Skip to main content

Oregon high school football at midseason: what surprised us, what was confirmed, what we’re awaiting

We look back at the first month of the season and highlight the surprises and affirmations.

By René Ferrán | Photos by Leon Neuschwander 

With every 6A, 5A and 4A league except one either having started league play or entering league play this week, we wanted to look back at the first month of the season and highlight the surprises and affirmations, as well as take a look at upcoming events in each conference. 

CLASS 6A

Portland Interscholastic League

What surprised us

Franklin’s 3-0 start, for one. However, we’ll look across the Ross Island Bridge to Wells, where the Guardians matched their win total from last fall with a 44-0 victory over McDaniel on Friday. A week earlier, they pushed Grant to the limit before falling 20-16. Parker Field-Gore ranks among the state leaders with four interceptions. The Guardians have nearly doubled their scoring average from a year ago (16.4 to 29.5).

What was confirmed

Through two weeks of league play, Grant continues to look like the favorite to earn a fourth consecutive PIL title. The Generals survived a scare from Wells in their league opener, then knocked off rival Jefferson 15-0. Sophomore Thomas Browning (35 tackles) and senior Jayden Moses (32 tackles) have been a dynamic linebacking duo, combining for 19 tackles (two for loss) and a diving interception by Browning against the Democrats. 

What we’re awaiting

In two weeks, Franklin plays host to Grant, with both teams figuring to be 3-0 in league play entering the game. If the Lightning can avenge a 70-7 loss to the Generals from a year ago and beat Grant for the first time in the past six seasons, they’ll have the inside track on their first outright league championship since 1996.

Metro League

What surprised us

Mountainside began last season 0-3. The Mavericks finished nonleague play this season 4-0 — one of six remaining undefeated teams in Class 6A. They’re not flashy and have no big-name players, but they’ve beaten four playoff teams from a year ago — including an impressive 24-7 victory at Lake Oswego in Week 3. 

What was confirmed

Yes, Jesuit lost at home in Week 3 to West Linn, but the Crusaders bounced back to defeat Sherwood 42-0 on Thursday, reestablishing the road to the Metro League title continues to run through Cronin Field. Still, Mountainside, Sunset and Westview (the Wildcats are 1-3, but their losses are to 5A contenders Wilsonville and Summit and reigning 6A runner-up Tualatin) won’t be easy games. 

What we’re awaiting

Mountainside and Westview kick off league play this week in Northwest Portland. Last season, the Wildcats announced themselves as a top contender by thrashing the Mavericks 49-16 in Week 2. Mountainside would love nothing more than to return the favor and continue the best start in program history. 

Pacific Conference

What surprised us

Nothing has really surprised us about how the nonconference schedule played out, so maybe that’s the biggest surprise. None of the six teams pulled a profound upset, but none has suffered an earth-shattering loss, either. 

What was confirmed

The lack of surprises means that what we expected in the preseason — a pretty balanced league race, with Sherwood the leading contender but not an overwhelming favorite — still applies.

What we’re awaiting

How does Newberg handle a two-game road stretch at McMinnville and Liberty to open the conference season? The Tigers started 3-0 before hitting a road bump Thursday at Mountainside. If they rebound with wins the next two weeks, they have a chance to earn a full-season conference championship after winning the COVID spring 2021 title. 

Mt. Hood Conference

What surprised us

Barlow improved to 2-0 in conference play by beating Clackamas in overtime last week — the Bruins’ first win in the series since 2011. “We set the tone at practice that what happened in the past was irrelevant. This week, we were going to win,” coach Tracy Jackson said. 

Narrow defeats to Lake Oswego and Mountainside to open the season didn’t deflate the team. Instead, “we saw that we could play with those guys,” Jackson said. “Then, when we played Gresham in Week 3 (a 40-14 win), we felt good about how we played.”

Even when things looked bleak as the Cavaliers set up for a winning field goal, Jackson sensed a change in his team.

“They kept playing, even when we weren’t playing well,” he said. “When we blocked that field goal, that gave us the impetus to win the game.”

Lake Oswego Barlow football Leon Neuschwander 70

What was confirmed

Central Catholic has rebounded nicely from its 49-0 loss to SBLive/Sports Illustrated national No. 1 St. John Bosco, beating Sandy and Nelson by a combined 76-13 the past two weeks. Behind junior quarterback Cru Newman, the reigning MHC offensive player of the year, the offense has survived the graduation of seven starters.

