A budding rivalry matching two teams with goals beyond a conference football title continues Friday night.
Second-ranked West Albany travels to fourth-ranked Silverton to decide the Mid-Willamette’s top spot at McGinnis Field, site of the Bulldogs’ 20-16 5A state quarterfinal win last November. The teams know each other well, meeting Friday for the third time in the last two seasons.
“You like having good competition,” said West senior Blake Bowers, who had a 41-yard touchdown catch in the first half of last year’s playoff game. “It makes us better. It makes us work harder.”
Bulldogs coach Brian Mehl echoes those thoughts, adding that it’s fun to challenge yourself against an opponent that pride itself in similar ways, as being a tough, physical squad.
West and Silverton, which split the Mid-Willamette championship in 2018 after Silverton’s 17-14 win to end the regular season, have the top two 5A defenses in points allowed this season. The Bulldogs have given up 36 and the Foxes 88. Both teams are undefeated, 8-0 overall and in conference play.
Friday’s game provides solid preparation for both heading into the state playoffs, which begin next week.
“You’re naturally nervous and it’s stressful to go up against a good opponent with a lot of pressure riding. But at the same time it’s a great opportunity and it makes us better,” Silverton coach Josh Craig said. “It’s fun in that way, that it’s not the end of the season by any means if we lose. If we win we’re conference champs and we have good momentum going into playoffs.”
The 2018 season marked the third straight year in which both teams were in the 5A classification that they met twice in one season. Silverton won both games in 2012, including a quarterfinal matchup. West won two in 2013, including a semifinal, and went on to beat Sherwood for the state championship before spending the next four school years in 6A.
Last fall, Silverton took a 17-0 lead in the first game and held on. West came up a yard short of a first down and turned the ball over on downs at its own 45 with 2:30 remaining. The Foxes ran out the clock and won by three.
In the quarterfinal game, Myles Westberg hauled in an 18-yard pass for the game-winning touchdown with 2:28 left and the West defense shut out Silverton after halftime for the second straight time.
Cassius McGinty knocked down two passes intended for Silverton standout receiver Grant Buchheit on the Foxes’ final offensive plays. Hunter Crosswhite ran for a first down to seal the victory.
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Mehl says this year’s Silverton team is similar to the ones that have had success in the past decade.
“It seems like they always have a good quarterback,” he said. “They always have one receiver that can just beat you by himself and they always have one or two running backs that can grind out yards. This team is exactly like that.”
The Foxes return their top receiver in Buchheit and their primary running backs in Nathan Kuenzi and Hayden Roth. Buchheit has 674 receiving yards and six touchdowns, while Hayden and Roth have combined for 1,362 yards and 24 scores.
Sophomore Jordan McCarty, Silverton’s first-year quarterback, has passed for 1,139 yards and 12 touchdowns with no interceptions. He’s also rushed for eight scores.
“He’s quick. He can get out of the pocket, he can run,” said Bowers, a wide receiver and safety. “He can throw, too. A pretty good athlete for a sophomore.”
Mehl added: “Not only can he throw and beat you with the pass, it’s scary playing against quarterbacks that can scramble like he does and make plays out of nothing.”
West has 5A’s best defensive numbers statistically for the second straight season. But the offense has taken a step forward.
Led by seniors at the skill positions, Van Dyke has passed for 1,248 yards and 18 touchdowns with two interceptions; Porter Phillips has rushed for 945 yards and 15 touchdowns; and Connor Wolfe has 30 receptions for 685 yards and 12 scores.
Phillips broke his arm early in the 2018 season, didn’t carry the ball against Silverton the first time and had only eight rushes in the playoff game with Crosswhite as the leading ball carrier.
In the Bulldogs, Craig sees a bigger and better Phillips, a senior-dominated offensive line and two good receivers in Wolfe and Caeden Zamora.
“Last year their defense is what helped them win all those games,” Craig said. “Their offensive was good, but this year they have improved in their quick-strike ability. They can score on any play. That’s where they’re dangerous.”