By René Ferrán| Photos by Taylor Balkom
The Oregon high school football season kicked off last week!
Here are five things we learned during the opening weekend of action.
1. Defenses held historic edge in 2021 season openers
Defenses typically are ahead of offenses early in a high school football season. After the first week of the 2021 spring season, however, defenses are historically ahead of the game.
Teams statewide posted 32 shutouts in Week 1, more than twice as many as last season (14 on Sept. 5-6, 2019) and 68 percent more than in 2018.
Southridge coach Kevin Bickler, whose team posted its first shutout since 2011 with a 35-0 victory at Forest Grove, is one of many coaches not surprised by how dominant defenses were during the opening weekend.
“Not when you consider that some teams were able to practice more than others during the offseason,” Bickler said. “And, most of us didn’t have film on our opponents. So, in terms of our level of preparedness, not only on the field but with film study, that made it difficult going into that first game.”
Even having institutional knowledge of an opponent didn’t mean much, as Newberg coach Kevin Hastin found out as his team won a defensive slugfest with Pacific Conference rival Sherwood, 14-9.
“We were not expecting some of the fronts they ran at us,” Hastin said. “A lot of it was mental. They did things they hadn’t shown us last season.”
Another factor exacerbated by the short lead-in to the six-week season is that offenses didn’t get as many repetitions against live competition. Last weekend marked the third week of what normally would be four weeks of preparation before a season opener — and those four weeks coming after three weeks of spring practice and summer camps.
Instead of participating in a jamboree, which is what most teams play after three weeks of practice, they were thrown into the fire right away.
“It doesn’t matter what scheme you run on offense,” said Grant coach John Beck, whose team beat 2019 semifinalist Barlow 26-0 on Saturday. “Even if you’ve been in that system for years, it’s all about game reps. Defense is instinctual.”
Hastin added, “A lot of offense is about timing, knowing who to block, where to throw or run. On defense, you can play fast, stick to your fundamentals, read your key and fly to the ball.”
All three coaches also agree that soon enough, offenses will catch up.
“There’s a lot of evaluation that gets done after they get that game film,” Hastin said. “A lot of teams adjust after they get that film. We’ll see a lot of that impact in Week 2.”
Beck concurred with that assessment.
“Teams that didn’t click on offense that first week, they’ll start scoring way more points soon,” he said. “Defenses will wreak havoc for a week or two, but it’s going to even out. In a couple more weeks, teams like West Linn, you’ll see them clicking, and in the next two or three weeks, they’ll be putting up 40-50 points.”
Jefferson safety Trejon Williams
2. Southridge might have found a winning formula
For one night, at least, offseason changes Bickler made regarding philosophy paid big dividends in the Skyhawks’ season-opening victory.
In his first three seasons at Southridge, Bickler played most of his best players both ways, wanting to have an explosive offense that exploited its athleticism to outscore opponents. What he found, though, is that all that did was wear out his players, leading to fourth-quarter collapses.
This year, he decided he’d put most of his eggs in the defensive basket and use his best athletes on that side of the ball, only occasionally having them take snaps on offense.
“That would give more kids an opportunity on offense, and we could play physical, hard-nosed defense with our best athletes,” said Bickler, whose program has not had a winning season since 2013.
Two of those athletes are twins Kyle and Kaleb Moxley, who starred two seasons ago as sophomores at Aloha before transferring in the summer of 2019. Kyle, though, blew out his knee in a non-contact drill during two-a-days that summer, ending his season before it started.
Friday against Forest Grove, he dominated in his return, making 11 tackles, a sack and four hurries. Kaleb had seven tackles and received six carries as a backup tailback, running for two touchdowns.
“Having two linebackers who can cover with speed makes a huge difference in our productivity,” Bickler said.
Also making a difference is having defensive coordinator Kaleb Mitchell return for a second season — the first time during Bickler’s tenure he’s had the same defensive coordinator for consecutive seasons.