Oregon City has a veteran offensive line and a veteran running back

by: JOHN DENNY - Oregon City team captains (from left) Austin Phanouvong, Mitchell Thompson and Michael McCoy believe the Pioneers will hold their own in the Three Rivers League this fall.The Oregon City Pioneers hope to rally around an experienced line and a veteran running back to continue the success they started last year, when they had their first winning season since 2002 and advanced to the state quarterfinals for the first time since 1996.

“This team’s a lot different, since we lost so many starters,” said Oregon City senior Austin Phanouvong. “But we still have the same heart. We still have the same drive. The sophomores from last year are really stepping up.”

“Our strength is definitely the offensive line,” said senior co-captain Mitchell Thompson. “Most of the starters [in the offensive line] are back, and we can get off the ball. We should be able to put up some big numbers this year, and hopefully give the defense a break.”

“I think we’ll put up a fight with anybody in the [Three Rivers League],” said co-captain Michael McCoy.

“The key will be everyone flying around and doing their job,” said Thompson. “Focusing on getting better every week.”

“Leaving everything on the field,” said McCoy.

The Pioneers have had plenty of offense in their first two games of the 2012 season, a 63-20 loss to 2011 Washington state finalist Camas, and a 30-14 win at Crater.

The Pioneers generated 376 yards in offense in last Friday’s win over Crater, and 454 yards in offense in the loss to Camas.

Thompson rushed for 223 yards and two touchdowns in the win at Crater; the 5-8, 170-pound senior picked up 140 yards and scored two of the Pioneers’ three touchdowns in the loss to Camas.

Thompson was the TRL’s seventh leading scorer last year, despite missing four games because of injury.

Jacob Tipton, a 6-1, 180-pound junior quarterback, has been impressive in the Pioneers’ early-season games. Tipton, who was Oregon City’s jayvee quarterback a year ago, completed 18-of-37 passes for 281 yards and a touchdown in the loss to Camas. He completed 12-of-24 passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns in the win at Crater.

Returning wide receiver Justin Cornejo and the line have helped make Tipton successful. Cornejo had three catches for 110 yards and a touchdown in the Camas game; the 5-8, 155-pound senior had four catches for 70 yards at Crater.

Returning offensive starters vying for Oregon City in the Pioneers’ season-opener included offensive linemen Austin Phanouvong (5-11, 230, senior), Jacob Hagler (6-1, 280, senior), Trevor Wolf (5-10, 205, senior, center) and Joshua Miller (6-3, 270, junior); Thompson at running back, and Cornejo at wide receiver.

Senior letterman Mason Kloer (6-1, 245) rounds out the offensive line.

The Pioneers appear to have a lot of talent at wide receiver. Nine different players caught passes in the Camas game. Matthew Oades (6-1, 185, junior), Nick Martin (5-6, 140, junior) and Hunter Knighton (6-2, 180) started at wide receiver, along with Cornejo.

Thompson last year made second-team all-league at running back; Hagler and McCoy were honorable mention all-league linemen.

McCoy (6-0, 215, line) is the only full-time starter returning on defense.

The Pioneer pass defense appeared suspect in the Camas game, when the Paper Maker quarterback completed 22-of-32 passes for 413 yards and four touchdowns. Crater quarterbacks completed 20-of-40 passes for 247 yards.

The Pioneers have been without three or four starters in their first four games, because of eligibility issues or injury. All but one of the missing players are expected back for this Friday’s home game with David Douglas (1-1).

Comparing this year’s varsity with last year’s, Oregon City coach Kevin Strasser said, “Last year’s team was senior-laden and they had more experience at the varsity level. Last year’s team was a little faster. This team has a little better offensive line. They’re a little bigger and they’re experienced....”

Strasser says he sees Lake Oswego and Canby, in that order, as the TRL’s top two teams on paper.

“Then, it’s anybody after that,” he said.

The Pioneers begin league play a week from Friday, when they take on Lakeridge on the road. The Pacers are off to a 1-1 start, losing to West Albany 49-34 last Friday, after beating Eastlake, Wash. 42-27 in their opener.

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