Banks holds off a fiesty Tillamook squad to lock up a regular-season league title

Winless Tillamook gave Banks fits last Friday night in both teams’ regular-season finale, and not just on the football field.

The fiesty Cheesemakers hung around for the better part of three quarters before Banks finally pulled away for a 49-26 victory, but even with the win, Tillamook’s 0-9 record was enough to drag down Banks’ strength of schedule and sink the Braves from No. 2 to No. 5 in the Class 4A power rankings.

That may seem insignificant, but those rankings will be used next week to seed the 16-team state playoff bracket, and every rung on the ladder means an easier — or harder — first-round opponent.

“You schedule the preseason thinking you’ve got some really tough opponents, and then if it doesn’t work out that way it comes back to bite you,” Banks coach Ben Buchanan said. “It’s not about your wins, it’s about your opponents and how they do.

“We were No. 2 or No. 1 for most of the season, then we play one game and win, and we drop to No. 5. Scappoose, a team that we beat and that has two losses, they’re ahead of us. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s kind of a head-scratcher.”

Friday’s win over Tillamook ran Banks’ record to 9-0 this season and capped a perfect 5-0 mark in Cowapa League play, earning the Braves a bye this week and a first-round home game when the state playoffs begin Nov. 8-9. They won’t know their opponent until after this Friday’s play-in games, but Buchanan told his players to forget about all of the power rankings and potential playoff matchups.

“I told the kids don’t even try to figure it out,” Buchanan said. “There are just too many scenarios. This week we just need to focus on us.”

Regardless of their ranking, the Braves will enter the playoffs on an undeniable hot streak. Banks has not trailed in a game yet this season, and the Braves’ smothering defense has allowed the fewest points in the state at 9.1 per game.

“In years past, it seemed like we came out and scored a lot on our first drive. This year, we haven’t always come out sharp offensively on our first possession, and our defense has blanked some people and kept us in games,” Buchanan said. “We haven’t put up staggering offensive numbers this year, but our defense has been great.”

The up-and-down nature of the Braves’ performance reminds Buchanan a little bit of the 2008 team, which made a memorable run to the Class 4A state championship game.

“In 2008 we had some games offensively where we destroyed teams, and then we had some games where we just couldn’t quite get the offense going and the defense carried us,” Buchanan recalled. “It’s a similar thing this year. I think once we get into the playoffs, the defense will be tough and I think the offense has yet to play its best game, which could be a good thing for us.”

A good thing for Banks, but a bad thing for potential playoff opponents.

Playing at something less than peak form, the Braves still put up big numbers last Friday against Tillamook, starting with quarterback Garrett Markham, who contributed 344 yards of total offense and four touchdowns — three rushing and one passing.

For the season, Markham is completing 70 percent of his passes (119-for-170) for 1,661 yards and 11 touchdowns, and he has thrown just two interceptions all year. The senior is also the Braves’ leading rusher with 643 yards and 13 TDs on the season.

“Garrett has been throwing the ball well and running the ball well,” Buchanan said. “He’s had a great season, but he needs a bye week. He kind of tweaked his ankle (against Tillamook), and (Jerod) Barger has a lingering high ankle sprain, so I think a week of rest will be good for us.”

When healthy, Barger has rushed for 359 yards and eight touchdowns while averaging 6.2 yards per carry. Fellow senior Mykah Rosa has 372 yards and four TDs on the season.

Banks’ top receiving threats are all seniors as well — Nolan Hill has 31 catches for 534 yards and seven touchdowns, Joey Bonin has 36 receptions for 468 yards and a TD, Andrew Santa Maria has 22 catches for 313 yards, and Devin King has 18 grabs for 179 yards and two scores.

Defensively, the Braves’ senior-laden unit is actually led by a junior — defensive lineman Dylan Bigsby, who is tops on the team with 127 tackles, including seven sacks and 26 tackles for loss. Senior Enrique Smith has 5.5 sacks and 17 TFLs, and Hayden Johnson has 4.5 sacks and 19 TFLs. Banks’ opportunistic defense has also created 21 takeaways this season, with 12 interceptions and seven fumble recoveries.

The Braves will learn their first-round playoff opponent this weekend when the brackets are released, and then they will begin the task of preparing for a deep postseason run.

“We didn’t think we’d be sitting in this position,” Buchanan said of his preseason expectations. “Our schedule was tough and we were a little inexperienced on the offensive line. I just didn’t think we’d get through the preseason unscathed, but here we are.

“I think we’re totally capable of making a playoff run. Things are pretty wide open this year.”

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