PrepFocus: Portland Christian's undefeated, and it feels so good
Behold, Portland Christian is doing a new thing.
The Royals' football team is winning one game after another, and looking like a strong contender for the Class 2A state title.
The Royals are 7-0 and ranked No. 1.
'I think the highest ranking we've ever had before was maybe eighth or ninth,' 14th-year head coach Andrew Jannsen says. 'The student body and alumni are very excited.'
Winning isn't everything or the only thing at the school on Northeast 124th Avenue and San Rafael Street.
'We know the Lord expects us to be an example in terms of fair play and classiness and we give our best effort toward accomplishing a purpose,' Jannsen says. 'Obviously, in football you keep score, so the point of the game is to try to win, and we're judged by the quality of the effort we put forth.
'We're never going to be perfect - and in some games we've been better than in others - but we're going to keep trying.'
With aggressive defenders and talented skill players on offense, the Royals are making believers. They won their first six games over Class 3A teams, then opened Northwest League play Friday with a 38-21 victory over rival Corbett.
'We haven't finished in the top half of our league the last three years, but a lot of our guys have been maturing; the seeds were being sown,' Jannsen says.
The defense has scored eight touchdowns while giving up only nine, three of them in the second half to Corbett.
The offense has three capable quarterbacks - Shawn Evans transferred from Clackamas and is starting, which puts both Jesse Severson (all-league last year at QB) and Charlie Antal (who also played some QB last season) full-time at wide receiver.
Evans, a 6-3, 210-pound senior who is being looked at by some NCAA Division I programs, can run and pass, and his main target is the elusive Antal. A 6-0, 165-pound senior, Antal beat the Corbett secondary for touchdown receptions of 51 and 42 yards, despite frequent double- and triple-coverage.
'There's nobody better at making clutch plays than Charlie,' Evans says.
Maturing player on track
Antal missed the first few games with a bruised hamstring; he got accidentally leg-whipped while watching the scout team offense run a play. Since his return, the Royals' offense has basically doubled its production.
'He's extremely explosive,' Jannsen says. 'He takes four steps and he's 10 yards down the field. Most guys take four steps and they're six yards down the field. In track, he's always in the lead after the first 20 meters of the 100. So in football he can separate from a defender or take away a defender's cushion.
'He was sixth in state in the long jump and went to state in the high jump last year, and with that jumping ability he's awful good at going up for balls. He also has great vision in the return game; he sees cutback lanes and seams.'
Antal also plays baseball. At least he did last season until he slid into home and got hit in the face, breaking an eye socket and needing surgery that kept him out of action all summer.
Severson, meanwhile, 'is like my brain on the field,' Jannsen says. 'He gives me the information I need to make play calls.'
With, in effect, three quarterbacks on the field almost every snap, the Royals have a few trick plays up their sleeves.
'We practice them weekly, but I'm probably not going to use them until I feel it's the appropriate time that we need a big play,' Jannsen says.
Evans and Antal also play in the defensive backfield, as do running back Kevin Johnson and receiver Troy Hernandez.
The heart and soul of the defense is middle linebacker Alex Lemieux, a 5-10, 195-pound senior who usually gets in double figures for tackles in a game.
The defensive line is improved this year, partly due to the addition of Greg Thompson and Ben McElmurry, two juniors who didn't play football last year, and largely because of senior end Jon Nuttelman.
'Jon was average at best a year ago, but this year I haven't seen a better defensive lineman,' Jannsen says. 'Nutty' has college potential, with a 6-2 frame that in the future easily could handle 25 to 30 pounds above its current load of 195.
And the Royals have another weapon in kicker Matt Larson, a junior with good range.
Coach knows his turf
Jannsen, 38, has been on the PC football staff for 20 years. He graduated from the school in 1986 and lives a half-mile from campus, in the house where he grew up. 'I bought it from my dad,' he says.
He also is the Royals' head coach in boys and girls track. The boys have won eight straight league titles and 64 consecutive league dual meets, believed to be the longest streak in any sport in Northwest League history.
When he played football for Portland Christian, Jannsen at one time or another lined up at every position other than offensive guard and tackle and defensive tackle, even doing the long snaps on punts. 'That probably serves me well as a coach,' he says.
As a coach, he admits that his football teams have lost more than they have won over the years. Portland Christian's only league title during his tenure came in 1999.
In the state's new six-classification system, the Royals (227 students at last report) are in good shape to compete in 2A (for schools with enrollment of 116 to 235).
Jannsen has been around long enough to know that the other teams ranked in the 2A top 10, such as Bonanza, Cascade Christian (Jacksonville), Monroe, Heppner, Blanchet (Salem), Culver and Northwest League foe Nestucca, are good almost year-in and year-out and rate as state championship threats, too.
'Heppner has probably been the premier program among current 2A schools through the years,' Jannsen says.
Portland Christian plays host to Nestucca on Oct. 27 in a game that probably will decide the Northwest League champion. Three teams from the league advance to the state playoffs.
'There's nothing like football to get a school excited,' Jannsen says, 'and there's definitely a buzz going on around here right now.'