PHIL HAWKINS - North Marion defensive lineman Sebastian Powers-Leach leads the charge onto the field in the Huskies' 12-3 homecoming loss to the visiting Cascade Cougars.
The league title was there for the taking for the North Marion football team, but now they’ll have to share.
The Huskies fell 12-3 to the visiting Cascade Cougars at Friday’s homecoming game, forging a three-way tie with the Stayton Eagles atop the Oregon West Conference to finish the 2016 regular season schedule.
North Marion (4-3, 3-1 Oregon West Conference) entered Friday’s homecoming game needing a victory to secure sole possession of the Oregon West championship, but was felled by a combination of poor field conditions and a handful of mistakes that the visiting Cougars capitalized on to hold the Huskies without a touchdown to secure the win.
“We just didn’t capitalize on a few things,” North Marion head coach Doug Bilodeau said. “We dropped a few key passes and fumbled the ball at a crucial time.”
All 15 points between the two teams were scored in the opening quarter of play, before the Huskies’ grass field morphed into a greasy bowl of mud soup that made it nearly impossible for either team to mount any kind of offensive rhythm.
The Cougars had first crack on offense and took advantage without even snapping the ball, taking the opening kickoff 75 yards up the left side of the field on a return by senior Brandon Martin. The two-point conversion fell short, making it a 6-0 game in favor of the visitors.
The Huskies moved down to the Cougars’ 29-yard line on the next drive before stalling out and turning the ball over, but a Cascade fumble gave North Marion a second chance at points, which they converted into a 22-yard field goal by senior Tanner Scanlan to make it 6-3.
The Cougars scored on their next possession, led by a 31-yard scramble by quarterback Quinn Legner on fourth and long to set up a touchdown two plays later that Legner punched in from five yards to make it 12-3. Cascade’s two-point conversion once again fell short, but it didn’t matter, as the first-half rains and the big bodies in the middle of the field eroded the playing surface to the consistency of malleable ice.
For the remainder of the game, the two teams traded possessions, turnovers, punts and penalties, as neither program was able to make any kind of headway against each other or the field.
“In this kind of slop, it’s going to happen,” Bilodeau said. “I’m proud of the way the guys battled to get here. You don’t get to this point, play for a league championship, by rolling over to people.”
Indeed this is a North Marion football team that recovered spectacularly from a pair of tough early-season losses. The Huskies fell 43-0 to Molalla in the second week of the season and dropped a 20-17 heartbreaker the next week on a last-second touchdown by visiting Gladstone.
In response, the Huskies reeled off three straight road victories against conference opponents to earn a share of the league title heading into Friday’s game against Cascade. The loss means North Marion will have to share the honors with the Cougars (4-3, 3-1 OWC) and Stayton (4-3, 3-1 OWC), with each team splitting the series against each other, but it remains the Huskies first share of a conference title since 1982.
Unfortunately for North Marion, the team’s post season future is dictated by where the team falls in the OSAA rankings. The Huskies come in at No. 22, compared with No. 20 for Stayton and No. 16 for Cascade, making North Marion the third seed to come out of the Oregon West.
It’ll be a tough road for the football team when the final play-in matches are established, but these Huskies have done it before. Last year’s team went on the road to upset top-10 teams at Phoenix and Sisters, and they’re ready to do it again, no matter who they face.
“It’s like I was telling the guys,” Bilodeau said. “We’ve got a great opportunity, so let’s do it.”