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Lions, Indians square off Friday

The two teams are in different classifications but the decades-old rivalry is still there
by: John Brewington Sean McNabb
Scappoose Football Coach

The last time the St. Helens and Scappoose football teams played over a decade ago the Cowapa League championship was at stake.

There's no league championship on the line this time, but the rivalry is just as intense and the game counts in the Oregon School Activities Association rankings for post-season play.

Small town high schools near each other are natural rivals, and the St. Helens-Scappoose schools are no exception. Players know each other from one sport or another.

The two schools go into the fray unbeaten, both 2-0 in previous games. Scappoose racked up over 600 yards of offense to beat North Marion 51-12 on Friday. St. Helens gained a league win with a 21-12 victory over Sandy.

Why haven't the schools played for 11 years? The reason is more complex than St. Helens just moving up a classification because of increasing enrollment. Starting in 2000, St. Helens went up to the 4A ranks, leaving Scappoose and the rest of the Cowapa League at 3A. The Lions had to play in the Three Rivers League, something they detested. They didn't have a lot of scheduling room and administrators felt it was a 'lose-lose situation' to play a classification down.

Scappoose coach Sean McNabb has been at the football helm for all this time. He hasn't wavered in wanting to play the Lions. Perhaps, the 7-Mile War T-shirts he then sold as a fundraiser when they did play were one reason. Those shirts are again available. Mainly though, he felt it was 'ridiculous' that such natural rivals couldn't face off every year.

Two years ago, the OSAA reclassified teams again. St. Helens went into a new 5A classification and Scappoose moved up to 4A. Most of the state's big schools now play 5A. There have been some changes in thinking and the two schools were able to figure out a way to meet. Initially, they wanted to play last season, but one St. Helens foe wouldn't switch their game, so the match up had to be held off until this season.

What do the coaches think about this Friday's contest? A year ago, St. Helens was inexperienced across the board, and was a bit shy of a winning season. This year, they are showing some tenacity and toughness. They had a very physical game against Sandy.

Scappoose is displaying speed, quickness, and a superfast no-huddle offense. The Indians ran off 93 plays against North Marion and they'd like to make it 100 a game.

'St. Helens looks (from game films) that they do some things really well,' the Scappoose coach said. 'They're really physical and big up front. Defensively they do some good things. The veer is not something that we see every week. We're bringing back the rivalry and we're excited about it.'

'We've exchanged films,' St. Helens coach John England said. 'They have a lot of weapons and look pretty quick on tape. They spread out the ball and have a playmaker quarterback that runs things pretty well.'

England said the Lions weren't planning anything special for the Indians. 'For us, it's one week at a time. We really felt good about our win against Sandy. Some of our kids know some of their kids from playing them in other sports,' he added.

'They're (the Lions) going to be ready to go. We do what we do. Our philosophy this year for every practice is to get better-to do what we can do to execute our best. We have to get better defensively because they will put us to a test. We'll try to be aggressive, but at the same time be aware of their big play potential.'

'St. Helens has two solid running backs and a quarterback that makes good decisions,' McNabb said. 'We have a lot of stuff to do to get prepared. They force a lot of turnovers and defensively play pretty physical. Their kids fly around. We have to concentrate on ball security and stopping the run. If you look at teams that win, they don't turn the ball over much.'

He added, 'again, we have a lot of stuff to do to get ready. We're excited for the challenge. I'm sure there will be a large crowd. Both our coaches and theirs foresee a good-sized crowd.'

The last time the teams played around 3,500 showed up for the game. Just as many may be on hand this week. Scappoose will open another gate and try to get people through as quickly as possible.