Oct. 26, 2021 — On Oct. 22, the Siuslaw football team hit the road to face Santiam Christian. The Vikings (4-0, 7-0) took control early, let the Eagles (1-3 SD2N, 3-4) back into the game late but held on to win in the end, 21-14.
With Junction City (3-1, 5-1) losing to La Pine (3-1, 4-3), the Vikings took sole possession of first place in the Special District 2 North Division with one game left in the regular season. That final game is against the Junction City Tigers.
SHS was well supported in the away game as a large group of Viking fans made the two-hour trip from Florence to Adair Village, home of the private school.
As they have all season, the Vikings scored first. Senior Beau Erickson hit classmate Braydon Thornton for a 37-yard touchdown pass just three and a half minutes into the game. This was Erickson's 18th touchdown pass of the season, 14 of which have been to Thornton.
Before the first quarter was over, Erickson and Thornton connected again. Fellow senior Camp Lacouture scored the 2-point conversion, and the score was 14-0 Siuslaw.
Lacouture scored before halftime with a 5-yard run, his 11th rushing touchdown of the season. He also kicked in the extra point. That made the score 21-0 Viks.
By halftime, it appeared Siuslaw had things well in hand, but the visitors from Florence may have lost their momentum during the halftime break
The second half was a different ball game than the first.
Early in the third, junior John Rose recovered an Eagle fumble, but before long the Vikings fumbled it right back. Both teams’ drives stalled until Santiam Christian got on the move and running back Jaydon Christy rushed in from one yard out to cut into the Siuslaw lead 21-7. That was the score at the end of the third.
The Vikings became their own worst enemy for much of the first half of the fourth quarter. The officials repeatedly flagged the SHS offense for delay of game causing much confusion amongst players, coaches and fans as to when exactly the play clock was supposed to start.
The Eagles’ Christy scored again with 7:38 to go in the fourth to bring the Eagles within a touchdown, 21-14.
The Vikings received the kick and started at their own 5 yard line. With 95 yards or seven-and-a-half minutes to go to clinch victory, Siuslaw began to methodically run the clock using their Lacouture-led running game. On two different occasions, the run game stalled and the Viks faced 4th down.
The play callers turned to Thornton and the receiver, who, all season, has made clutch catches when SHS has had their back against the wall and needed a first down — senior Isaac Garza.
“When it comes to critical situations, I know I can be counted on because my brothers on the team and the coaching staff trust me to do my job,” said Garza. “Stats and accolades go out the window, and it comes down to execution and carrying the team's hope with me throughout the game.”
Siuslaw successfully ran the entire remaining time off the clock and took a knee on the final two snaps to seal victory.
Making the 21-14 win all the more satisfying for the Vikings and their fans, this was the first time Siuslaw has ever beaten Santiam Christian.
The Eagles have beat the Vikings the last three years by an average score of 43-14. Getting that first win was a big motivator before the game and an even bigger reason to celebrate afterward for Siuslaw junior lineman Victor Ayala and the entire Viking team.
“I had a huge chip on my shoulder going into that game, not only because we haven't been able to beat them the past couple of years, but because I knew my teammates and coaches had that game circled on their calendar. I'm more than happy we pulled out with the victory,” said Ayala.
“Beating Santiam Christian was extremely gratifying,” he said. “It's a great program that has given us a rough time in the past, so it felt pretty good to finally hit them back.”
The win in the penultimate game of the regular season only solidified the bond this team feels with their coaches and each other. Most of the upperclassmen on this team have spent the three years of Coach Sam Johnson’s tenure becoming well versed in the mantra “live for today.”
Garza has heard the message loud and clear.
“My goal is to give 110% to this family in every practice and in every game and to make us the best we can be,” he said. “I’m sure other seniors will give a similar answer. Our goal as a team has always been a state title, but Coach (Sam) Johnson tells us all the time, goals like that are met by taking it week by week, not dwelling on the future, flushing the past, and taking care of business on Friday night.”
Ayala repeats a similar sentiment and, personally, sees the importance of respecting each opponent and always trying to get better.
“The team’s goal for the rest of the season is to take every game one by one and to stay within ourselves when things don't go as planned,” said Ayala. “My goal for the rest of the season is to not overlook an opponent and to get myself ready for my senior year.”
On the day after the game, Thornton announced that he had received his first college athletic scholarship offer, from Southern Oregon University in Ashland. Viking Coach Sam Johnson anticipates this will not be the last.
“It’s the first of many (scholarship offers),” said Johnson. “Lots of buzz about him. Lots of college coaches are reaching out.”
Lacouture also received his first offer, his from Pacific University in Forest Grove.
With next week's games being the final ones before the end-of-the-season OSAA computer rankings and the 3A playoffs, this past week's games took on an added importance. As mentioned earlier, #10 Junction City lost to #5 La Pine. The Falcons dispatched the Tigers with relative ease, 40-8. #2 South Umpqua had its first close game of the season, squeaking by #11 Cascade Christian 28-26 to remain unbeaten. #1 Rainier beat Onalaska, a school from Washington, 28-14.
On Friday, Oct. 29, the start of Halloween weekend, #2 Siuslaw faces an appropriately scary opponent in Junction City. Undefeated until last week, the Tigers will be hungry for a victory as a win would put them in a 3-way tie for first place in the Special District 2 North Division.
The game, at Junction City, is at 7 p.m. The match-up between two of the top teams in SD2N is the “KEZI Game of the Week” and will be televised in Florence on MeTV, antenna channel 9.2 or Spectrum cable channel 186.