SWEET HOME — With its opportunistic defense leading the way, the Sweet Home High football team is 4-0 for the first time in nearly a decade.
The Huskies surrendered plenty of yardage but allowed just one touchdown in Friday night’s Sky-Em League opener. Visiting Sisters was stopped four times on fourth down while Sweet Home ran for 383 yards to pull away for a 28-8 victory.
“We’ve been like that all year,” senior running back and linebacker Austin James said of the defense. “Once we get down there, we just never give up.”
Sweet Home, which is 4-0 for the first time since 2009, allowed 328 yards of total offense but stiffened when it mattered most. The Huskies also recovered a pair of fumbles.
“If you look at Sweet Home’s tradition going all the way back to the 1980s, we’ve always had the philosophy of bend but don’t break,” coach Dustin Nichol said. “We try to keep everything in front of us and just wear them down and then narrow the field up at some certain distances. It’s all about buckling down when it counts.”
Hayden McDonald finished with 13 carries for 164 yards to pace the Sweet Home ground game. James ran for 133 yards and one touchdown on a team-high 20 carries while Boe Baxter had six rushes for 50 yards, including a 41-yard score on fourth-and-1.
“It’s all about our O-line picking up blocks, making holes,” James said. “It’s not always where it’s supposed to be but there always seems to be an opening somewhere.”
Colton Smith completed 6 of 13 passes for 80 yards with a pair of TDs, both going to tight end Jake Swanson.
Sisters quarterback Taylor Fendall was 15 of 19 for 195 yards with one TD and no interceptions. Fendall’s top target was Korbin Sharp, who caught five balls for 102 yards.
With Sisters (2-2, 0-1) trailing 12-0 at the half, Sharp hauled in a 23-yard TD pass from Fendall on the Outlaws’ opening drive of the third quarter.
Baxter’s scoring play followed by a Smith two-point conversion run extended the lead to 20-8. Swanson’s second TD of the game made it 28-8 with 9:03 remaining.
“Our linemen just stepped up and our backs stepped up and were running downfield,” Nichol said. “So we’ve found the running game and this week we put it all together. It’s a tribute to the kids and how they’ve responded to balancing things out.”
After the teams exchanged early fumbles, a 2-yard TD plunge by James gave the Huskies a 6-0 lead midway through the opening period. Smith then connected with Swanson in the right corner of the end zone for a 23-yard score, putting the hosts up 12-0.
Sweet Home's defense held strong on two fourth downs to preserve the first-half shutout.
On fourth-and-1 from the Huskies' 12, Bryce Coulter met Ethan Morgan at the point of attack to force a turnover on downs. A Christopher Luz fly sweep on fourth-and-8 was stopped a yard short at the 5 late in the quarter.
The Huskies, who have now allowed just 20 points this season, had three giveaways in the first half to Sisters' two.
Sweet Home will face its toughest test of the season next week in Cottage Grove, the Sky-Em’s defending champion. It will also be the Huskies’ first road game of the year.
“I couldn’t have picked our preseason and the first league game any better,” Nichol said. “We get some confidence in ourselves and now we’ve got a challenge next week at Cottage Grove. It typically doesn’t matter what the records are when Sweet Home and Cottage Grove collide.”