ATHENA — To be the champs, you’ve got to beat the champs and that’s exactly whom the Stanfield Tigers have in their sights this Friday in Blue Mountain Conference football action.
Weston-McEwen (2-4, 2-2 BMC) will host Stanfield (6-0, 4-0 BMC), the front runners in the Blue Mountain Conference. The game is slated for 7 p.m. in Athena, where the Tigers will try and creep one week closer to the conference title while the TigerScots are looking to elbow their way back into playoff contention.
What’s made Stanfield successful this season, and precisely the thing that could carry the team this week against Weston-McEwen, is what helped the TigerScots rule in 2011. That’s defense, said Devin Haefer, the Tigers’ quarterback and defensive back.
“With Weston last year, we (saw) how they play defense. They were aggressive,” Haefer said. “They wanted the ball back and that’s how we are. We want to hit and do our jobs.”
While Stanfield has scored more points than any other BMC team, the defense has set up those opportunities. At fewer than 10 points allowed per game, the Tigers rank second in the state for Class 2A football in defense. Just Portland Christian, the only other undefeated team left in the classification, has allowed fewer points.
The Tigers rode their defensive unit to a landmark victory last week, downing Heppner 33-14 at home, the first victory against the Mustangs since before any of the players was born. Stanfield’s last triumph over the Mustangs came in 1988, a season before current Heppner coach Greg Grant took over the regime and turned the program into a dynasty.
Friday’s was an extraordinary step for Stanfield football, Tigers’ coach Steve Sheller said, but it was also only one win. The boys have more goals than that and the coach told his team after the game to enjoy it, but to come ready to work for Weston-McEwen on Monday.
“To us, we don’t make any statement-type wins,” he said. “We just want to come and play our best every Friday. What we’re focused on is playing week to week.”
And the Tigers can’t afford to look past any opponent for the rest of the season. After Weston-McEwen, Stanfield gets Grant Union and Enterprise to end the season, the Nos. 2 and 3 teams in the conference behind the Tigers that both sport 5-1 records.
For Weston-McEwen, the back half of the 2012 season has presented a much different situation than last year. The TigerScots are now in the role of spoilers and will need some wins to leapfrog their way into the postseason.
With the addition of Grant Union to the BMC this season from Class 3A, four Blue Mountain teams will hit the playoffs, up from three. But the TigerScots still have work to do to make that level as they currently reside in fifth place, a game behind a three-way pile up of Grant Union, Enterprise and Heppner — all 3-1 teams.
“We’re still controlling our own destiny,” Weston-McEwen coach Kenzie Hansell said of his team’s three remaining games. “After (losing 33-27 in double overtime to) Grant Union two weeks ago, we said we had a five-game season right now and we’re still in control.”
With games remaining against Irrigon and Heppner after Friday’s date with Stanfield, win, win, win and the TigerScots are guaranteed to get in. But a mixture of losses muddles the outlook and likely throws the whole conference in to tie breakers.
That’s a scenario the Tigers are familiar with after tying for second in last season’s standings, yet missing the postseason because of a head-to-head loss with Heppner.
The playoff picture becomes a little clearer with Friday’s outcome, though. And this game will be determined on the ground, Hansell said. Both teams have experience on the offensive line and skill players to tote the ball.
TigerScot Tyler Peterson is healthy after early season shoulder injuries and staking his claim to the starting running-back position in Athena. Meanwhile, the Tigers counter with a medley of backs. Bryce Linker, Corey Baros, Ulises Ibarra and Ross Mendiola share the load and have battered defenses this season. The revised four horsemen rolled out almost 300 yards last week against a usually stout Heppner squad.
“We each are kind of a counter to each other,” Baros said. “If one person makes a big run, the other people tend to get excited and pumped and end up making a long run.”
Establishing the run — but more importantly stopping it — will be key to deciding which team heads into the second-to-last week of the season on a winning streak. For the other school, a much more difficult road to November football games awaits.
Contact AJ Mazzolini at email@example.com or 541-966-0839.