It's playoff time and the Cougars will face the Jewell Blue Jays in the first round of 1A state football playoffs.
Jewell's football team may, in the words of coach Pete Popoff, be "young, slow and not real big," but it has managed to take third seed for state in the Casco League with a 2-2 record, and will be coming to Wallowa County on Saturday, Nov. 13 to face the 8-0 Cougars at noon.
Of course, one does have to note that the Blue Jays' two wins thus far in the season were against the Oregon School for the Deaf (1-4) and the Falls City Mountaineers (0-4). Not really opponents of the Pine Eagle/Joseph/Cove category. Popoff expects another victory in the final game against the Country Christian Cougars on Friday, but, again, one has to take the team's third-place ranking with a grain of salt. Arlington-Ione beat Jewell 42-24 in the preseason. Cove also beat Jewell soundly, 22-6. The Blue Jays suffered further losses against Mapleton and the South Wasco County Redsides. Unsurprisingly, a tough St. Paul (4-0) and top-ranked Perrydale (4-0) both handed Jewell defeats. Perrydale, ranked first in a 1A coaches poll this week, just ahead of Wallowa, ran up a 60-8 final score in the match.
Jewell, which made it to state but was beaten in the first round in 2003, has only three senior players on its 17-man roster; back Randy Layman, center John Uerling and end Karl Dugan. Blue Jay quarterback Jake Johnston, a 115-pound junior, has been doing a great job for the team, Popoff said. Whether a 115-pounder can stand up to high-velocity hits from the Cougar defense remains to be seen, but things don't seem hopeful on paper.
What Jewell lacks in size and speed, it may make up in coaching, though. Popoff, a 30-year veteran, brings a lot of experience and a love for eight-man football to his team. This will also be Popoff's last year as coach. "Thirty years of screwing up the youth of America is enough," Popoff joked.
So while Wallowa should whip Jewell handily, overconfidence could be crippling. If the Blue Jays managed to pull out an unexpected "win one for the gipper" charge for Popoff's last season, things could get interesting.
Still, Vegas would probably give you 4-to-1.
If you held my feet to the fire and asked for a predicition? I'd pick the Cougars over the Blue Jays 56-24. Simply because the OOL is a tough league, and I'm not so sure Casco is at this point, with the exception of Perrydale.