By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.– Brayden Neuharth has been in an unique situation his junior season swinging between Varsity and Junior Varsity for the South Salem Football team.
After making a crucial touchdown-saving tackle in the Varsity game against North Salem, Neuharth scored a 60-yard touchdown to tie it at 6-apiece and with a 30-yard gain, he set up a Connor Robo score to put the Saxons up 12-6 entering the halftime break at North Salem.
“I guess having fun, there’s nothing a lot to it, just having fun playing down here ,” said Neuharth with a smile on his face.
Neuharth as a sophomore, was an honorable mention wide receiver for Stayton in 2016 and spoke to splitting time between junior varsity and varsity has been beneficial for him making the adjustment from 4A to 6A football in learning the terminology of the Saxons playbook on both sides of the ball.
“I guess coming down to JV is kind of fun for me, a lot more playing time with Varsity especially with me transferring schools and from me going from 4A to 6A, it’s a lot different, and playing JV with them is kind of a relaxing thing for me,” starts Neuharth.
“With a stronger playbook and a more put together playbook, it’s help to be down here, personally for me to get to know the offense and defense because we run the same thing on Varsity. Which will help me help Varsity more.”
As the fourth quarter starts with the score remaining at 12-6, both teams traded scores; first with South Salem and then Jason Varay coming down with a touchdown reception to turn a 18-6 deficit to 18-12 with a handful of minutes remaining.
The Vikings tried an onside-kick, but couldn’t recover it with the Saxons taking over on offense looking to seal the win.
But, the North Salem defense had other plans and put a monkeywrench into those plans, forcing a punt as the Vikings Malik King led a offensive run-game with North marching down the field.
For the Birthday Boy in Offensive Coordinator Brent Turner, the North Salem coach was impressed with how his offense settled down late as King and Varay became vocal points for his team’s comeback.
“Well I loved it, we don’t have a lot of guys to sub-in, if any for the positions especially lineman, we had nobody,” said Turner. “So at halftime, we told them, ‘listen, they’re going to give us another opportunity. We got to settle down and play our game’, and that’s what they did. They gave us so much heart, so much determination and there’s so much potential right there and it was sad that we didn’t get that ‘ah factor’…(But) I was satisfied with how they played and I loved those guys, I love coaching here and they show me a lot of grit.
“They stepped up big time,” Turner added on King and Varay. “I needed them to step up. Also Don, he also stepped up, I need those guys. I was like, ‘guys, listen. If you really want this to happen, you guys are going to have to block, you guys got to fake, you guys got to run; and they did exactly that for me.”
With the clock ticking under a minute and the Vikings driving, South needed a stop, it was 5-8 defensive lineman Jordan Johnson who took advantage of a opening in the offensive front in-front of him to take advantage of a loose ball in the backfield with seconds remaining.
“It was pretty tough, it was just a group effort out there all I have to say. I can’t do it without these guys, these guys are like a second family for me,” starts Johnson on the stop. “I just saw a nice, little wide open hole and saw him with my back to me and it was like, ‘I’m taking it right there’.
As Johnson was fighting for the ball in the dogpile with North Salem, a simple loose ball drill that all of those kids from North and South have practiced all of their lives, dictated how the end of the game was going to come along. Either another crack at the end-zone, or a victory formation.
And as the refs saw who was hanging on to the ball, and with the ref pointing to South’s side of the field, South jumped up celebrating what the defensive lineman just did.
“That was fun, I was taught every year that I’ve played this, ‘if I get a fumble, I’ll latch on that little sucker and not let go,” said Johnson with a smile about fighting for that ball.
Photos By Jeremy McDonald