LEBANON — Following a pair of one-point losses to open Mid-Willamette Conference play, the Lebanon High football team returned to its roots.
The defending 5A state champions leaned on their offensive line while rushing for 490 yards in a 50-7 rout of Corvallis. In last week’s nonleague contest against Willamette, the Warriors racked up 438 yards on the ground while pulling away for a 50-34 victory.
Lebanon (4-2, 1-2 MWC) hopes to continue the trend Thursday night at Central (3-3, 1-2) in Independence.
“The past couple of weeks, we have just been playing dominant ball,” junior quarterback Colton Shepard said. “Our O Line has just been crushing everyone up front, really manhandling them. We just need to keep it up the rest of the season.”
The Warriors are averaging 37.3 points per game after putting up 36.2 last fall en route to the MWC and state titles. Only league-leading Crescent Valley (38.2) has been more dangerous.
A veteran offensive line of Jacob Rossman, Michael Spasaro, Teagan Maloney, Leaf Cripe and Cooper Brooks is the foundation of Lebanon’s triple option veer attack.
“Our big dirties up front are our guys,” coach Ty Tomlin said. “Every time we get into a tough situation, they look at us and say ‘let’s go. Keep following behind us and we’ll chip our way back into this thing.’
“A lot of those guys have been playing for two years so they know the ropes and know what we’re doing, know the checks and they pick up a lot of stuff. It’s nice that we can go back to those guys if we need to settle things down.”
In his first season as the Warriors’ workhorse, Clyde Rood has carried the ball 80 times for 645 yards and eight touchdowns. The senior ran for 141 yards and two scores in last week’s victory after piling up 161 yards and a pair of TDs against Corvallis.
Listed at 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds, Rood runs with power between the tackles and is always a threat to break a long one.
“I’ve grown a lot over the last three years,” Rood said. “I wasn’t really mentally tough enough at all — I’d get down on myself and I’d beat myself up over little things and I’d shut myself down. This year I’m just going out there, giving all my effort and not even thinking about the bad stuff that might happen.”
Rood had a 92-yard scoring run against Marist and caught the go-ahead touchdown in an eventual loss to CV.
Teammates Cody Johnson (six rushing TDs), Chase Miller (four), Chaz Daniels (three) and Shepard (five) have also been effective on the ground.
“Our running backs have been running great all year,” Shepard said. “Clyde especially has just been doing outstanding, giving all he’s got on every play, even when he doesn’t have the ball.”
Shepard is also a first-year varsity starter who is gaining more confidence with each passing week.
The 6-foot, 175-pound Shepard has completed 41 of 81 attempts for 648 yards with six TDs and five interceptions. He has also rushed for 416 yards on 66 carries while showing a mastery of the veer.
“Shepard has been doing a really good job of letting each play go and going from there,” Tomlin said. “There are a lot of little things that I kind of question sometimes, but when I really look at his overall body of work he’s had a ton of growth and has been putting our offense in a position to have success.
“He does a great job of reading the veer, a really good job. Colton is starting to find himself and I’m really happy with where he’s at.”
Lebanon enters Thursday in a tie for fourth in the conference with Central. The MWC’s top four teams receive bids to the state playoffs.
The Panthers, who are coming off a 33-25 home loss to CV, own the conference’s top scoring defense at 18.5 points allowed per game. But the Warriors remain confident in their offense.
“We’re putting it all together now,” Rood said. “The line is doing solid and I couldn’t ask for a better group of men to be out there with me.”