LEBANON — When breaking down the film of Lebanon High’s previous two football games, coach Ty Tomlin and staff identified 27 decisive plays that went awry for various reasons.
If just one of the plays had gone their way in each contest, the Warriors would be 4-0 and in position to chase a second straight Mid-Willamette Conference championship. Instead, Lebanon (2-2, 0-2) is a .500 team with its 5A state postseason aspirations on the line entering Friday’s matchup at Corvallis (1-3, 0-2).
“It’s opened our eyes a lot,” Lebanon junior linebacker Corbin Anderson said. “I think we just came into the season not really expecting people to be after us like they are. I don’t really know what to say other than we just have to do better, we have to work harder.”
The Warriors opened MWC play with a mistake-filled 25-24 home loss to Crescent Valley. Five turnovers and a blocked punt doomed them a week ago as visiting Silverton stormed back for a 31-30 win.
Lebanon, the defending 5A state champion, couldn’t hold fourth-quarter leads in either game. But Tomlin sees correctable miscues scattered throughout the tape.
“We really had to send the message to the kids that it literally comes down to two plays,” Tomlin said. “Win those two plays and you’re still the best team in the state, ranked No. 1 and all those things.
“I’m not trying to take anything away from CV or Silverton, they earned it and they found a way to win those games. We just have to make those little shifts and adjustments, and it’s going to be up to the kids to do that.”
Slow starts hindered the Warriors in both losses at Heath Stadium.
The Raiders built a 17-0 second-quarter lead before losing two-way star Talanoa Hufanga to an ejection. Lebanon rattled off 24 unanswered points with Hufanga out to go up 24-17 late in the fourth.
CV used a four-play, 59-yard drive to find the end zone and took the lead for good on a Cam Sanders two-point conversion run. The Warriors turned it over on downs on their final possession.
Lebanon also roared back from a 17-0 hole against the Foxes, scoring three touchdowns in seven-plus minutes to grab the lead. Silverton converted a miraculous fourth-and-26 during a 17-play, 81-yard drive that ended with a Levi Nielsen scoring run.
Trailing 31-30 in the closing minutes, the Foxes recovered a fourth Lebanon fumble and ran out the clock.
“Everyone makes mistakes, but they just add up. We’ve had too many,” said Anderson, who also commented on the team’s slow starts.
“It’s like we think we are just going to come out in the second half and do better, like we’ve been waiting for the second half. We need to put a whole game together and then nobody can stop us.”
With a senior-laden group, the Warriors were terrific in tight contests a season ago.
Lebanon finished 12-1 overall while going 5-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less, including playoff victories over Ashland (40-33) and Dallas (10-7). The Warriors opened the 2016 MWC slate with a 35-32 win at CV and grinded out a 21-20 decision at Silverton the following week.
“These kids didn’t have that same mentality as last year’s group,” Tomlin said. “They didn’t have that thought of ‘we’re going to find a way to win this game.’ New kids have to step up and new leaders have to step up.”
But Tomlin is far from discouraged.
The fifth-year coach believes the Warriors made great strides in the losses. The team went toe-to-toe against a pair of unbeatens and could’ve, or even should’ve, emerged with two wins.
“Losing is losing and I’m never happy to lose, but what I am happy with is we knew it would be somewhat of a growth process with these kids,” Tomlin said. “The last two games, we’ve grown a ton. And those adversities do force you to grow, so I’m super happy with our kids right now.”
The Warriors will be facing an equally desperate opponent Friday night.
CHS, which has dropped three in a row, is sitting with Lebanon at the bottom of the MWC standings. A third conference loss greatly reduces the chance of a postseason appearance.
“We can’t lose,” Anderson said. “It’s on us to put a whole one together every single game for the rest of the year.”