Vikings: 48 Pioneers: 46
Oct. 2, 2019 — It wasn’t an easy win for the Siuslaw football team Saturday against the McLoughlin Pioneers, but “a win is a win is a win,” Viks coach Sam Johnson said.
It was a close battle throughout for the Viks, in a game which saw the score seesaw throughout.
“Yes it did,” Johnson said, explaining how the game went down to its last seconds, with a score of 46-48. The Pioneers were looking to make a two-point conversion to tie the game up.
“They got it and we had to make a stop,” he said. “Time expired as they completed a pass. We tackled out of bounds — and the game was over. So, it was really nice. The win is what matters.”
The win capped off the Viks pre-league run with a three-win streak, and in boosting morale among the players and the fans, the wins certainly do matter. But as the preseason comes to a close and the Viks look toward actual league play, the successes of Siuslaw football are still, well … up in the air.
“I still think we’re still the underdogs in everything that we do,” Johnson said.
Giving the Viks hope is not so much the fact that they won games, but whom they won them against — the 3A Viks team has only played 4A teams in the preseason, and the success has given the Viks a boost in confidence.
“I love it,” Johnson said about playing. “It gets us teams that are bigger, faster and stronger, which is what you want in the preseason. Let’s go play the best teams in the state in any division.”
Johnson hasn’t been shy about his desire for Viking’s football to be reclassified as 4A.
“I’ve been saying that ever since they hired me,” he said. “Our football team is always trying to look at being the premiere program. Cross-country has been dominant as anyone here. But we would like to think that football is close to them, if not right there with them. There’s no reason we should be at 3A. We could compete in any league in the 4A, just like we should be able to compete with the 3A.”
Siuslaw had been in the 4A division for decades, and with that came a lot of recognition — state-wide newspapers such as the Oregonian only report on schools 4A and above.
But in 2017, when Siuslaw was moved into the Sky-Em League with the likes of Marist and Marshfield, the theory was that the school couldn’t compete — particularly with a slump in enrollment. Siuslaw would have been one of the smallest schools in the conference.
So, in 2018, the Oregon School Activities Association voted to create a special 3A district, which would include schools like Pleasant Hill and Santiam Christian.
For the last couple of years, the move appeared to be the right call as enrollment in the program waned and the kids were outsized even by their 3A counterparts.
But this year, Johnson is looking to rework that thinking.
“I’m trying to get this program back to the 4A where it needs to be,” he said.
Getting there won’t be easy. OSAA reviews classification every two years, and after last year’s loss streak, getting back into 4A in 2020 will be statistically impossible.
“The rule is you have to have 75 percent win percentage to move up,” Johnson explained. “With 0-8 last year, even if we go 8-0 this year, it would still be 50 percent.”
There is a rule that states that if the Viks take state this year, they would be automatically bumped into 4A. But even if they are mounting a comeback in the preseason, Johnson is not betting on taking state.
“We’ve won three non-league games but that doesn’t mean anything,” Johnson said. “We’ve won one league game in two years, and they were outscored by 200 points last year.”
The Vikings’ league opener is this Friday, at home against Harrisburg in a game that will be anything but an easy win.
“Ed Ethel is the coach there and he and I have been friends for the past couple of years,” Johnson said. “He is going to have his kids so dialed in, which is awesome. Those are the teams we want to play. We want to play someone who is prepared for us, and we want to play someone who is going to get after it and get after it the right way.”
Johnson said he sees the first league game as an old fashioned, “run the ball 95 percent of the time” type struggle — a battle of wills that will be decided by who breaks first.
“If we can get them to break, that’ll be something that will be a good sign for us,” Johnson said.
After that, Siuslaw will be on the road at Santiam Christian, which is 4-0 so far this season.
“They always put together a great program,” Johnson said. “If you look at 3A, them and Dayton have always been at the top. Dayton is having a couple of off years, being a public school. But Santiam Christian always finds the talent being a private school.”
So, despite their recent wins, the Viks still have an upward climb.
“We still have a lot to prove and we’re still the underdogs, I think,” Johnson said.
That doesn’t mean that he’s discouraged, both for the Viks chances of becoming 4A in the future, or against the 3A teams this season.
“We could go play West Linn at the 6A level,” Johnson confidently said. “We’re never going to worry about anybody. We’re just going to focus on ourselves and see what we can do to prepare ourselves for the week, which is what we preach to our kids. It doesn’t matter who we play. We’re going to do it our way, and if we play the right way, shoot — there are not a whole lot of teams that will be able to hang with us for four quarters.
“Whoever we play, we’re going to make sure we’re ready, whether it’s 3A, 4A or 6A.”