What we’re awaiting

The Bruins slayed one of the MHC dragons with their overtime win at Clackamas. Now, can they pull an even bigger stunner in three weeks and end a 17-game losing streak to Central Catholic when they play host to the Rams? If so, they’d be in line for a first conference title since 2005. 

Three Rivers League

What surprised us

We knew Tigard would be much improved from a season ago, when the Tigers went 3-7 — their fewest wins in a full season in the past dozen years. We did not see them going 4-0 in nonleague play and ranking second in Class 6A in scoring (45.3 points per game). Their 40-7 win over Liberty last week marked the fewest points they’ve scored this season. The defense has been even more dominant, leading 6A by allowing just 6.5 points per game.

What was confirmed

The Three Rivers has earned its status as the state’s best league. Five of the six teams are above .500 entering the start of league play — including Oregon City (3-1), which like Tigard has exceeded its 2021 win total.

What we’re awaiting

Lots of offensive fireworks. Five TRL teams rank among the top 10 in scoring offense, with Lake Oswego finally joining the fun last week with a season-high 42 points in a win over McMinnville. Can the Lakers’ offensive revival continue this week at West Linn to allow them to keep pace with a Lions attack that has overwhelmed Jesuit and Lake Stevens the past two first halves?

Central/Southwest Valley Conference

What surprised us

We could go with South Medford, which beat fellow surprise team South Salem 48-35 for its first 4-0 start since 2011. Or maybe North Salem, which started 3-0 before falling at North Medford last week? Instead, we’ll go with Grants Pass, which under first-year coach Brad Page has rebounded from a 1-8 record to start the season 3-1 following a 27-25 win over West Salem. Jackson Tunick caught 11 passes last week to give him 21 catches for 332 yards and six touchdowns this season. “Our players have started to understand what it means to lead, and we’ve had buy-in across the board,” Page said. “We’ve found our identity on both sides of the ball. Our guys play with a chip on their shoulders and want to be great.” 

South Salem Grants Pass football Oregon September 16 2022 Leon Neuschwander 74

What was confirmed

Sheldon had lofty expectations entering the season, and so far, the Irish have delivered. They traveled up I-5 in Week 2 to hand West Linn a 35-31 defeat in an early contender for 6A game of the year. Since then, they’ve steamrolled a couple of Salem teams to remain undefeated. 

What we’re awaiting

In two weeks, South Medford arrives at Dennis Ludwig Stadium in Northeast Eugene to take on Sheldon, with both teams likely to be undefeated entering the showdown. Can the Panthers further validate their turnaround from a 2-8 season? Or will the Irish continue making their case as a favorite to win their first state title in the past decade?

CLASS 5A

Northwest Oregon Conference

What surprised us

Southridge’s recent struggles in the Metro League masked the potential the program held. Dropping to 5A this season has unleashed that potential, and the Skyhawks are 4-0 for the first time since their 2008 state championship season. They showed their mettle last week by answering Mountain View’s tying score with 6:58 to play with a 77-yard march that ended with Rowen Miner’s winning 20-yard field goal with 10 seconds left in a 24-21 win.

What was confirmed

The NWOC finishes nonleague play this week before beginning three weeks of divisional play in Week 6. The first month allowed teams such as Putnam (4-0) and Hillsboro (3-1), who have struggled in league play the past couple of seasons, to build momentum, while powers Canby and Wilsonville were allowed to build challenging schedules they hope pay dividends in postseason success. 

Read More

What we’re awaiting

In Week 7, Southridge entertains Wilsonville in what should decide the West Division qualifier for the conference championship game. The Wildcats challenged themselves in the first month, facing Thurston, Westview, Tualatin and Summit and going 2-2. Will those tests prepare them for a Skyhawks team flying high at the moment?

Midwestern League

What surprised us

Eagle Point spent the offseason ruing its record in one-score games that cost the Eagles a playoff spot last fall. They’ve broken through this season with a 3-1 record, including a 23-20 win over Churchill in their league opener, led by senior running back David Brown, who has amassed 835 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground.

What was confirmed

Beside the unfamiliar names of Eagle Point and Springfield atop the standings through two weeks of league play stands a familiar one — Thurston. The Colts bounced back from losses to Wilsonville and Summit by winning their first two Midwestern games against North Eugene and Crater. They’ll take on the latest challengers to their title in consecutive weeks, playing host to Springfield in their crosstown rivalry this week before heading to Eagle Point in Week 6. 

