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Defense carries Scappoose to semifinal game with Gladstone: Game preview

Gladstone has improved their game, but the Gladiators are a little thinner than the last time the two teams met

Photo Credit: JOHN WILLIAM HOWARD - Gladstone's star running back Handsome Smith (15) breaks free of the Indian defense during the match up in week three. Gladiator head coach Jon Jedrykowski described Smith as being 'just one of the guys,' and a player who puts the team far above his own statistical success.There have only been a handful of instances where the Indians — and especially head coach Sean McNabb — haven’t pointed in the direction of their week three loss to Gladstone as a major point in the season’s landscape.

Scappoose out gained Gladstone, held the Gladiators near their season-low in points and came within a few points of beating the No. 1 team in the state but lost amid a pile of missed opportunities and mistakes late in the game.

Then, they pushed the restart button. A close, heart-wrenching loss to the highest ranked team in the 4A division was their new lowest of low, serving as a motivator. Before, they took teams lightly. They came in unprepared and unfocused, and took a few minutes to click before superior talent and athleticism carried them to victory.

Suddenly, a new found ferocity about the defense reared its head. The Indians locked down, only allowing an excess of one touchdown on a single occasion in a 48-14 blowout of Banks.

Defenses this good generally pick up nicknames. Orange Crush? Taken. Sack-poose? Cheesy.

Besides, the Tribe defense tends to be a little more like a swarm of bees, constantly in the face of their opponent for victory by strength in numbers. And in fact, that’s been one of several secrets to defensive coordinator Joe Nowlin’s success. Scappoose uses just three down lineman, allowing them to add an extra safety into the mix. Instead of a 4-3 front, they stack three linebackers behind the three lineman and allow the strong safety and the ‘nickel back’ to cheat, with the free safety and a pair of corners to cover the secondary.

That’s why Scappoose has assisted on over 600 of their nearly 800 tackles this season. It’s why they’ve come up with 21 interceptions and have had the ball so often, they’ve almost cracked the 5,000 yard barrier. Solo tackles are rare because of the number of athletes they have on the field. It’s great to have big bodies up front, but it doesn’t matter when there are four Indians dragging an opponent down in the backfield.

Their seemingly hive-like mind contributes to the inevitable swarm-themed moniker, as it’s a common occurrence for several different players to give the exact same answer to questions. David Krupsky, who came up with a critical interception to help seal the game against Cascade last week, is a regular offender. The pick, putting the “icing on the cake right there” in Krupsky’s words, was his third of the season and came as a result of relentless pressure on the Cascade offensive line, mixed with a deep trust of the experienced secondary.

In short: unity is key.

And McNabb, unsurprisingly, agrees.

“It all goes back to the fact that we were freaking just studs on defense,” he said. “I think that that’s where we really set the tone.”

‘The tone,’ though, is about to jump up a notch or two. With Gladstone once again on the horizon, Scappoose will have their hands full with one of the state’s best offensive talents in running back Handsome Smith. They’ll have the task of slowing an offense that torched Corbett for 76 and pummeled Molalla for 70 earlier this season.

But according to Gladstone head coach Jon Jedrykowski the top-ranked ‘Glads may not be at full strength. Jedrykowski said the team was substantially better at the end of their first season running the misdirection-laced Wing-T offense than they were at the beginning. They’d begun in June with film, and now know it well enough they are able to simply out-pace most opposing defenses.

With such lightning speed, their superior depth allows them to shuffle players in and out — or at least, it did.

“We were deep,” Jedrykowski said, lamenting the loss of their fullback and a host of others. The holes in their lineup haven’t impacted the execution, he said, but have brought down their level of explosiveness on offense. What might have been a home-run play early in the season has become a three or four yard gain, turning blowouts into grind-outs, such as last week’s 28-21 overtime win over heavy underdog Junction City in the quarterfinals. A week before, Gladstone trailed Sisters before coming back and toppling the Outlaws 21-10.

And so, instead of drooling at the prospect of their first visit to the state championships in 36 seasons, Gladstone has begun to fret over exactly what to do with Joey Krupsky, widely known as one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the state of Oregon.

“I don’t know if you can stop him,” Jedrykowski said, “but you can try to contain him … He’s a good passer, but he’s just as likely to hurt you with his feet.”

Jedrykowsky said Gladstone’s best chance was to play a near-perfect game — limit the mistakes and penalties, win the turnover battle and other basic things. McNabb is likely to make a similar speech before taking the field at Hillsboro Stadium on Saturday morning.

As Jedrykowsky so neatly put it, you’ve got to be disciplined here. You can’t afford mental mistakes when the margin for error is so razor thin.

Spectator Information:

Online ticketing has closed, but tickets will be available on site at Hillsboro Stadium beginning at 10 a.m. Tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for students, and can be paid for in cash or with a VISA/MasterCard. Parking is $4 per vehicle.

OSAA 4A Semifinal

Scappoose vs. Gladstone

Saturday, Nov. 22, 11 a.m.

Hillsboro Stadium

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