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Defense, run game show progress in Lions' second outing of young high school season

PHOTO COURTESY: JEREMY DUECK - Sophomore Ashton Smith of St. Helens makes his second interception of the Hillsboro game, picking off a pass in Lions territory in the fourth quarter.Some progress was made last week in a 28-7 loss to Hillsboro

But the St. Helens Lions (0-2) know more is needed as they take on the next challenge — the Milwaukie Mustangs (1-1), who will visit on Friday for a 7 p.m. game at Doc Ackerson Stadium.

"You can always count on Milwaukie being big and physical," St. Helens coach Cory Young says.

The Mustangs are coming off a 12-7 win over Putnam, after having lost their opener 41-7 to McMinnville.

St. Helens and Milwaukie are 2-2 over the past four seasons. The Mustangs won 42-12 at home last year. St. Helens won 54-7 in 2016.

"They've always played us tough, and they don't give an inch," Young says.

Young says he still remembers the 2014 game at Milwaukie, too. The Mustangs pulled out a 25-21 win in that one.

"Four years ago, we had some kids that got a little overconfident and we went in there and Milwaukie took it to us," he says. "Our kids understood, from that game on, that you never look past anyone, you take every game seriously."

In Milwaukie's Sept. 7 victory at Putnam, senior running back Cameron McPherson threw a touchdown pass, and 6-3 junior quarterback Nick Cooper both caught and threw a TD pass. The Mustangs took the lead with 4:45 remaining. Putnam, which had beaten the Mustangs five games in a row, drove to the Milwaukie 5-yard line before time expired.

Cooper was 8 of 18 in the air for 96 yards, as first-year head coach Colin Schaeffer notched his first 'W' in what he said "definitely felt like a rivalry game. … There were a bunch of things that didn't go our way, and we stuck with it. Our defense really played great all game. … We proved to ourselves that we can win a close game."

Young says the Mustangs tend to play with a chip on their shoulder. And they are benefiting from their success last season, when they made the state playoffs and finished 5-4, going 4-3 in the Oregon School Activities Association Class 5A Northwest Oregon Conference.

"They run the ball well. They'll be in for the battle," Young says.

The Lions showed they could battle, too, as they gave Hillsboro a run last week, despite giving up 13 points on two long touchdowns (49-yard run, 71-yard pass) on the Spartans' first two plays from scrimmage.

St. Helens cut the deficit to 13-7, which was the score going into the second half. But Hillsboro converted a third-and-long on a long scoring drive in the third quarter, and kept the Lions at bay after that.

The Lions showed the ability to move the ball on the ground. Penalties got in the way of them getting more yards, possession time and potential points, though. There were two false starts, two offsides, one illegal motion and one delay of game.

"The penalties killed us," junior running back Jacobi Allen says. "We probably had a chance and could have won that game without the penalties."

Offensive highlights for the Lions included the 20-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Jakob Robbins to junior wideout Hayden Bigham. And the array of running backs who ran hard and into the teeth of the Hillsboro defense.

Defensive highlights for St. Helens included two interceptions by Ashton Smith, one of several sophomores contributing this season. On one Hillsboro first-half drive, he broke up a third-down pass in the end zone and then picked off the fourth-down throw. Later, he came down — on his back again — with another big interception, this one at the St. Helens 11-yard line in the fourth quarter.

"Similar plays," Smith says. "Just stayed back and didn't let them get past me."

What about the pressure of having a big play or touchdown hang in the balance in one-on-one coverage against a receiver, including a bigger receiver (such as 6-5 Hillsboro tight end Nate Smith)?

"I love it," the 5-10 Smith says.

Will teams continue to challenge him on the corner?

"They better not," Smith says.

Overall, though, the Lions "just didn't make enough plays" to stick with Hillsboro.

"Too many miscues on our part," Young says. "We have to be a better football team. Clean that stuff up. The kids know it. We've talked about it.

"There were some good things we did better, defensively and running the ball. We've got to keep building on that.

"We take care of all the little things, and the big things will take care of themselves."

  • Friday night's St. Helens football game at home against Milwaukie is Youth Football Night.

    All youth football players and cheer who wear their jersey or cheer uniform will be admitted free.

    Youth football teams and the cheer squads and their coaches will be recognized on the field at halftime.

    Kickoff is 7 p.m.

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