What we’re awaiting

In the final week of the season, Springfield makes the long trek down I-5 to Eagle Point in what could be a showdown for the league title. The Millers haven’t won the MWL crown since 2014, while the Eagles last won a title during the Johnson Administration (1967). Even if Thurston sweeps them the next two weeks, this matchup could be for second place and a probable first-round home game in the 5A playoffs.

Mid-Willamette Conference

What surprised us

South Albany, like Dallas, is a hard-fought loss to Silverton from a 4-0 record. The RedHawks allowed three touchdowns through three weeks and were two minutes from their first win over the Foxes since 2015 before Silverton drove the length of the field for the go-ahead score. Still, their three wins match their 2021 total, and a first playoff berth since 2017 appears likely.

What was confirmed

Entering the season, it looked as if there were seven contenders for the four automatic playoff spots. One (McKay) has fallen off the pace, but six remain in what is shaping up to be a frenetic final five weeks of the season. A consolation prize could await the unlucky fifth team — the lone at-large berth in the 5A playoff field. 

What we’re awaiting

How this year’s title race shakes out. Silverton is the only team with an unblemished MWC record through four weeks, but unlike last year, when the Foxes won six of seven conference games by double digits, they’ve been challenged in each of their first three MWC games. Their final two games against West Albany and Lebanon won’t be easy, and the prospect of co-champions feels quite possible. 

Intermountain Conference

What surprised us

There are only two undefeated teams in Class 5A, and while we expected a Central Oregon school to be one of them, it’s not preseason favorite Summit but crosstown rival Bend that enters IMC play 4-0. The Lava Bears crossed the Cascades and pummeled shorthanded Canby 35-0 last week, marking their third shutout in four weeks. They’ve scored a 5A-high 177 points (44.3 per game). 

The Bend Lava Bears defeated Redmond 43-0 in an Intermountain Conference showdown at Redmond High School on September 30, 2022.

What was confirmed

Yes, Summit has a loss on its record, but holding Tualatin to 19 points in a Week 1 rematch of their 6A quarterfinal of a year ago was no small feat. Since then, the Storm have beaten Thurston, Westview and Wilsonville by double-digit margins to confirm their status as the favorite to win a state title in their first season back as a 5A school.

What we’re awaiting

Fortunately, we won’t have to wait long. In two weeks, Bend makes the 3½-mile trip west to Summit for a clash of Central Oregon titans. If the Lava Bears avenge their 20-0 defeat from last season, they’ll seize the mantle of 5A favorite from their rival. If the Storm win, that will give them victories over Thurston, Wilsonville and Bend — three impressive wins few at any level will be able to match. 

CLASS 4A

Cowapa League

What surprised us

A year ago, Milwaukie survived a tumultuous first month full of COVID cancellations to enter the final week in playoff contention. This year, the Mustangs enter league play 3-1 for the first time in the past five years following a 27-22 win over La Salle Prep. Kaden Harris, who threw for the winning score against the Falcons with eight seconds left, has passed for 747 yards and seven touchdowns, but he’s hardly alone in leading the Mustangs. “The kids are believing now that they can win games,” coach Tim Price said. “We as coaches have tried to change the culture at Milwaukie. We have a top-five quarterback who could start on any 6A or 5A team in the state, and our young players are playing well.”

What was confirmed

With three-time reigning league champion Banks having dropped to 3A, we figured the title race would be wide open, and through four weeks, no clear-cut favorite has emerged. Five of the six teams are 2-2 or 3-1 in nonleague play, which should mean a pitched battle for not only the league title but the three playoff berths. 

What we’re awaiting

Every week promises a critical battle for playoff positioning, with our favorites for the league title — Scappoose and Tillamook — meeting on the North Oregon coast in Week 8. Scappoose ended Madras’ undefeated start to the season last week in emphatic fashion. The Cheesemakers bounced back from losses to defending 4A champion Marshfield and Banks to hand Woodburn its first defeat and then rout Tonasket, Wash., last week.

Tri-Valley Conference

What surprised us

Woodburn missed the playoffs last fall despite a 6-3 record — matching 2018 for the program’s most wins in a season since 1989. New coach Rob Kassebaum was hired late in the summer but has the Bulldogs off to a 3-1 start as they bid for their first back-to-back winning seasons since a four-year run from 1988-91. The Bulldogs have 70 passing yards this season but have a balanced rushing attack led by senior Ty Beyer (412 yards, seven touchdowns). 

What was confirmed

The bifurcation of the conference has been quite apparent. The top three teams — Estacada, Woodburn and Gladstone — are a combined 8-3, while the bottom three — La Salle Prep, Molalla and Parkrose — are winless. The Rangers have bounced back nicely from an opening loss to Mazama, beating Scappoose, La Grande and Astoria to build a head of steam entering the start of TVC play this week at Molalla. 

