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Hawks savor the spotlight

School, community back their team to the hilt during its long playoff run
by: MILES VANCE, IN THE BIG GAME — Southridge gave its all in its first-ever state championship game appearance Saturday, including coach Brad Mastrud (here giving instructions to his crew from the sideline).

EUGENE - In the week leading up to the state championship football game, Marcus Mathews figures he was greeted by at least 100 of his Southridge High School classmates he'd never met before.

Mathews and his Skyhawk teammates enjoyed celebrity status with their photos plastered across the school on posters under the heading 'We Believe.'

Though Saturday's title game was a less than spectacular conclusion to a stellar run through the playoffs, it did nothing to tarnish Southridge's season. Instead, it served as another forum for the school's ability to succeed and the overwhelming support the community has for its athletic programs.

'It was a neat experience all week, getting the attention and people supporting us,' Skyhawk senior running back Kevin Coleman said. 'Our school went nuts. People were coming up and talking to us and wishing us the best. We didn't even know half of them.'

'Obviously, it was huge for our program,' said Southridge coach Brad Mastrud. 'We had a great run. We had a great five weeks of playoffs and it was great for the school and for the community.'

Parents and supporters organized a 'We Believe' campaign that included 10 posters for each of the team's players throughout the school, daily text messages to them, 'We Believe' T-shirts and Friday's pep assembly to insure the team was recognized for its accomplishment.

'This experience has been great,' Mathews said. 'We couldn't ask for anything better.'

Southridge, which had never been to the quarterfinals before this season, won four playoff games to advance to Saturday's championship at Autzen Stadium as the No. 3 seed out of the Metro League. Before this season's run, the Skyhawks had been to the playoffs just once in the school's nine years of existence, losing in the second round last year.

'No one expected us to get this far,' senior lineman David Oppat said. 'We knew we had a chance. We just kept pushing and finally got there.'

After a 5-4 regular season, including 3-2 in league play, Southridge fully recognized its potential when the Skyhawks traveled to Roseburg and beat the Indians 20-14 in overtime.

'That's when it kind of hit us,' Oppat said. 'We came in unranked and beat them. That really pumped us up to practice and play hard and do our best.'

Southridge relished in the underdog role and ran with it. What followed was a 37-0 pasting of Redmond, a 27-25 thriller against Clackamas and a resounding 27-7 win over Lake Oswego to earn the title shot.

'It's been a one of a kind experience,' senior lineman Ian Maarefi said. 'It was the heart of the team and the pride we have that got us here.'

With each win, Southridge's confidence grew, along with the support behind the team.

'Each week they moved on, we had more people jumping on board,' Southridge athletic director Bryan Sorenson said. 'We have a community that, since we opened, always has been a supportive group.'

The school sent a half-full bus down to Roseburg. For Saturday's title game, three buses packed with Skyhawk supporters made the trek to Eugene. Numerous others flooded I-5 then filled the Southridge section at Autzen

'An event that size bringing a community together that way is awesome for any school,' Sorenson said. 'To be down there in Autzen and see the fan support and the numbers that drove down there was pretty exciting.'

None more so than for those that made it all possible - the players that believed in themselves.

'I've been here for Duck games and only dreamed of playing here,' Oppat said. 'Seeing the whole thing was pretty overwhelming.'

- Miles Vance contributed to this story.