South Eugene grinds out win over Wil-Hi, 14-9

South Eugene grinds out win over Wil-Hi, 14-9
South Eugene's quarterback Ray Roundtree (#2) is brought down by Willamette's Darius Jackson (#5) and Mitchell Card (#14). Dan Morrison, Oregon News Lab

EUGENE, Ore. - The South Eugene Axemen football team took its record to 2-0 with a 14-9 victory over Willamette High School Friday night at Wil-Hi’s home field.

But it wasn’t pretty, both Head Coach/ Offensive Coordinator Chris Miller and Defensive Coordinator Kevin Leonard pointed out to their jubilant team.

“Sometimes it is better to win ugly than it is to look pretty and lose,” said Leonard.

Miller echoed those sentiments. “If you look in the dictionary under ugly it’s got our team picture,” Miller said.

Unlike last week’s game against Churchill, the Axemen seemed to have difficulty getting started against Wil-Hi. At the end of the first quarter, the scoreboard was still blank.

Eventually Quinn Cota, one of South Eugene’s rotating running backs, dove into the end zone for a couple yards out.

But the game remained basically a stalemate until nearly the end of the half, when Willamette managed a field goal, making the score Axemen 7, Willamette 3. Both teams shuffled into the locker rooms at halftime to re-evaluate their playing schemes.

It was difficult for either team to gather much momentum because of the numerous penalties on both sides.

South’s Quinton Richardson scored for the Axemen on a short run in the third quarter.

But the ugliness continued. For the second game in a row, the Axemen had a blocked punt, which this week Willamette converted to 7 points, tightening the score to 14-9.

So the Axemen still have a few glitches to work out, but they play with intensity, and that sometimes makes all the difference in a close game.  With the ball in Willamette’s possession and a couple of minutes left on the clock, plenty of time to score for a come-from-behind win, Willamette’s quarterback threw the ball -- right into the hands of Axemen defensive back John Saylor. And that sealed the victory.

Saylor explained how the interception developed. “I’d been missing that route all night. It’s an easy out curl route combo. I knew it was going to happen again because they had been picking on me all night. So I got extra space, saw it in front of me and I just went and gobbled it up.”

What did Saylor think when he felt the ball hit his chest and his hands wrap around it? “That’s a W right there,” Saylor said with a wide grin. “That’s a win.”

As Leonard told his team after the game, “That exemplifies what your character is. When it comes down to it, you’ve got a heart like a champion. You guys play like lions.”

Miller seemed pleased with the win but admitted the Axemen have some work to do. 

“We made a lot of mistakes, a lot of self-induced wounds, a lot of penalties," he said. "Give Willamette credit. I give their coaching staff a lot of credit. Adam Kennybrew, you can tell he’s going to do a great job over here. They played hard. They had a good scheme. They played a lot of cover two, cover four, and tried to keep everything in front. And we seemed to be moving backward a lot with penalties.”

“That quarterback [Willamette quarterback Kosey Mitchell, #7] is a heck of a player,” Miller said. And Miller admitted the Axemen had to make some adjustments in this game. “They’ve got a couple of players back playing who weren’t in the film from last week. So we might have gotten a false sense that they might be weak in a couple of spots.”

On the bright side, Miller had praise for one of his linemen, Quinton Richardson. “Quinton is a special player,” Miller said. “Last week he had 15 tackles, three sacks, pressure on the pick six. He’s relentless. He’s got a great motor. And he’s a wonderful kid. A great personality. A good senior leader and he leads by example.”

Miller said the victory over Willamette will give his team some momentum, building on last week’s win over Churchill.

But next week the Axemen play Sheldon, who, as Miller noted, “has gone to the state championship three out of the last four years and won two of those years.”

Kickoff is at 7 p.m. at Sheldon.