Phoenix is making big strides under coach Walker
Only two games into what technically is an interim position as Phoenix High's football coach, Toby Walker might have already found just the right boost as Pirates seek to return to the top of the Class 4A landscape.
Facing a Class 5A Ashland team coming off a 22-14 win over a good Henley squad, the Pirates showed incredible fortitude in the waning seconds last Friday to earn a 22-21 upset win over the visiting Grizzlies.
Phoenix junior running back Matt Lapat scored his third touchdown of the game on a 16-yard screen pass with 36 seconds remaining and then rushed for the two-point conversion to the delight of the Phoenix faithful at Jack Woodward Stadium.
"It's a huge confidence booster," Walker said Monday. "In previous years, I don't think our kids felt like they had a chance against Ashland. This year, our focus is on effort and competing, and those other things take care of themselves if you do that. I thought our kids did a god job focusing on things they can control and they took care of business. Our kids played hard Friday night."
The win over Ashland was the first for Phoenix since the cities renewed their series in 2006 and Walker's first as a head coach. The Grizzlies beat the Pirates 36-16 last year and 41-0 in 2007 after just getting by, 23-20, in '06.
"It's good to beat Ashland because they're always a great program," added Walker. "Coach (Charlie) Hall and his staff just do a great job over there."
A week ago, Phoenix endured a back-and-forth thriller at Douglas before falling 49-41. Walker said that experience may have allowed the Pirates to remain calm after falling behind 14-6 and then 21-14 to Ashland.
"Last week at Douglas, we were in a situation where we were back and forth, down and up," said Walker. "I always challenge our kids to compete when they're down and keep fighting, fighting, fighting. They believed in the fight and that they had a chance to win that ballgame (against Ashland)."
That belief also extended to the coaching staff. Walker said he had no doubt the Pirates would be going for the fateful two-point conversion even before his team found its way into the end zone.
"We called a timeout before we scored the touchdown and I ran out and challenged the kids that as soon as we punch this in, we're going for two points and going for the win," said Walker, 28. "When I looked in the kids' eyes, there was no doubt we were going for two."
Lapat then took a screen pass from quarterback Chris Kammel, got a couple key blocks and found his way into the end zone. Earlier, the 5-foot-8, 180-pounder had a 1-yard run to give his team a 6-0 lead in the second quarter and another 1-yarder to pull the Pirates even at 14-all in the fourth quarter.
Walker said there was no doubt who would have the ball in his hands for the conversion.
"Matt Lapat had a breakout game," said Walker. "Friday he really wanted it. He's a competitor. He's one of the hardest working guys on our team and will compete to the end."
Lapat, who accounted for all of Phoenix's scoring, finished with 59 yards rushing on 12 carries and another 51 yards on three receptions.
While the outcome was rewarding, Walker added it wasn't completely necessary to get his point across to his team.
"Going for two and winning against Ashland was huge for us," said the coach. "I have total confidence in my kids, and Friday night was a good example of how confident I am in those guys. Even if we don't get it, I'd still call it again because I have faith and confidence in those kids."
While Lapat may have stolen the spotlight, Walker said he was equally pleased with the performance of his relatively inexperienced offensive line.
"Our offensive line had a great game as a whole," he said. "They opened up the running game and gave Chris time to throw the ball. I was impressed with just how far they've come. They're giving us a whole lot more options than we even thought they'd be able to give us at this point."
Now the biggest task for Walker will be making sure his team doesn't get complacent. For now, it's only one win. If they do nothing else, no one will really care who that win was against.
"We've got to move on," said Walker of a Phoenix team that has gone 2-7 the past two years. "It's a good win and a good step in the right direction for us, but it's just one game in our season. We've still got a lot of room for improvement."
A MEMORIAL TO Kris Carey will take place approximately 20 minutes prior to North Medford's home-opening football game at 7 p.m. Friday at Spiegelberg Stadium.
Carey, 20, died tragically when the water-tanker truck he was driving rolled and the cab collapsed at the intersection of Highway 62 and a logging road near Lost Creek Lake on Aug. 3. He will be remembered by past and current players and the No. 27 jersey he wore as a Black Tornado player will be presented to his family. North players will also honor Carey by wearing the No. 27 on their helmets.
North Medford boosters will be taking donations for a Kris Carey Memorial fund established in his name to support local high school athletics.
Carey was a first-team all-SWC defensive lineman and second-team all-league running back in 2006, his senior year. He rushed for 841 yards that season, averaging 5.4 yards per carry.
HIGH SCHOOL football on TV will once again be brought to the area by the Southern Oregon Education Service District.
The Southern Oregon ESD will be providing tape-delayed broadcasts of seven area games this season on Saturdays at 6 p.m. on Charter Channel 16 in Jackson and Josephine counties and Ashland TV Channel 21.
This season's lineup includes Henley at Klamath Union (Sept. 26), North Medford at Crater (Oct. 3), South Medford at Grants Pass (Oct. 10), Illinois Valley at Phoenix (Oct. 17), Ashland at Mazama (Oct. 24), Hidden Valley at Eagle Point (Oct. 31) and Henley at Phoenix (Nov. 7).
The ESD began televising local high school football games in 2007 and televised four local games last year as part of its Sports Spotlight series.
All football games this season will be repeated during the week of their original telecast at 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Sundays and 8 p.m. Tuesdays.
Last year's games can be viewed online at www.teachertube.com.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail email@example.com