The 'Gold Helmet Comeback Tour' lands Eagles


'To me, this is the battle that we want, because it will say a lot about who we are as a team' — Sam Johnson

Siuslaw d Harrisburg: 64-8

Oct. 9, 2019 — When Siuslaw visited Harrisburg in 2018 for the season opener, the situation was grim.

Early in the first quarter, Elijah Blankenship slipped through the Eagle’s defense on a quarterback keeper, making the first score of the night for the Viks. That would be the only trip the team would make to the end zone that night, with the Eagle’s flocking the Viks 63-7.

One year later, as Siuslaw hosted the Eagles, Vikings coach Sam Johnson was surveying the field with just under five minutes left in the fourth.

“Come on baby, you got this!” Johnson yelled from the sidelines as the score read 57-8, Viking advantage. Freshman Odin Smith made a 4-yard run to bump the score up to 63, then sophomore Camp Lacouture made the kick for the extra point. Despite their best efforts, the Eagles were unable to make a push as the clock ran down, losing the game 64-8.

It was as close to a mirror image as one can get in football, yet Johnson had no idea.

“I had no clue. All the kids remember the score from last year,” he said. “Since I wasn’t on the coaching staff, I have no clue what the scores were last year. To me, I know they were 0-8, and that’s all that matters.”

The Viking’s are on a roll, picking off each school one-by-one that took them down last year — Newport, Philomath. Some have dubbed this the year the “Gold Helmet Revenge Tour.”

That’s not how Johnson sees it.

“It wasn’t any revenge or any malice,” he said. “Harrisburg’s coaching staff is awesome, and I love their head coach. And they said, ‘We got you guys last year and we’re glad you guys are up and rising this year.’ There were no ill feelings, and I don’t feel like we ran up the score. I just feel like we executed and played really well.”

It's more like the "Gold Helmet Comeback Tour."

“For us, we’re playing together as a family playing football,” Johnson said. “We’re hoping all the scores are very lopsided and we’re on top. For the kids, it’s got to feel real good. When you get embarrassed like that in front of the entire state, it feels good to get a win 64-8 and let everybody know, that’s not who we are. And that’s definitely not who we are this year.”

And who the Viks are this year is a diverse team with offense and defensive standouts that Johnson is more than happy to talk up.

“Offensively, you could say all 11 and add in our substitutes, but we couldn’t do what we do if it wasn’t for the man behind the center, quarterback Elijah Blankenship,” he said. “His will power to just show up and do the right thing, whether it’s at school, in the classroom, on the practice field, in the game field, outside of school, at church — he just consistently does the right thing.”

But Blankenship knows he’s not alone on the field. After throwing a pass to wide receiver Braydon Thornton, he told Johnson, “Holy smokes, it’s really fun throwing to a kid like that.”

“I’ve never seen a receiver as a sophomore that has such raw talent. For me it’s fun because the receiver is the position that I played and coached, specifically. And to get to coach a kid like that is really special.”

As of Friday, Thornton had 10 touchdown receptions in just five games — including four against Harrisburg, tying the single-game record set by Collin Cram-Watkins in 2003.

Johnson gave gave starting receiver Issac Garza high marks, stating that he would be a go-to receiver for any team in the state.

“You can see how good he is when we throw him the ball two or three times, and every catch he makes is diving or he’s jumping over the guy or he’s making a catch when he’s getting hit,” Johnson said.

There’s Rhys Fleming and Avery Hart, the tight ends, along with Camp Lacouture.

“To be able to throw it to Camp in the backfield and shove it down people’s throat with him and Hector Garcia, if I was an opposing coach to these guys, I wouldn’t know what to do. I know a lot of teams will say they have a ton of skill guys. But when you look across the board at our guys, and have them all love each other and want each other to succeed way more than they want themselves to succeed, it’s really cool and really special.”

Johnson said defensively, Henry Rankin and Matt Horillo can hold down the middle like no others.

“And then you got Dayson Foglio and Avery Hart with the in,” he said. “And then you have freshmen that sub in there all the time.”

But Johnson pointed out that the defense would not be anything close to special if it wasn’t for Brady Libby.

“Every day in practice, he sets the tone with the kids — ‘This is how we’re going to go about things, this is how hard we’re going to hit, this is who we are as a defense,’” said Johnson. “He’s got a bunch of turnovers early. He leads our team by a million in tackles. We wouldn’t be anywhere near the football team we are if it wasn’t for his character and attitude every day.”

Despite the strong team, the plays aren’t always perfect, as Johnson pointed out.

“We had to fumbles,” he said, referring to Harrisburg. “Five incompletions. We had a dropped ball. Missed a bunch of blocking assignments, defensively. We missed a bunch of tackles.”

That’s not to say that the game was bad, “I’d be insane to say that we played bad or that we have tons of room to grow,” Johnson said. “That was pretty excellent on all sides of the ball and all facets of the game.”

But with issues to work on, the Viks have no reached their peak performance, in Johnson’s view.

“You’re not supposed to peak at week five,” he said. “A lot of teams peak at week three or four. Some always try and peak when the playoffs are starting. You want to peak in December, and that’s when the state championship is. If we’re not peaking in December, then what are you preparing for? If you’re peaking in week six or seven, you’re doing everything wrong. We’re still slowly installing stuff and we’re slowly learning new stuff. We’re going to continue to install stuff to get better as a team and look forward to the future.”

And the future is anything but easy for the Viks. This week, they travel to Santiam Christian, who are looking to continue their five-win streak.

“I mean, man, you say you don’t circle any games on the calendar, but Santiam Christian, shoot, everybody circles them.”

The perennial powerhouse is always ranked in the top five in the state yearly, and as a private school, they get more latitude in picking their own kids.

“If we make stupid mistakes like we’ve done all year, they’ll blow us out,” Johnson said. “For us, we need to shore up those holes in our ship real quick. And we need to do it this week.”

But the Viks are accepting the challenge.

“We can sit back and complain, or we can just buckle up with the guys we’ve got. We’re going to go right after them, just like they’re going to come right after us. I don’t think we’re going to shy away in any way. To me, this is the battle that we want, because it will say a lot about who we are as a team.”

Kick-off for Friday’s game is set for 7 p.m.

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