By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.– With rivalry games, anything is possible.
Entering the Battle for South Salem, Sprague and South Salem were just a combined 1-5 on the season but it didn’t matter as both met at South Salem High School Friday night with the Saxon fanbase making sure they give their rival Olympians a good hearty welcome.
“The first half we just came out with a lot of intensity, we were viewed as underdogs in this game and we didn’t think they respected us enough,” said Sprague kicker/punter and Linebacker Will DeLoretto. “We got boo’d coming into the stadium so we knew they didn’t respect us. So we came out and played ball first half.”
It took until the 2:36 mark when Sprague broke through the Saxon defensive stronghold when Ethan Johnson found Wiley Roberts with a tear-drop pass almost in the endzone for the 7-0 lead that stood entering the second quarter. The passing touchdown was for 32-yards.
The Olympian defense created roadblocks for the South Salem running game and raised havoc in the passing game to hand their offense the ball back with Sprague taking advantage of the penalties and Chris Sharp grinding for yards that resulted in a Sharp four-yard run late in the second quarter and a Johnson to Marshall Bray touchdown at the end of the first half made it 20-0 Olys entering halftime.
“Oh it was great, all the guys came out and we executed perfectly I think,” said the Olympian quarterback Ethan Johnson, who was 7-for-14 in the first half with a second touchdown pass to Marshall Bray at the end of the first half. “Onto the second half, the game started to slip a little. All of the team, we started to slip a little bit, we can bounce back.”
Slowly in the second half, the Saxons began to pick up some mojo as Sprague came out a little more relaxed up three scores on their host-rival.
The running game behind Ryan Rickman and Zach Webster, who was in a Wildcat Quarterback position in the second half at times, complied roughly 163 rushing yards on the ground in total. It wasn’t until the start of the fourth quarter in where it reached it’s pinnacle for the South Salem offense.
“It’s just our team, it’s how we play. In the locker room we knew we had to come out hot in the second half,” said Rickman, who had 132 yards on 23 carries about getting to this point of rolling. “So we talked about it, everyone worked together and we put everyone…disciplined together and we worked our butts off.”
Webster got the Saxons on the board from a yard-out. The defense forced a three-and-out and blocked DeLoretto’s punt to set themselves up for their second score where Elijah Enomoto-Haole found Webster on a wheel-route for a 30-yard strike to get South to within six of Sprague with 10:17 left in the game.
“Holy cow it was insane, the best I’ve ever seen,” said Rickman who also played Linebacker for the Saxons Friday. “Our defense has been great all season and stopping the run, that was their strength. We stopped them the whole game. They had a couple bad throws and we had a couple good plays on those bad throws, which helped us offensively.”
Sprague Chris Sharp had 85 yards on the ground to go with his one touchdown on the rushing side of the ball. And the Olys offense picked up a few yards on their next possession, but couldn’t push their lead any further with South Salem coming back out for offense following Gabe Johnson’s interception of Ethan Johnson with 9:23 left in the fourth quarter.
“Oh it was a good learning experience, we’re going to check film and learn everything,” said Sprague’s Johnson as South began their next drive. “Even myself, I made a lot of bad mistakes but we just got to turn the page and go from there.”
The Saxons had to go on without Ashton Adams who had to be carried off the field following the interception on a cart. South Salem, who came out to support their teammate as he was being carted off the field, seemed motivated to win this for their teammate with Rickman dashing for a nice gain.
A few plays into the drive, Enomoto-Haole threw his version of a jump ball to Treyden Harris as the Senior used his basketball skills to go up for the ball and come out with a 23-yard touchdown pass with the home South Salem erupting right next to him.
“We didn’t put our heads down. We were down in the first quarter after they scored that first touchdown,” said Harris on the offense scoring three unanswered touchdowns in the fourth quarter. “We never came down, we picked each other up. We came out in this third quarter, didn’t get a score. We came out in the fourth quarter, picked each other up even more.”
With the made PAT, it was 21-20 Saxons. A 21-point swing that seemed almost improbable entering the quarter, but there was still time left with 6:36 left.
South stopped Sprague, the Olys returned the favor, Sprague was pinned deep when Johnson got them out of their own endzone with two scrambles for nine yards. But the Saxon defense would shut the door on the Olympians for the 21-20 victory for South’s first win over Sprague in football since the 2015-2016 season.
With the Saxons opening league play Friday versus Bend, South Salem hopes to carry that second half work into that first half against the Lava Bears in Week 5
“Just continue the hard work. Come out every game like we did in that second half and play with that fire,” said Rickman as the Saxons improve to 2-2 on the season.
For Sprague, who are still looking for their first win of the season, got another tough non-league team in Tigard at home before opening league at McNary in two weeks. The next 24 hours are going to be tough, but that just comes with learning says Johnson.
“24 hours, it’s going to be hard. But that comes with learning. Failure comes with learning, I think we’re going to take that and use that as fuel to go on to the next game.” Said Johnson.
Photos By Jeremy McDonald