By René Ferrán
Photos by Leon Neuschwander, Soobum Im and Dan Brood
The Oregon high school football season continued last weekend with Week 6 action around the state.
Here's what stood out during the sixth weekend of action.
Kouame brings balance to the force of West Linn’s offensive attack
When Koffi Kouame arrived at West Linn from Beaverton just before the start of camp last year, he was expected to add a punch to the Lions' running game following the graduation of all-state back Gavin Haines.
Unfortunately, it didn't work out for him. He had one big game against Lakeridge in Week 6, but by season's end, he was hurt and didn't feature after the Lions' first-round win over Bend.
This fall, under first-year coach Jon Eagle, Kouame has found new life in West Linn's high-powered attack. Kouame has emerged as the No. 1 back in a three-back rotation, and his performance in Friday's 42-30 victory over Tualatin showed the evolution of his role this season.
He was featured on the team’s opening drive that led to a touchdown, and on the first play of the second half, he popped a 52-yard touchdown through a gaping hole in the line that showed off his improved speed.
“I got to keep my legs fresh,” Kouame said. “There was no way they were going to stop it.”
With the Lions nursing a lead in the fourth quarter, they turned to him again, and he showed off his power on several long runs that allowed them to burn four minutes off the clock.
He finished with a game-high 150 yards on 16 carries — his most rushing yards in a game in a West Linn uniform — and through six games is averaging 5.8 yards per carry, with his 405 yards on 69 carries already exceeding his 2021 totals.
Eagle said the difference between what he saw of Kouame on film from last fall to what he’s seeing this season comes down to “seeing and understanding our blocking schemes, being patient and being efficient with his steps.”
“He is explosive once he gets to the secondary, plus he’s strong and hard to bring down with one tackler,” Eagle added. “And you might not notice, but he is a terrific pass blocker.”
With Kouame adding the threat of the running game to Washington State commit Sam Leavitt's play at quarterback spreading the ball around to his bevy of receivers, the Lions offense is that much more difficult to stop.
“It’s a challenge, because they do a really good job running the football,” Tualatin coach Dominic Ferraro said. “They got their RPO game, their play-action game, they spread it around, and I thought our defense did a really good job of trying to just contain them.
“They got loose a few times, but that’s kind of the deal when you get a good team like that. They’re going to get loose every once in a while.”
One year later, Roth back on path to being Crusaders’ featured back
A year ago, when Jesuit played Westview in a Metro League thriller, then-junior Payton Roth sustained a season-ending ankle injury just as he was beginning to emerge as the lead back in the Crusaders’ power running game.
Roth returned this year feeling 100%, back to putting the hurt on opposing defenses. On Friday, the Crusaders traveled up Sunset Highway to Westview’s Northwest Portland campus, and Roth ran for a career-high 290 yards and five touchdowns in a 52-18 victory.
It marked the fifth time in six weeks he’s gone over the century mark (in the other, he ran for 98 yards), and he has rushed for 1,143 yards (averaging 11.3 per carry) and 14 touchdowns this season.
“Payton has great vision and is seeing and setting up blocks very well,” coach Ken Potter said. “He is strong and able to see an opening, put his foot down and show tremendous acceleration. But he would be the first to tell you that the offensive line and his fullback (Noah Staley) are great to run behind.”
Meanwhile, Jesuit’s defense has shown marked improvement since West Linn put up 24 first-half points in their Week 3 matchup at Cronin Field. The Crusaders gave up just seven points in the second half of the Lions' 31-20 victory, and they shut out their next two opponents — Sherwood and Aloha.
The Wildcats scored first Friday, with star running back Jordan Fisher scoring on a 3-yard run 90 seconds into the game, but Jesuit then kept them off the scoreboard until late in the third quarter — by which time the running clock had been triggered.
Senior linebacker Garrett Speer has emerged as the leader on defense, while the front line — with several members of Jesuit's vaunted Franchise offensive line drawing double duty — has been strong.
Still, Potter called his defense “still a work in progress,” with a young secondary still adjusting to the loss of senior safety Nick Ferrero to a broken ankle.
“The secondary is improving and working hard,” Potter said. “Improvement just comes with practice and understanding roles, then executing. We still make mistakes on both sides of the ball, but hopefully less every week.”
Black Tornado turn to transfer QB Knobloch-Scott for Sheldon showdown
North Medford will be without starting quarterback Caiden Lacey for this week’s showdown against Sheldon, meaning the Black Tornado will move from one transfer to another for the matchup of Special District 1 unbeatens at Spiegelberg Stadium.
Lacey, who came to North Medford after earning first-team all-Midwestern honors at Eagle Point last fall, suffered a concussion on the first play from scrimmage Friday against Roseburg. He remains in concussion protocol this week, with coach Nathan Chin saying Monday that they will make sure not to rush Lacey’s return.
With Lacey out, the Black Tornado turned to backup JT Knobloch-Scott, who before Friday was best known as an all-state kicker and punter for 3A Cascade Christian the previous two seasons.
Knobloch-Scott threw for four touchdowns and finished 7 of 11 for 137 yards in his first meaningful action behind center this season.
“JT's athleticism and knowledge of the game allow him to step into a situation like we had this past week and perform,” Chin said. “Even though JT’s experience is limited at quarterback, we all believe in his abilities.”
Going up against the Irish, who handed South Medford its first loss of the season, 49-0, last week, is not an ideal time to break in a first-time starter, but at least this week, Chin and his staff will have a week to create a game plan specific to Knobloch-Scott.
“They are two different quarterbacks, but our team has faith in each other and will rally behind JT in our current situation.” Chin said. “It hurts not having Caiden on the field with his experience and leadership, but our program has a next-man-up mentality. When the phone rings, it’s time to answer the call.”
Chin didn’t sugarcoat the team’s predicament going up against the Irish, who have outscored opponents 299-37 in their six games — 31 of those points coming in their Week 2 win at West Linn.
“Sheldon is an extremely talented team,” Chin said. “In all phases, they play with high effort and execution, and their offense and defense complement each other well by being explosive on offense and creating takeaways on defense.
“Our team is excited for the challenge we have this week, just as we have been this whole season.”
Storm vanquish another 5A rival to maintain status as title favorite
This season has seen a procession of 5A powers make the trip to Summit’s campus on the west side of Bend, hoping to knock off the presumed favorite to win the state championship.
First, it was Thurston, then Wilsonville, and Friday night, crosstown rival and fellow unbeaten Bend arrived to take its shot at the Storm.
Once again, Summit emerged unscathed, rallying for a 35-21 Intermountain Conference victory that maintained its status as the clear-cut No. 1 team in 5A.
“Our coaches and players were pretty calm,” Storm coach Corben Hyatt said of the team’s comeback from a 14-7 halftime deficit. “The message was we have been in big games the last 14 months, and more importantly, this preseason against really good teams. We knew what it would take to win the game.”