The Blue Jays played hard but couldn't stop the Wallowa air-express as the Cougars put up a first-round win in the state 1A football playoffs, beating visiting Jewell 70-26.
The combinations the fans have come to expect were easy to see, with Wallowa quarterback Patrick Green finding his favorites - receivers Ryan Harshfield, Kaleb Oveson, Dustin Byers and Kainoa Delatori - for 459 passing yards. The Jewell defense seemed to lack any strong pass defense, with the notable exception of its quarterback Jake Johnston, who broke up more than one Wallowa scoring opportunity.
Byers, a senior, had his finest game of the year so far, catching four passes (one for a touchdown), intercepting two Jewell passes (running both back for touchdowns), and taking a third-quarter kickoff return back for a score, giving him four touchdowns on the day.
For offense, the Blue Jays depended chiefly on their two excellent backs, sophomore Lucas Spaulding and senior Randy Layman. The pair had 263 of Jewell's 311 yards on the ground, and found a few exploitable holes in the Cougar defense in every quarter but the third. The 170-pound Spaulding ran a very tough game - literally running over Wallowa tacklers on several plays.
Defensively, Wallowa played a solid game with a few mistakes here and there. Most tackles saw senior Victor Bednar, Byers, Green, Trevor DeVore or Jeremy McCulloch making the necessary hits to stop Jewell's backs.
The defense certainly kept Jewell's scoring to a minimum, but the Wallowa offense did what it does best and simply put lots of points on the board. In addition to Byers' fantastic day, Harshfield had two touchdown receptions of his own, while Oveson had three and Delatori one.
Wallowa head coach Greg Oveson was fairly happy with his team's play and gave Byers kudos.
"Not bad," he responded when asked how he thought the team had played. "The defense could have been a little better. It's hard when you get ahead like we did in the second quarter to keep your intensity. Dustin had a great day. He's played hard all year and he deserves it. I'm happy for him."
Oveson is looking to a tougher game next Saturday, when the Cougars will face the Mckenzie Eagles. "Boy they're good. We watched them last night. They've got about four backs like (Layman). They can really spread the field. We're going to have our hands full."
This was the final game for 35-year coaching veteran and Jewell head coach Peter Popoff, who is hanging up his whistle.
"We did some good things, but we shot ourselves in the foot with penalties," Popoff said of the match. "We're the kind of team that, if we have to go 10 yards in four plays we're OK, but if we have to go 15 ... Overall we played well, though. I think they (Wallowa) have a few more weapons than we do. I hope they do well in the playoffs. They've got to gear it up some and get more physical. I wish them success. That just makes us look better if they win down the road," Popoff grinned.
The game started with two late-first-quarter scores by Wallowa and what could have been a disheartening kickoff return for a touchdown by Jewell's Spaulding with seven seconds left, but a Green-to-Byers pass play less than two minutes later set up a third Cougar score. When Jewell's return drive ended with a Johnston pass turning into Byer's first scoring interception two minutes later, the game was, for all intents and purposes, over.
That shouldn't take away from what Jewell accomplished this year, though. A tiny school, Jewell has made it to the first round of state two years in a row, and played every down all afternoon. Wallowa was simply the better team.
Wallowa will be traveling to McKenzie to face the Eagles for its second round game on Saturday.