South Albany High still has work to do.
Fresh off their second Mid-Willamette Conference co-championship in three seasons, the Rebels are now focused on making a dent in the 5A state football playoffs. No. 6 South (5-4) kicks off the round of 16 Friday night against 11th-seeded Crater (5-4) at Rebel Stadium.
It’s the program’s first home playoff game since 2008.
“Obviously we’ve hit a bunch of goals on our bucket list,” South senior quarterback Jake Costello said. “It’s going to be a crazy atmosphere and it’s going to be packed. We really feed off our fans, and I think that’ll bring a lot of positive energy to us and help us play better.”
Friday’s winner advances to play No. 3 Hermiston or No. 14 La Salle in next week’s quarterfinals.
Following a home loss to Silverton on Oct. 12, South picked up consecutive victories over Lebanon (28-24) and Crescent Valley (21-7) to secure a share of the MWC title.
The Rebels were also co-champions in 2015, finishing in a tie with Central atop the conference standings. South, which missed the playoffs last year, fell at Summit in the round of 16.
“Our kids are excited about the position they’ve put themselves in,” fifth-year South coach David Younger said. “The next step is getting some wins in the playoffs.”
The Rebels, who are in the postseason for the ninth time in program history, have never made it past the state round of 16.
To finally break through, South will need to avenge a 34-21 Week 2 loss to Crater. The Comets, who finished fourth in the Midwestern League, jumped out to a 14-0 lead and put it away with 20 fourth-quarter points.
“We made a lot of mental mistakes in that game,” said senior Collin McCoy, a first-team all-MWC pick on the offensive and defensive line. “It was really early in the season and we were still testing out what type of team we were going to be and who we’re going to be. I feel like we did a lot of testing and there were a lot of errors and mental mistakes, and we’ve cleaned those up.”
Added Costello: “I think we are a way better team now than we were then. We just played a bunch of tough teams in league and feel like we did pretty well, felt like we were pretty successful. But we are definitely not overlooking them. I mean, they beat us.”
The Comets returned a first-quarter fumble 56 yards for a touchdown and ran a kickoff back to the end zone. Both teams had three turnovers while Crater held a slight 260-232 advantage in total yards.
Younger wants to see the South offense get off to a better start.
“We came out in the second half and were able to establish some things, but we waited too long to get going,” Younger said. “Our defense has been our calling card this year, but offensively we’ve got to start better. That will help the defense out, and I think that’s going to be the key to the game.”
The Rebels have soared to new heights under Younger’s staff, claiming a pair of MWC titles while narrowly missing the postseason in 2014 and 2016. South had not won a conference championship since 2000.
Younger is 23-23 overall at the helm and 19-14 in MWC play. The program’s philosophy, leave no doubt, has yielded a team of warriors that refuse to give up.
“They are the greatest coaching staff I could ever ask for,” McCoy said. “They really connect with us as kids and as players, and I think the energy they bring to practices and the honesty they have with all of us is just awesome.”
The success on the football field can be felt throughout the walls on South’s campus.
Brick by brick, Younger helped lay the foundation for a winning program.
“It comes down to great assistant coaches and kids buying in to what the coaches are saying,” Younger said. “We are based on toughness. Our formula coming in was we were going to do everything step by step, we might take our lumps but eventually we were going to be a tough out.”