What we’re awaiting

Can any of the winless teams pull an upset of one of the one-loss teams to snatch one of the TVC’s three playoff berths? Gladstone appears the most vulnerable, only because two of its three road games in conference play are at Parkrose and Molalla, and the chance of a loss increases on the road. Molalla also has a Week 6 home game with Woodburn, which does not have the big-game experience of the Gladiators and Rangers and will be coming off a big TVC opener against Gladstone. 

Tillamook Woodburn football Oregon September 16 2022 Leon Neuschwander 22

Oregon West Conference

What surprised us

Junction City posted consecutive five-win seasons in Class 3A and made the playoffs for the first time since 2015, but how would the Tigers fare in their return to 4A? So far, so good — they are 3-1 after a 40-26 victory over Philomath last week, with only a narrow loss to Stayton in their OWC opener marring their record. Senior Gunner Rothenberger has made a smooth transition from 2A Toledo to take over at quarterback.

What was confirmed

Marist Catholic saw nearly its entire starting lineup on both sides of the ball graduate from last year’s 4A runner-up team. The Spartans, however, have proven yet again an ability to reload rather than rebuild. They bounced back from a 42-7 loss to top-ranked Mazama to beat Stayton 35-7 in their OWC opener. Senior Jackson Gibeau has seized the No. 1 quarterback role and was nearly perfect against the Eagles, going 12 of 13 for 170 yards and a touchdown, while senior Drew Prickel ran for 106 yards and four touchdowns.

What we’re awaiting

Last year, Cascade won a 38-33 nonleague thriller over Marist Catholic during the regular season, only for the Spartans to avenge that defeat with a 62-35 victory in the quarterfinals. Reclassification moved Marist Catholic to the OWC, and their Week 8 matchup could decide the conference title. 

Big Sky Conference

What surprised us

Hidden Valley coach Mike Fanger was decidedly unsure of his team’s prospects entering the season. Graduation and losses of players focusing on other sports left him concerned about his team’s prospects. A 27-20 win over Ashland on Friday evened the record at 2-2 and puts the Mustangs in the hunt for one of the Big Sky’s three playoff berths (fourth place could gain 4A’s only at-large berth). “We are very young, but our guys showed some grit and responded from a bad night at Klamath (Union),” Fanger said. “It was good to see, but we need to keep focusing on ourselves and improving.” 

What was confirmed

The road to a conference title still runs through Summers Lane in Klamath Falls, where Mazama has bulldozed its first four opponents at a 166-48 clip, including a 50-0 romp over North Bend in its BSC opener as it vies for a ninth consecutive conference title. Senior Trevor Anderson has continued his two-way dominance (481 rushing yards, five touchdowns, team-high 17 tackles), and junior quarterback Tyson Van Gastel has 508 yards of total offense and has accounted for 13 touchdowns. 

What we’re awaiting

The Canal Bowl against Klamath Union might be Mazama’s biggest rivalry game, but it’s the two weeks following their Week 7 meeting that will decide the Vikings’ season. They follow with their other crosstown rivalry game against Henley, the only other 4A team to start the season 4-0, before finishing against Marshfield in a rematch from last year’s state semifinals. 

Greater Oregon League

What surprised us

So, Scappoose brought Madras’ undefeated season to a screeching halt. That doesn’t completely diminish the White Buffaloes’ 3-1 start under first-year coach Judd Stutzman, who has the team poised to challenge the league’s traditional powers (La Grande, Pendleton and Baker) for one of the three playoff spots. 

What was confirmed

Pendleton coach Erik Davis hoped his son, Jackson, was finally 100% after suffering through ACL injuries the past two years and ready to lead the Buckaroos’ challenge to La Grande and Baker for GOL top honors in their first season after dropping from 5A. Jackson has delivered, throwing for 544 yards and three touchdowns, complemented by a two-headed running attack of Payton Lambert (284 yards, six touchdowns) and Brock Mackey (252 yards, two touchdowns), in leading Pendleton to a 3-1 nonleague record. 

What we’re awaiting

Baker last won a share of the GOL title in 2016 and an outright title in 2012. To end those droughts likely will require wins in their league opener this week against La Grande and their league finale against Pendleton. 

Our complete high school football preview:

Breaking down every 6A, 5A, 4A team in the state

Complete Week 4 recap:

Top stars, best games, biggest wins

Our Week 4 predictions:

How did we do?