The Cottage Grove Lions football team faced a tough test on Homecoming night, where they were looking to compete for their first win of the season. The Junction City Tigers came into town with a 5-2 record and one of the best offenses in the 4A Special District 2. The Tigers would flex that offense with a steady ground and pound run game on their first offensive possession, going up 7-0 early.
“That’s a good team, and their coach always does a good job. He’s got some good kids and at certain positions they make it tough. Those are the kinds of games where you’ve got to roll your sleeves up, we’re just not quite there,” said Lions Head Coach Joe Polamalu.
The Tigers would use senior Gunner Rothenberger on several quarterback keepers, along with junior running backs Tylen Franks and Levi Walker to shred the Lions defense in a very wet and windy Herald White Stadium to build a 28-0 Tigers lead.
Late in the second quarter, following a Lions punt, it looked like the Tigers might march down field and score again, but the Lions were able to strip the ball away on a sack at mid field and took possession.
Cottage Grove, who turned to sophomore Nathin Lemon at quarterback a few weeks ago and moved senior Brayden Crump from being the starting quarterback to a starting receiver, were able to move the ball down field.
“Crump is one of our best athletes overall,” Polamalu said. “It gives us another athlete on the field and gives us a little more weapons. It also gives Lemon three games of experience at the varsity level. That’s kind of what we planned on throughout the year. He’s going to get some growth and get some confidence playing at the JV level. He’s done great, like I knew he would. He is a competitor, like all of them.”
Lemon rushed for a 13-yard gain, putting the ball at the Tiger 26-yard line. Lemon then connected with Crump, advancing the ball to the one-yard line. After a couple of negative plays, Lemon found senior Hadyn Petersen for a touchdown with one minute left in the first half, making the score 28-6 after a missed extra point.
But the Lions were unable to cut into the Tigers lead any further. Junction City used Walker to power their way down the field and add another touchdown on the board in just 42 seconds. The score would be 36-6 at halftime.
The Tigers would score quickly again to begin the second half, which would move quickly due to a running clock. But the Lions found some momentum at the end of the third quarter by forcing a turnover on downs. Lemon would slowly lead the Lions to the Tigers 12-yard line to conclude the quarter before finding Petersen for another touchdown to start the fourth, making the score 43-13.
“It’s tough, you’re sitting there in the fourth quarter and you’re down by 40, but they continue to battle. You’ve got to go through the grind, and we are going through the grind right now” Polamalu said.
The Lions would have another opportunity later to score, but the ball was intercepted by Junction City in the end zone.
The game concluded Cottage Grove’s league play for the year. The Tigers would win 50-13, earning them a 4-1 league record, good for second place. Cottage Grove fell to 0-8 overall and will travel to Hidden Valley, who is 2-6, next Friday night in a non-league matchup. It will the Lions’ final game of the season.