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Pioneers put up first four scores in win over St. Helens

The visiting Lions dont get past the 44-yard line in the first half


by: SANDY POST: PARKER LEE - Sandy running back Andrew Funk pulls along a St. Helens tackler for a few extra yards during Fridays 31-18 home win.As the Sandy Pioneers stormed out of their home locker room to meet St. Helens on Friday, fireworks blasted above the stadium in honor of Homecoming. Those bursting balls of bright fire and ear-piercing noise paled in comparison to the fireworks that followed on the field.

Sandy exploded out of the gate and overwhelmed the Lions in the first half on its way to a 31-18 victory in front of the standing-room-only crowd. The Pioneers sprinted to a 28-0 first-half lead and never looked back.

“We talked about taking advantage of opportunities against a team like that,” Sandy coach Joe Polamalu said. “It really helps when you get a good lead early on, and we needed it.”

If the pre-game atmosphere didn’t entirely amp up the Pioneers, running back C.J. McKinnis did. McKinnis took a handoff along the right sideline for 38 yards on Sandy’s first play of scrimmage. Sandy had to punt on the drive, but the tone had been set.

Sandy forced the Lions to punt and took over in St. Helens territory. Quarterback Spencer Barnett got involved in the ground game without delay and broke off a 29-yard run to move the ball down to the 17-yard line. After grinding out six more yards on the next play, Barnett kept the ball one more time and weaved through the defense and dove into the end zone for the score.

St. Helens responded with a couple first downs, but turned it over on downs as soon as it crossed midfield. Sandy stuck with the running attack and marched down the field with little resistance. Barnett capped the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run with 55 seconds left in the first quarter.

The Lions did themselves no favors in the second quarter. About two minutes into the period, St. Helens intercepted a Sandy pass, but fumbled possession away on the next play. From the St. Helens 21-yard line, McKinnis carved out a 17-yard run to start the drive. A few plays later, he bounced through the middle for the touchdown from seven yards out with 8:57 left.

Sandy continued the beating six minutes later. Again at the Lions’ 21-yard line, the Pioneers ran an option to the right and Barnett tucked it in for the keeper. Two St. Helens defenders sandwiched him, but as he was falling to the turf, he impossibly pitched it to McKinnis who scampered into the end zone to blow the game open before halftime.

Sandy wasn’t quite as sharp following the halftime festivities. The Pioneers had a few defensive breakdowns and committed a couple ill-advised turnovers, but with a four-touchdown lead, it didn’t matter. St. Helens came up with one touchdown in the third quarter and two more in the fourth, but never got closer than 13 points.

“It was good to get out of that one,” Polamalu said. “I think they are a good group. They had some players.”

Barnett and McKinnis combined to score all four touchdowns and recorded five plays of at least 17 yards. McKinnis finished with 156 yards on just eight touches, for an average of 19.5 yards per carry. Andrew Funk tallied 95 yards on 14 carries and Barnett ran for 53 yards on 13 keepers. As a team, Sandy racked up 297 yards rushing.

Lost in the flashy running game was Sandy’s defensive performance in the first half. The Pioneers held St. Helens to about 50 yards of total offense and didn’t allow the Lions to advance beyond the Sandy 44-yard line in the first 24 minutes.

“I can’t help but be really proud of how hard are players are working and how well they handled the situations they were put in,” Polamalu said.

The Pioneers moved to 5-1 this season, and 3-1 in Northwest Oregon Conference play. They are in a three-way tie for second place in the NWOC and are now ranked No. 12 in the state. Sandy makes the trek to Liberty on Friday for what will be its final road game of the regular season.