By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.– Try to imagine this.
You’re part of a team of 14 kids dressed down for the first Varsity game of the 2019 season at the 2A Level and halfway through the first quarter of the game, the game was called.
Injuries are apart of football yes, but when Chemawa found themselves in a predicament with one of their players pulling a hamstring and another on an ambulance with a head injury when they called their season opener against Central Linn and their Varsity squad.
12 kids on a Varsity roster would be great for basketball, volleyball or 8-man football anyway at 1A, but in 2A when it’s 11-man, the Braves found themselves in a situation no one wanted to be in.
Where to go from here.
The game against the Cobras went down as a 6-0 loss for Chemawa. But as they made the tough decision to go Junior Varsity so the kids could play, that’s where it got mucky.
For the Braves, they start the season Week 3. Being a Federal Institution, it’s impossible to start practice before school as team’s in their league like Sheridan, Santiam or Gervais are able to do in Mid-August. So, filling in games could be tough.
By theory, you could stay within your own league. But outside of the Vikings in Week 4, the Braves Week 2 in which Colton defeated Chemawa 16-6 in an 11-man game, not much love back from the league.
“They wanted to play games and early on only Colton agreed to play,” said Head Coach Steve Crane. “We asked them (the kids) to trust us that we would find more games and we would find more games and they did.
“Gary Lay did a ton of work finding people willing to play and G(erald) Mack got the details worked out.”
The Season continued forward for Chemawa.
They scheduled Yamhill-Carlton following Colton, a 40-24 defeat. But they followed that up with wins over Regis (36-0) and Central Linn in a rematch 30-14. With the exception of the Cobras game, which was 9-man football, each game was 11-man.
Against Bandon on the coast, which was also 9-man, the Braves pulled off a 20-8 win thanks to a pick-six to cap the victory Monday. As they drove to and from Bandon, many of the kids who are from Arizona, Alaska, Minnesota and Oklahoma got to see the Oregon coast even though Crane joked that the Arizona kids weren’t happy about the cold as they closed out the season Halloween night against the Tigers once more.
For a team that a few weeks ago were pondering ending their season, they had a chance to end it on a four-game winning streak on Senior Night.
“When we had to go JV, I wasn’t sure what would happen. But those 16 kids just kept coming to practice, working hard and getting better,” said Crane. “We focused on what we could control: our attitude and effort and didn’t worry about anything else. Once we got that going, the scoreboard took care of itself.”
9-man was something new for Yamhill-Carlton said Crane, but Chemawa came out firing Thursday night. Zayne Weston had three first half touchdowns, JJ Ambrosio-Kakaruck and Damian Johnson each rushing touchdowns and D’Alan Joesph threw for one to Ezikiel Libertyas the Braves led 40-0 at the halftime break.
It was weird to see Chemawa that far ahead personally. I remember Gervais beating them 70-0 a few years ago in that rivalry game, Central Linn holding them off last season in their season opener and here was that same program celebrating like the Cougars and Cobras did the previous two times I saw this squad.
That sweet taste of victory and that momentum is something special to see. To see a program on the brink of shelving the season to come out and play with the hand their dealt, it was special to see.
Who knows if they’ll petition to play 1A next year to play 8-man since 9-man was a success and better fit for them this year or if they’ll go JV again next year as they finished the season 4-2. But the season turned out to be a success of sorts for the Braves this season.
“These kids are special. They refuse to give up and they give us everything they have,” said Crane. “Sure there are obstacles, but our boys just want to be the best football players they can be. They love playing and were willing to go anywhere we could find a game.”
Photos By Jeremy McDonald