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Replacing the rushing yards of Brennan Norton will be key.

by: FILE PHOTO - Gage Bumgardner runs the ball during last year's match up with Sandy. Bumgardner will likely shoulder more of the rushing attempts with Brennan Norton out for the season.Though the Lions picked up an important, confidence boosting victory last week over visiting Hood River Valley, St. Helens (2-3, 0-3 NWOC) are still in search of their first league win in 2013. They’ll look for that in a visit to Sandy (4-1, 2-1 NWOC), who are fresh off a victory over Milwaukie to end a two game road trip.

Coming in ranked 10th in the state in Class 5A, the Pioneers’ only loss came a week prior to their win over Milwaukie in a 43-24 drubbing at the hands of No. 2 Parkrose. That loss aside, they have given up only a handful of touchdowns all season and got their first shutout since 2008 in their game at Milwaukie.

The game against the Mustangs, though, points out some glaring holes in Sandy’s record. They won the game 20-0, but Milwaukie at 0-5 is one of the bottom teams in Class 5A and has given up the third most points of any team above Class 1A with 217. Sandy made a number of mistakes, including a fumble deep in Milwaukie territory, a missed field goal and a punt after reaching second and goal from the Milwaukie 2-yard line.

   In addition, the Pioneers were gifted scoring chances – a failed onside kick, and Mustang fumbles on their own 20 and 2-yard lines – and still only managed three touchdowns. The scores the Pioneers did garner were the result of a huge game from quarterback Spencer Barnett, who rushed for 144 yards on 17 carries and all three touchdowns.

Barnett, a constant threat on the ground, also has been dangerous through the air. Against Rex Putnam, he threw for 132 yards and one score, the touchdown being a 25 yard strike.

While Sandy has other athletes up and down their roster, Barnett is key. He and running back C. J. McKinnis have the vast majority of the points for the Pioneers this season, and the Lions have the tools to stop them.

The defensive line, featuring the faces of seniors Jacob Zartman and Corey West, have steadily improved with each game, and are slowly turning into a more dominant force in games. In addition to pushing around opposing offenses, the Lions also get on their foes and force mistakes. Zartman, when he doesn’t demand double or triple teams, is continually in the backfield, and West has jumped on fumbles in several games this season. If Sandy makes anywhere near as many mistakes as they did against Milwaukie, they’ll have a hard time keeping up with St. Helens.

What the Lions need to do

If Barnett is key to the Sandy offense, then stopping him is key to beating the Pioneers. They do have other options, but everything comes down to their quarterback. The danger he presents is even more threatening because he knows how to control his body in ways that few athletes understand. Barnett finished third as a wrestler in the 152 pound division of Class 5A. Though he’s not a particularly big quarterback, his speed and agility will make wrapping him up a challenge once he takes off on the run. Keeping him in the backfield and forcing him to either hand the ball off or take shots down field creates chances for the rest of the Lion defense to make plays, especially Gage Bumgadner, whose nose for the ball has come up with a pair of interceptions so far this season.

Offensively, the Lions will miss Brennan Norton, who fractured his fibula in the win over Hood River Valley. Bumgardner and senior Tanner Long will take some of that load, but the Lions will need to have an understudy step up at running back. Senior Chris Gray is the most likely candidate to pick up more carries. He has rushed nine times for 28 yards and one touchdown, but at 5-6, 140 pounds he stands more than seven inches and thirty pounds lighter than the player he would replace. 5-9, 160 pound senior Ryan Jensen is another option, and hopefully by the end of the game at Sandy, the Lions will have a suitable stand in.

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