A win gives Sandy an outside chance at an automatic spot in the 5A football bracket

Sandy took its turn getting battered and bruised by Sherwood last week, now the Pioneers can get back to business. They have to forget the loss to Sherwood, because this week’s regular season finale against Wilsonville shapes up to be the most pivotal game of the year.

“We’ve put Sherwood in our rearview mirror and we are focused on getting back to work, because we have another very good team coming,” Sandy Joe Polamalu said.

Sandy and Wilsonville are part of a three-way tie, along with Parkrose, for second place in the Northwest Oregon Conference. Parkrose faces a formidable Liberty team in its finale, and if it loses, the Sandy-Wilsonville winner will claim second place outright.

More importantly, class 5A rankings are on the line. The Pioneers enter the week ranked 12th, one spot behind Wilsonville. Teams finishing with a ranking of eighth or better in the final rankings receive an automatic spot into the 5A playoffs. If the Pioneers can knock off Wilsonville, it might be enough to bump them up into that eighth spot, but only if a few teams ahead of them in the RPI lose their finales (see box).

They will be forced to win a play-in game to qualify for the playoffs if they can’t crack the top-8.

It is no coincidence that Sandy and Wilsonville are next to one another in the rankings and NWOC standings, considering what they have each done. Offensively, Sandy has scored an average of 27 points per game this season, and the Wildcats have scored 27.6. Sandy leans heavily on the running game with running backs C.J. McKinnis and Andrew Funk being counted on to make the offense go, and Wilsonville is no different. It too relies on a talented tailback, Derek Sunkle, to propel the offense. Sunkle has rushed for more than 1000 yards this season and averages about eight yards per carry. He has also been the Wildcats’ best pass-catcher.

Powerful ground attacks are the name of the game for each squad offensively, but both Sandy and Wilsonville are very defensive-minded and have play-makers on that side of the ball. The Pioneers are allowing 22 points per game while Wilsonville is surrendering 19 points per outing.

Amidst the many similarities, there is one difference that gives Sandy a slight edge – the Pioneers play well whether they are at home or away, but Wilsonville struggles on the road. The Wildcats are a perfect 4-0 at home, but they are just 1-3 away from home. It bodes well for the Pioneers that Friday’s showdown is at Sandy.

If the Pioneers can scratch out a win on Friday, it would be their first over Wilsonville since both teams joined the NWOC. Sandy lost the previous three meetings 52-20 (2012), 49-14 (2011) and 40-30 (2010). Despite its lack of success in the past, this year’s Sandy team has a much different outlook, and a whole lot more to play for.

“We have to prepare and take care of our business here,” Polamalu said. “No matter who we play, we have to be sound in what we do. Just in watching the way our guys are carrying themselves, they look like a group that will be ready to go.”

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