matches ranked teams
One might expect a healthy dose of revenge rhetoric to be flowing fromEagle Point football coach Mike Johnston this week.
His Eagles are preparing for Friday's Class 4A state playoff opener onthe road against McNary of Salem -- the same school that knocked Eagle Pointout of last year's quarterfinals. The defeat was particularly heartbreaking-- a 34-33 thriller in which the Eagles missed a game-tying, extra-pointkick in the final minute.
All that could open the door to numerous fiery lockerroom speeches ofthe what they did to us last year variety, but Johnston wantsno part of that.
We're not real revenge-type people, he says. That waslast season. We've had a lot of water go under the bridge since then.''
Last year's drama aside, the Eagle Point-McNary clash in Salem is thestate's premier first-round matchup. The showdown between the fourth-rankedCeltics (9-0) and the eighth-ranked Eagles (7-2) is the only first-roundgame between ranked teams.
A coin flip to break a logjam among three second-place teams in the SouthernOregon Conference brought these two teams back together, handing Eagle Pointthe fourth seed and the toughest first-round opponent.
My assistants will never let me do a coin toss again, saysJohnston.
Valley League champion McNary and coach Tom Smythe bring an explosiveoffensive attack led by senior wide receiver Shawn Kintner -- a first-teamall-state pick a year ago. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound receiver locked up ValleyLeague offensive player of the year honors this season, catching 42 passesfor 828 yards and eight touchdowns.
The Celtics' offense features four receivers and one extremely dangerousback -- senior Nick Calaycay. Calaycay has rushed for 902 yards this seasonand scored a whopping 28 touchdowns in only nine games.
That kind of firepower could strike fear in the hearts of many opponents,but Johnston isn't one of them.
We are well aware of what their capabilities are, he says.We are very aware of (Calaycay) and he's a real good back. But whenyou play in our conference, it's hard to get overwhelmed.
Still, keeping McNary's offense in check is the Eagles' top priority.An experienced secondary led by seniors Luke Scott, Sean Johnston and DanShopp should help Eagle Point contain McNary's passing game. Scott and Johnstonboth started last year's game -- experience which should be useful in handlinga complex passing attack.
We have pretty good skill guys, Johnston says. We'reaware of (their offense) and have seen what they do but it is real difficultto prepare for in a week's time.
Although McNary's passing game is potent, the bigger concern may be stoppingCalaycay and the run.
Several teams have racked up big rushing yardage on the Eagles this season,despite the play of standout lineman Steve Wyatt and end Jason Taylor. Roseburgburned Eagle Point for 303 yards early in the year and Crater rolled up267 on the Eagles, who yielded an average of 168 yards a game on the ground.
The easiest way to stop McNary's offense is to limit its opportunities,so Johnston says Eagle Point's offense will focus on controlling the balland -- most importantly -- not turning it over.
Watching them on film in many cases it looks like whoever is playingMcNary is playing them pretty even and then there's a turnover, Johnstonsays. It'd be nice to keep their offense off the field by keepingours going.
Eagle Point committed only one turnover in last week's 25-22 victoryover North Medford and is plus-8 in turnover ratio on the year.
The Eagles' offense got a boost last week when Scott -- a third-teamall-state receiver last year -- played his first game without a cast onhis right hand that was protecting a broken thumb. He responded with eightcatches for 105 yards.
He was really kind of limited in what kind of balls we could throwhim because he really couldn't use both hands, Johnston says. Youbetter have all your weapons cooking to play with these guys.
Another positive sign for the Eagles has been their ability to come frombehind and win big games -- including victories over Crater, Grants Passand last week's playoff-berth clinching win over North Medford.
Shopp, Eagle Point's starting quarterback, has been the catalyst in thecomebacks with both his passing and running. Johnston says Shopp deservesa healthy portion of the credit but that other players have also made keycontributions.
They will play a full game, Johnston said of his team's comebackproficiency. It increases our kids' confidence that if we keep playinggood things will happen. We feel that if it's close at the end, we are goingto win.