Athletic directors at the Class 5A level have proven to be the most invested in controlling their own playoff destiny since a switch to the...
Being a first-year coach, far removed from your traditional stomping grounds, does have its perks.
For Eagle Point head football coach Seth Womack, leaving Missouri for Oregon this past summer offered a chance to guide a high school football program for the first time. It also offered a new perspective for the Eagles, one that's more interested in making history than getting caught up in it.
And given the early results, the scenario is working out just fine for both parties.
Womack helped lead Eagle Point to its biggest win in nearly two decades last Friday, with his Eagles stunning fifth-ranked Marist, 14-13, in Eugene.
It was Eagle Point's first win over Marist since it "joined" the Midwestern League in 2010, and the Spartans' first home loss since Sept. 7, 2012, against Sherwood. The Eagles and Ashland played MWL foes in 2010 but actually weren't brought into the league until 2011.
"I've been telling them since I got here in June that all they had to do is just believe in themselves, do what the coaches ask and do your job and great things will happen for us," said Womack, who came to the Rogue Valley from Fulton, Mo. "They've been hearing that and will continue to hear that even after Friday."
The 34-year-old Womack said Monday that he didn't have to be around his new players long to realize that they had some special qualities and weren't far off from being a team to be reckoned with.
"It's no secret," he said, "if you line our kids up against any team in the state and look at them, a lot of our kids are big, strong kids and we've got some good athletes."
"Everybody kept telling me leading up to Friday's game that these (Marist) guys are bigger, faster and stronger and I think we proved that's not the case," added the coach. "We match up with anybody in the state when our kids play their game."
As far as Womack was concerned, all his kids needed to do is believe in themselves and get everyone on the same page — and that's exactly what transpired on Friday.
Senior quarterback Jorge Quintero was efficient in handling the offense, completing 13 of 18 passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns, and the Eagles' defense was on lockdown against a Marist team that had outscored its prior two opponents 100-0.
"We knew what they were running and we had it down," Womack said. "I've got to give my staff as much credit as my players because it was a great game plan and the kids went out and executed it just right. Our defense all night long would bend but they didn't break. As we made stops, our kids' confidence just grew and grew. Our defense as a whole played unbelievable."
Cornerback Seth Arena had one of the more notable efforts, and it was a fitting end to a challenging week or so.
The senior broke one of Womack's rules and was suspended for the second half of last week's game and the first quarter on Friday. It had nothing to do with school rules, said Womack, just a standard he expects his players to uphold. All during the week Arena worked with the scout team with an upbeat attitude, and that kind of ownership of his requirements as a player wound up paying off on Friday once he finally got in during the second quarter.
"He knew he messed up and he wasn't going to complain about it," said Womack. "He just went out to do everything he could to make the team better during the week. When he finally got in the game on the defensive side of the ball, they went right at him a lot. I don't know if they thought he was hurt or what but everything they threw at him, he just stopped."
"It was some of the best coverage by a high school cornerback I've ever seen," added the coach, who most recently served as assistant coach and recruiter at his alma mater, Westminster College. "He played unbelievable and my hat was off to him."
Womack said he would single out everyone on the defense if he could but, besides Arena, a couple other key contributors were inside linebackers Hunter Hoeptner and Sean Freeman.
"Both those guys have really started getting what it means to play inside linebacker," he said. "They're filling the holes and scraping and doing everything they can while playing at 100 miles per hour. When you have that going, it's tough to run and throw on us."
The Spartans certainly found that to be the case, going scoreless for the first 21/2 quarters despite entering the game having outscored opponents 152-54 overall. Marist (3-3, 1-2 MWL) actually had outscored the Eagles 149-19 in the past three games entering the contest.
Eagle Point (3-3, 2-2) was able to score first on an 18-yard strike from Quintero to Carlos Flores after a scoreless first quarter, and Womack said that only served to strengthen his team's resolve.
Taking a 7-0 lead into the locker room had his team downright delirious.
"At halftime our guys were just super-charged and we almost had to calm them down a little in the locker room," Womack said with a laugh. "We kept telling them we've got 24 minutes and they're going to make some adjustments."
And while the Spartans did adjust, finally scoring late in the third quarter, Quintero found Peyton Dole alone in the end zone for a 35-yard score in the fourth quarter to reclaim the lead for EP.
Even when Marist scored with about two minutes to play in the game to make it 14-13, the Eagles remained determined. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty set the extra-point attempt back 15 yards and starting Marist kicker Clark Morton missed to the left. The Eagles were called for roughing the kicker on the play, and Marist again failed to tie the game when backup kicker Will Stewart also missed to the left.
The rest was up to Quintero and company to eat away at the clock, and that's exactly what they did. A facemask penalty with 40 seconds to go on a third-and-6 play extended EP's final drive and essentially kept Marist from a couple plays to salvage the night.
"The biggest stat of the night was just our time of possession," said Womack. "We had almost 31 minutes of possession in that game. Our offense didn't put up a lot of numbers but they did a heck of a job controlling the ball. We wanted to control the ball and hope our defense would play as good as they needed to be. It turned out to be the right plan on that night, and Carlos Flores made some great punts when he was needed to help with field position."
After the final horn sounded, Womack said the Eagles were exhilarated and also took time to thank him.
"My answer to those guys was simple," he said. "It was, 'No, thank you guys. You're the ones who played the game, not me.' I think we were all just so proud of those kids and the hard work they had put in. It was good to see that all pay off for them."
Womack said he has since been approached by Eagle Point alums who claimed the moment was the program's biggest since Mike Johnston took the Eagles to the 1995 state championship final against Roseburg (losing 17-12).
"For me not being from here it's hard for me to say what the implications were for winning that game Friday," said Womack. "I'm just happy for our kids and for our fans, that we got the win for them. I love it here. This is where I'm supposed to be."
Womack's next step will be in getting the Eagles geared up quickly for a turnaround game on Thursday at Willamette, which doesn't have school on Friday and therefore had to move up the contest date.
"We are by far a perfect football team," the coach said in cautionary fashion. "We made plenty of mistakes even on Friday that we can clean up. Our kids have to be prepared for the worst because we need this win (Thursday) too. We need them all because we're always focusing on winning that next game."
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry