeremy Bender, also a senior, who was out last year with a knee injury, was able to pick up a 2-point conversion.

Joe Shepherd, a junior, had three catches for 139 yards and two touchdowns.

“He had a key role on the offensive and defensive sides, and he just keeps getting better and better,” Greene said of Shepherd. “Hopefully, he'll be back next year because he's going to be really good next year.”

The Sailors did a fantastic job on defense as well, adjusting at halftime to account for the pass-heavy Mountaineers.

“[Assistant coach] Eric Wolgamott made a nice adjustment to what they were doing, and how to stop their passes,” said Greene. “We were kind of zone [defense] in the first half, and then we started [man-to-man defense] in the second half, because it was a pretty tight game still. Then we just started kind of pulling away.”

Greene also made sure to mention two players on the team who have made vast improvements as players, sophomore Jeff Bernhardt and Shepard.

“Those two guys are the most improved on the team in how much better they've gotten,” said Greene. “But a lot of it has to do with their attitude; they have to have a good attitude to get better, and they were wanting to get better. It showed.”

In all, the Sailors’ outstanding game was quite a sendoff for Greene.

“It was like a good storybook Disney ending,” he said.

Greene, Moore and the coaching staff brought the Sailors far this season, especially when considering the small roster it had.

Even playing eight-man with such a small team was risky to begin with.

“Most coaches wouldn't have played, or they would have played six-man,” said Greene. “We said no way, we're going to play.”

To be able to close out his final year on such a positive note was definitely a bonus for Greene, who has many positive memories to hold onto.

“They’ll look back on going to games on the buses, and the funny things that happen at practice — it's just that bond you have with your teammates,” Greene said. “That's what they will remember.”