Rejoice, Wallowa Cougar football fans! The team has gone on to the second round, though this time the team will be on the road, eight hours away in McKenzie River, to face the 4-2 McKenzie Eagles. The Eagles put away Prairie City in the first-round battle for the state title in Prairie City with a score of 30-22.
So what can we expect from the second round of 1A state action?
What McKenzie may have is a running game. What it largely seems to lack, to judge by its season scores in District 5 play, is a potent passing game. Eagles senior quarterback Ryan Rux is one of the three chief running threats, backed up by senior Dillon Bellmore and junior Forrest King. Wallowa fans may have a strong sense of deja vu when the Cougars face off against the Eagles. McKenzie may not be Joseph, but it's a good simulation in terms of line play and a run-oriented offense.
McKenzie also brings experience, if not numbers. "We have a senior-heavy group, but we'll probably only suit up 11 players on Saturday. We've had some injuries," said McKenzie head coach Rick Gardner. "Fortunately, the injuries haven't been to our starters. We feel we have a good chance. We've got decent team speed and some pretty solid kids."
The McKenzie Eagles did beat Crow in a tight game earlier in the season, but Joseph, another big, physical team with solid running backs in the shape of Michael Gamboa, Tanner Stewart and Kyle Hook, handily beat Crow in the early season. Still, the McKenzie Eagles did fight through a tougher schedule than Jewell and chalked up wins against Condon (58-6), Triangle Lake (46-42), Alsea (91-32), Crow (28-26) and Mapleton (36-22). McKenzie losses were against tough teams: South Wasco, Lowell and Mohawk.
Still, in comparison, Wallowa has had tough games as well, and finished in the plus column against competitors like Joseph, Pine Eagle and Cove.
There are no poor teams in the second round of state, and luck doesn't play as big a factor in scores at this level, so both teams will have to expect a tough game, and most probably a close one.
At a guess? 36-22 for the Cougars.