Strong defense is overshadowed by four missed red-zone chances

by: JOHN BREWINGTON - Brennan Norton (20) runs the ball against Wilsonville on Friday, Sept. 6. Norton scored a touchdown in the third quarter for St. Helens, who fell 21-12 to even their record at 1-1. Anyone who might have dismissed the Lions’ 5OT victory at Cleveland because of the level of competition had better think twice. This time it wasn’t a team who hadn’t seen the playoffs in recent memory. It was Wilsonville, a powerhouse in Class 5A.

All of that may make it sound as though St. Helens knocked off the visitors on Friday, and they nearly did. The game was close and in hand until late in the fourth quarter, when a desperate attempt to force the ball down the field ended in an interception as the game’s final seconds ticked away. St. Helens (1-1) fell to Wilsonville (2-0), but only in the waning moments, eventually conceding 21-12 to open up their home schedule.

A lackluster showing on the scoreboard can’t easily represent the team that showed up to “Doc” Anderson Stadium on Friday evening and fought to make a statement. The Lions clamped down on defense in the second half, smothering Wilsonville’s offense and bottling up dangerous running back Derek Sunkle. St. Helens allowed just one first down in the second half of the game, and the only score was on the interception in the final minute.

The small margin for error in both games for the Lions this season brings to light the important concept that one mistake or one big play can be the difference between a win and a loss.

“It really makes the whole team think about ‘just change one play,’” said senior Corey West, “and that’s the whole game right there. Just change one play, and we win.”

by: JOHN BREWINGTON - Senior defensive lineman Jacob Zartman (56 in black) jumps to tackle Wilsonville's Derek Sunkle (15). Sunkle had 189 yards rushing and one touchdown.The numbers point to St. Helens’ defense showing up in the second half, but in reality, they’d been there all along. Thanks to a dominant defensive line, the Lions were able to wreak havoc on the Wildcat’s offense.

“The bottom line is, we have a front four that can control the line of scrimmage and they did a fantastic job this week of being coachable and playing physically,” said head coach Jared Phillips. “They kinda beat up their offensive line, and when you can do that, you free up linebackers to make some plays.”

The combination of the strong front line and the aggressiveness of the linebackers made life difficult for the visitors. The Lions out gained Wilsonville by 72 total yards, and had 11 first downs to Wilsonville’s seven. In the passing game, St. Helens was vastly more successful. Six receivers caught 16 passes for 129 yards compared to just five receptions by the Wildcats.

Passing accuracy was a question mark going in to Friday’s game. Bumgardner, who converted from receiver at the beginning of last season, struggled at times in his junior season to connect with the pass. This season, along with a considerable threat on the ground, Bumgardner has elevated his passing game. He completed more than half of his passes on Friday, and was the team’s second leading rusher with 50 yards on 11 carries.

“We’re just continuing to work on timing and fundamentals with him, which has made him more accurate, but it’s still a work in progress and we’re still working with him,” Phillips said. “He’s a very smart kid. He works hard. He’s one of the hardest workers on the team, and it’s been a pleasure for me to coach him, because he’s a great kid.”

All in all, there is a lot to take away from this game for St. Helens. Defensively, they were able to slow one of the state’s better rushing threats and hold Wilsonville to just two offensive touchdowns. They also showed an ability to move the ball down field, but struggled in the red zone to score.

Phillips was happy, though, with his team’s performance. Unlike the game with Cleveland where the Lions had 19 penalties for 185 yards, St. Helens was whistled for just four penalties on Friday. Phillips said fundamentals were a major point of emphasis all week at practice, and the hard work paid off.

The biggest highlight, though, was the performance from the defense.

“It’s outstanding,” said Phillips.

St. Helens got off to a fast start, scoring on their first drive when quarterback Gage Bumgardner connected with Chris Gray for the touchdown. Wilsonville answered with a pair of scores, one from Calvin Clarkson and another from Derek Sunkle, to take a lead into halftime.

The second half changed in a big way for St. Helens. The defense clamped down, holding Wilsonville hostage in the third quarter and forcing punts or turnovers on each Wildcat possession. The Lions then mounted a comeback, running in a score by Brennan Norton from 11 yards out to pull St. Helens to within two at 14-12.

The defense continued to hold in the fourth quarter. Wilsonville managed just one first down, and with less than a minute remaining, was forced to punt the ball away. That, however, was as far as the rally would stretch. Crooks nabbed Bumgardner's pass out of the air and ran 40 yards for the touchdown, leaving just 12 seconds left in the game.

The Lions' biggest downfall was the second half conversion rate in the red zone. St. Helens drove the ball inside the 25 yard line four times only to come up empty handed.

WILSONVILLE – 0-14-0-7 – 21

ST. HELENS – 6-0-6-0 – 12


1st Quarter

SH – Chris Gray 5 pass from Gage Bumgardner (pass fail)

2nd Quarter

W – Colin Etcheberry 2 run (Harry England kick)

W – Derek Sunkle 55 run (England kick)

3rd Quarter

SH – Brennan Norton 11 run (pass fail)

4th Quarter

W – Tanner Crooks 40 interception return (England kick)

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