When the final seconds ticked away it was the Pine Eagle Spartans that looked ahead to the playoffs while the Joseph Eagles faced a long bus ride home. The 74-32 loss took the Eagles out of post-season football play and the 4-1 Spartans will be continuing on to face District 3 challenger, Ione.
The Eagles had an up-and-down season, with memorable wins over Cove and Powder Valley. The team had remained undefeated in league play until it came head-to-head with Wallowa. That loss put Joseph in an uncomfortable position - any further loss during the season would mean the end of their playoff hopes, and that's the way it shook out in the end.
In its final game, Joseph just couldn't put together the solid play that was its trademark.
"They outplayed us and outcoached us in every facet of the game," said Eagles head coach Rusty Eschler. Pine Eagle trotted out 323 yards rushing and 145 yards passing, for 468 yards of total offense - Joseph could put together only 287. Spartan quarterback Brad Casch had 78 yards rushing in addition to his passing yardage, and Pine Eagle senior Jeff Chamberlin outran the Eagle defenders for 185 yards and three touchdowns.
The Eagles defense as a whole, usually able to limit an opponent's scoring drastically, just didn't get the job done against the Spartans. Individually, though, Eschler commented on the excellent job senior Clayton Lowe did on the day. Lowe had a fine season and seemed to always be in on a hit.
Joseph's offense took a hit in the first half as well, when Tanner Stewart, always a reliable rusher, suffered injuries to his knee and ribs and was finished for the evening.
While the Spartan defense did limit Joseph's running game, the Eagle backs still put some respectable yardage together, led by Kyle Hook, who had 25 carries for 149 yards and two touchdowns. Stewart, before his injury, racked up seven rushes for 49 yards. Juniors Kyle Schoeningh and Michael Gamboa went 3-for-21 and 5-for-26, respectively, and both had a touchdown on the night. Freshman Ben Garnett, who has visibly improved each game, went 4-for-30 rushing and looks to be a real asset for Joseph over the next three seasons. Senior Jay Watts, much like last week, had the sole pass reception for the Eagles, snagging a 21-yard Bailey throw.
Eschler is proud of the way his JV squad played during the year. Joseph fielded the young players in the third quarter of the majority of their games all season, and, as shown against Cove and Elgin, were able to score.
As to the post-season, Eschler hopes to see great things from Wallowa.
"We wish Coach Oveson and his staff the best of luck - they have out full support and we'd like them to bring the title back to Wallowa County."
Joseph will see 10 seniors graduate following the 2004 season: Hook, Watts, Ritchie Meyer, Lowe, Aaron White, Clay Hayward, Alex Sealey, Jason Harding, Mike Marks and Stewart.