Phoenix routs Newport, earns 4A playoff spot
PHOENIX — There was no shortage of motivation for the Phoenix football team Saturday and, as Newport quickly found out, no denying the Pirates on this day at Jack Woodward Stadium.
With its defense firing on all cylinders and offense showing tremendous balance, Phoenix stamped its spot in the Class 4A state playoffs for the first time in three years with a resounding 60-13 triumph over the visiting Cubs in a play-in romp.
“A lot of us seniors have been in this playoff position before a couple years back (when Phoenix lost a play-in game to North Marion in 2015),” said Phoenix senior running back/linebacker Mason Firestone, “and we just want it bad this year.”
And that meant leaving little doubt against a Newport team that relies heavily on its running game and was put on its heels after a pair of Firestone touchdown runs put the Pirates (7-2) up 15-0 only 5½ minutes into the contest.
“Our goal was to just shut them down early and not look back,” said Phoenix senior quarterback/safety Javan Gail. “We just wanted to try and take control of the whole game from the start.”
From start to finish, it was all Pirates as they amassed 503 yards of total offense and limited Newport (4-5) to 108 yards in a runaway tilt that earned Phoenix its first trip to the state playoffs since posting a 1-1 postseason record in 2014.
In all, it will be only the Pirates’ second trip to the postseason since they advanced to the 4A state semifinals in 2009.
“These kids have worked so hard in the offseason to get to this point,” said second-year Phoenix head coach Jered Gail. “It’s fun to watch them excel and it’s all because of their dedication as a senior group.”
As the state’s No. 6 seed to the state playoffs, Phoenix will open its playoff run at home next Friday or Saturday against La Grande (7-2), which beat Molalla 43-6 in the play-in round.
“It’s a great feeling and I’m sure the whole Phoenix Pirates community is feeling it,” Firestone said of extending the football season.
Firestone played a pivotal role in his team’s fast start and then Javan Gail picked up the baton and took the Pirates to another level after Newport’s Justin Plechaty made the score 15-7 with an 85-yard kickoff return for a score.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Gail quickly marched his team back into scoring position, capping the ensuing drive with a 13-yard dart to Jonathan Halligan in the end zone. After the defense forced a three-and-out, Phoenix needed only two plays to go up 27-7 as Gail hit sophomore Nik Goff in stride deep down field for a 57-yard touchdown.
When junior Jacky Hawkins intercepted a pass to give the Pirates another chance at scoring, Gail again took full advantage and ultimately powered his way in for a 5-yard TD run that made it 34-7. Gail finished with 56 yards rushing on five carries to complement 10-for-16 passing for 201 yards and two TDs.
“It feels really good just being able to contribute and help push this team because they help me a lot too, just working hard and keeping us going,” said Gail, who transferred last summer after three years at North Medford.
More defensive pressure by the Pirates resulted in a forced fumble that was pounced on by Phoenix senior Julian Peltier at the Newport 16-yard line, and senior Dylan Knudson raced in from 12 yards to help his team build an insurmountable cushion at 40-7 with seven minutes still left in the second quarter.
“We kind of just wanted to keep our foot on the gas and keep going and let our guys make some plays and have some fun,” said coach Gail of his team’s aggressive approach. “It’s one of those games you don’t want to go crazy but at the same time you’ve got to let them play and kind of do their thing.”
Another three-and-out set the stage for Phoenix’s final score of the first half, appropriately a 2-yard bulldozing run by Firestone for his third short-yardage score of the first half. The 6-2, 220-pounder finished with 78 yards on 13 carries to go with a 45-yard reception.
“He’s a tank, that’s what we call him in practice,” said Javan Gail. “I just love handing the ball off and watching him do his thing.”
Firestone enjoyed his enhanced role, too. With a loaded backfield that includes Knudson (six carries, 33 yards, one TD) and Cori Romig (eight carries, 69 yards, two TDs) as well as fly sweep threats by Chase Courtney and Dalton Samis, there is no shortage of options in the Pirate attack.
“My number hasn’t been called that much in the red zone and tonight they did and I produced,” said Firestone. “I really appreciated coach’s choice to put me back there.”
Overall, Phoenix ran 48 times for 302 yards to help set a much-needed tone moving forward, according to coach Gail, for linemen Seth Firestone, Dominick McGee, Joseph Price, Matt Saurman and Ismael De La Torre.
“We wanted to come out and establish the line of scrimmage,” he said. “We didn’t play as well as we wanted to up front last week so we tried to set a precedent this week of getting our inside zone game to get going.”
Brandon Brumble also had an interception for the Pirates and Samis posted five tackles to help limit Newport to seven first downs. Goff led seven Phoenix receivers with 73 yards on two catches while Hawkins caught three passes for 52 yards.
P — Firestone 1 run (Hawkins pass from Gail)
P — Firestone 2 run (Espana kick)
N — Plechaty 85 kick return (Elizalde kick)
P — Halligan 13 pass from Gail (kick failed)
P — Goff 57 pass from Gail (kick blocked)
P — Gail 5 run (Courtney kick)
P — Knudson 12 run (kick failed)
P — Firestone 2 run (pass failed)
N — Plechaty 21 pass from Losier (pass failed)
P — Romig 5 run (Espana kick)
P — Romig 12 run (Espana kick)
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry