A glance at the win-loss record of the Southern Oregon Lady Renegades football team might leave one wondering how they could be a win away from playing for the national championship.
But looks can be deceiving.
“We’ve got strength of schedule behind us,” said head coach Rockne DeMello, who owns the second-year women’s tackle football franchise with his wife, Leona Westdahl.
Southern Oregon (3-6) will face the Arkansas Wildcats (7-2) at 6 p.m. Saturday at Eagle Point High in the Women’s Football Alliance Division 3 American Conference championship game.
The winner faces the champion of the National Conference, either Orlando, Florida, or Toledo, Ohio, for the Division 3 title July 21 in Pittsburgh.
Tickets for Saturday’s contest are $10 for adults, and $8 for those 62-over, youth and those with military ID. Kids 5-under get in free.
The game will be broadcast live on the Lady Gades' Facebook page.
Southern Oregon is the highest-ranked Pacific Region Division 3 team. Its regular-season schedule was entirely against larger Division 1 and 2 teams because there are no other Division 3 teams in the Northwest.
The team is ranked sixth in Division 3 and has won three of its past four games, including a 46-6 stomping of the No. 7 Rocky Mountain Thunderkatz on June 17 in the first round of the playoffs.
Arkansas is ranked ninth.
The Lady Gades are clicking at the right time, said DeMello. Defense is the team’s strength, and the offense, led by dual-threat quarterback Brittney Rice, has found its rhythm.
“The offense is getting comfortable and setting down,” he said. “(Rice) is doing a great job of running and reading, and she’s got a strong arm. She’s kind of like a gunslinger. She’ll see a little opening, like (Brett) Favre, and get it in there. Now she’s learned the position and has slowed down a little.”
Rice grew up playing soccer in Grants Pass, he said.
She’s completed 118 of 278 passes for 1,386 yards and eight touchdowns with 19 interceptions. She’s also third on the team in rushing with 169 yards and four touchdowns on 38 carries.
Most of the teams in the WFA are run-oriented, said DeMello. The Lady Gades are the opposite, averaging 173.2 yards per game through the air and 75.4 on the ground.
The first playoff opponent, the Thunderkatz, averaged 318.6 yards rushing per game and only 30.4 through the air.
“We shut down their running game and they couldn’t stop our passing attack,” said DeMello.
Similarly, Arkansas averages 115.4 yards on the ground and 47.9 through the air.
Southern Oregon’s top receivers are Devon Walker (42 catches, 492 yards, 4 touchdowns) and Jennie Fernandes (28, 411, 3).
“Our receiving corps is really tough,” said DeMello, adding that tight end/slot receiver Nichole Valencia (16, 160, 0) is another weapon.
The ground game is led by Amanda Brewster, who has rushed for 199 yards on 35 carries for a 5.7 per-carry average. Aalehea Williams has 174 yards and a score on 35 totes.
“They’re really quick and have patience finding a hole,” said DeMello, adding that his blockers up front have been stout.
Fernandes also plays safety and has seven interceptions. Nicole Noyes leads the team in tackles with 85, followed by Komiti Faoagali, with 63.
Faoagali grew up playing rugby in American Samoa, said DeMello, and “is unstoppable.”
Arkansas, which will drive to the Rogue Valley, opened the playoffs with a 36-6 win over Austin, Texas.
The Wildcats are led on offense by running backs Kiara Vinson (526 yards on only 33 carries) and Raquel Williams (221 yards on 35 carries).
The teams exchanged game film to aid in preparation.
— Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or email@example.com