Mapleton d Oakridge: 44-34
Oct. 9, 2019 — It’s been almost two decades since Mapleton football has seen the kind of undefeated run its seeing now.
“It was one I first started coaching, the 2002-03 season,” coach Jeff Greene said. “We went to the quarter finals undefeated, but that was a long time ago.”
The reasons for the Sailors’ 5-0 win streak are many. The defense has gotten better, the kids have aged in. But there’s also an enthusiasm that’s felt in the air.
“The kids are buying into it, realizing what’s happening,” Greene said. “They get acknowledgement from the community, parents and students, at how well they’re doing. They’re getting pats on the back. The more they get, the more they care. The thing is, they really have an opportunity this year. And they know it. They’re wanting it more.”
For the most part, the spreads have been staggering. The season opener against Lowell had the Sailors winning 52-14. A few weeks later against Elkton, it was 52-6.
“A lot of that is spending time on tacking and defensive drills,” Greene said. “That’s the biggest improvement this year for being 5-0. We’ve always been able to score. The last couple of years, we’ve had that, but still lost. It was just a matter of stopping people, and the defense has gone up.”
The combination of strong defense and offense may give a sense of invincibility to the Sailors, but that’s far from the case.
“We’ve gone through a lot of adversity this year,” said Greene. “We’ve had some concussions, injuries and ineligible kids.”
Those hardships were seen in full display last Friday at Oakridge, where the Sailors squeaked out a win, 44-34.
“We had a really good start to the game,” Greene recalled. “We went right in there and we scored 8-0. And we got a stop. It was then 16-0. They gained some yards on us. We bent, but we didn’t break. We shut them out that half, 24-0.”
But when they came back out, senior Dylan Rogers left the game after hurting his knee.
“That was our size-guy inside — our starting center,” said Greene. “My backup center was out, too, before the game, injured at home. I was down to my third string center. And in eight-man [football], that’s tough.”
Enter freshman Jeff Bernhardt, filling in as center.
“He came in and did a great job, just getting the snap back there,” Greene said. “It’s hard, coming into a game, 14 years old against guys who are 17. To come in like he did, it was great. Usually freshmen don’t that that much time playing varsity.”
Then senior Cody Soverns got banged up and had to sit out. Freshman Kody Wierichs came in, playing corner and receiver.
“With your freshmen, your one injury away from getting in,” Greene said. “And those kids came in. They got to understand that, ‘Hey, we need to be ready.’ They’re forced to play. It was a good learning lesson for some of those younger kids to really pick up their game, because this is a total team sport.”
Wierichs came in fighting.
“He’s getting better as each game goes by. He had a little injury and had to work through some adversity,” Greene said. “But the freshmen did awesome. I was really proud.”
Oakridge was able to keep the clock going, attempting to hang on for a rally.
“Soverns came back in the game, entered a pass in the red zone and stole the win,” Greene said. “Everybody did their part, and I was happy getting out of there with the win.”
For many teams, the injuries at Mapleton could have spelled disaster. But this year, the Sailors knew when to step up.
“You’re never 100 percent in football, so you have to work through some of those things,” Greene said. “It’s that mental toughness. I thought they did great. I was worried about [Oakrdige’s] physicality at the beginning of the game. I thought we did a good job answering the call to that.”
And that’s what has made the Sailors such a force this year. Despite the constant setbacks, they’ve been able to pull together and trust each other, a mindset Greene and the other coaches have been hammering home to the kids.
“Backup your teammate, have each other’s back and play as a team. That’s what we’ve been talking about. It’s a ‘we’ concept instead of a ‘me’ concept.”
The team spent much of the off season working on getting close. They went paintballing together, did community service work, going to football camp.
“We did things that bonded these kids,” Greene said. “Spending time with each other I think really helped getting these kids closer and to have each other’s back more, and care for one another. In a small town, you’d think that would already be there, but it’s not that way. You gott’a get these kids to buy in and like each other.”
And that’s how a small team with two kids out with injuries can still pull off a win against Oakridge — teamwork; JJ Neece had 346 rushing yards during the Oakridge game, Robbie Burnett had 20 tackles on defense and AJ Moso was impressive on defense.
“When you get kids playing that high of level, I mean… wow. Everybody did their part,” Greene said.
It’s something that the Sailors will have to rely on as the teams get tougher and tougher as the season goes on.
“The biggest thing is getting better, giving effort, but also not getting hurt,” Greene said. “We need to keep on and stay healthy. You have to stay healthy because we only have 14 kids. We started out with 15, then we lost two kids to injury, so now we’re down to 13. We’re actually going to have 12 for Yoncalla. The numbers… it’s tough.”
And Yoncalla, who Mapleton will be hosting for Homecoming on Friday, will not be an easy team to beat.
“They’ve got some weapons, and they’ll be the best team we’ve played so far this year,” Greene said. “It just gets bigger and bigger each game. Our kids know what they’re up against and they have to bring their ‘A’ game. And they have to be focused and ready to go.”
Kick-off for Friday’s Homecoming game is set for 7 p.m.