Five players are honored by the league following Gaston's fourth-place finish

Five years ago, a four-win football season would have been a major accomplishment for Gaston. This year, it was a missed opportunity.

But that just goes to show how far the Greyhounds have come under the guidance of fourth-year head coach Reeve Woodward, who inherited a squad that hadn’t won more than three games in a season since 2004 and turned it into a program that views anything less than a state playoff appearance as a disappointment.

“I would have liked to see us win a few more games,” Woodward said. “There were a lot of wouldas, couldas and shouldas this year. But the bottom line is that you’ve got to perform. We just didn’t get the job done. It wasn’t good enough.”

Gaston went 4-5 this season and finished fourth in the Northwest League with a 2-3 mark, missing the postseason for the first time in Woodward’s tenure.

It also happened to be the first time a current player had missed out on the postseason, since a talented group of freshmen — that included four-year starters Austin Morey and Jordan DeLay — arrived at Gaston in 2010 and helped guide the Greyhounds to 23 wins in the next three years, including two league championships and three state playoff appearances.

That success lifted the spirits of a downtrodden football program, but it also lifted the program’s expectations. Four wins was no longer good enough, and it’s only through that prism that the 2013 season can be viewed as a disappointment.

Three of the Greyhounds’ five losses came by a touchdown or less, and Woodward acknowledged that his team was only a few lucky breaks away from winning seven or eight games against one of the toughest schedules in the state.

“We were ... maybe five plays away from being 8-1,” he said. “We felt like we could have beaten or hung in there against any team in the state. There was no one we would have feared.

“The guys we had were good enough to compete for a league title, but the league was really tough this year.”

Top-ranked and undefeated Portland Christian (12-0) ran away with the league title, and the Royals will play on Saturday in the Class 2A state semifinals after eliminating league runner-up Knappa (7-3) in the quarterfinals last week.

Nestucca (6-4) edged Gaston for third place and the league’s final playoff bid. The Bobcats were eliminated in the first round by fourth-ranked Grant Union.

“If the (playoff) bracket didn’t force Portland Christian and Knappa to play each other in the quarterfinals, our league could have had two of the top four teams in the state,” Woodward said. “Nestucca was really good too, they just drew a tough first-round matchup against Grant Union.

“Our league was definitely tougher this year than it has been the last few years.”

The fourth-place finish meant that Gaston got fewer all-league selections than it has in the past, but several players were still honored by the league.

Morey was a first team all-league selection at defensive back and a second team pick as a running back. DeLay was a first teamer as both an offensive and defensive lineman.

Senior Austin Waibel was a second team selection at linebacker, and junior Alex Sweet earned second team status at tight end. Senior David Boulanger rounded out the all-league awards with an honorable mention selection as an offensive lineman.

Morey and DeLay were both four-year starters for Gaston and irreplaceable cogs on both sides of the ball.

“Jordan was the best lineman on two straight league championship teams,” Woodward said. “He anchored the line and made almost all of the calls. He’s going to be really tough to replace, and not just as a player — as a human being too. He’s a great kid.”

Morey took on a bigger offensive role this season, transitioning from a hybrid running back and receiver to more of a running quarterback. The senior rushed for 1,114 yards and nine touchdowns this year, while also passing for 652 yards and 7 TDs. For good measure, he added 114 receiving yards and also had three interceptions as a defensive back.

“Austin has been a great player,” Woodward said. “I asked him to do a lot this year. He’s telling everyone what to do and where to be on every play, and that takes a lot of responsibility.”

Waibel transferred to Gaston as a sophomore and quickly blossomed into an outstanding linebacker.

“He’d never really played football before, and by the time he graduated he was one of the best players on the team,” Woodward said. “He really grew.”

Sweet will be Gaston’s only returning all-league player next year. The junior tight end had 641 receiving yards and five touchdowns, and also rushed for 248 yards.

“He really turned into a football player this year,” Woodward said.

Two other young players who shined this year but did not earn all-league honors were junior receiver Dylan Clark and sophomore fullback Ian Mann. Clark had 408 receiving yards, 371 rushing yards and six total touchdowns, while Mann rushed for 917 yards and nine TDs.

Expectations will be high in Gaston again next year, but Woodward admits it will be tough to replace his eight seniors.

“They’re going to be missed a ton,” he said. “They’re just really good people — they’re fun to coach, they’re fun to be around, they’re from good families.

“Coaching the last few years in Gaston, this has been an incredibly fun place to be. It’s been really rewarding.”

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