Lions football opener not so pleasant

Coming off of three years of challenges on and off the field, the Cottage Grove Lions football team came into the 2022 season with a roster of over 30 varsity players, a new set of uniforms to unveil, a second-year head coach, and hopes to improve in the fall of 2022. Those hopes got off to slow start when the Pleasant Hill Billies, a 3A school, came to town last Friday night.

Cottage Grove’s offense had a few opportunities to score in the first half but failed to capitalize on the opportunities put in front of them. On their first possession of the game, the Lions started at the 50-yard line, but penalties ended any hopes they had.  A few possessions later, Lions senior quarterback Brayden Crump nearly connected with senior receiver Hadyn Petersen for a touchdown, but again penalties were an issue for the Lions as the play was called back because of holding at the line of scrimmage.

At the beginning of the second quarter, it appeared again that the Lions would have a chance to score, thanks in large part to a pass interference call against the Billies and a Crump rush for 17 yards. The Lions were progressively able to move the ball down to the Billies 15-yard line, but again the Lions turned the ball over on downs.

Throughout the evening, the Billies traded quarterback duties between senior Matthew Dutton and senior Brasen Holliday.

The Lions defense held the Billies offense to four consecutive three and outs to start the game. On Pleasant Hill’s fifth offensive drive, Cottage Grove senior defensive back Chase Cordin picked off Dutton at the Pleasant Hill 30-yard line.

 Starting in excellent field position midway through the second quarter, with the game still tied 0-0, the Lions looked to score. Crump led the Lions to the Billies 15-yard line and threw a strike to the left side of the end zone on fourth down and 8 yards to go, but the pass was bobbled by the receiver and fell incomplete, leading to a turnover on downs.

 Pleasant Hill, who still had no first downs in the entire first half, took possession from there. The Billies looked like they again were going to be shut out by the Lions defense, but they took a big gamble and went for it on fourth down from their own 21-yard line. On the quarterback keeper, Holliday found a hole through the line up the middle and earned the Billies their first, first down of the game. This is where much of the game changed.

When asked what made him decide to go for it on fourth down, “I just had confidence in our players,” said Pleasant Hill Coach Jerimiah Heacock. “They have put in the work since July, I was confident that in our conditioning and our competitive desire, that we could do that [convert the fourth down]. I had faith in the players that they were going to compete and get the first down.”

With 4:40 left in the second quarter, the Billies marched up the field with ease. The Lions did force the Billies to a fourth down from the Cottage Grove 28-yard line, but Holliday was able to find sophomore Kaden Fisher for a touchdown, which gave Pleasant Hill a 7-0 lead going into the locker room at halftime.

To start the second half, the Lions and Billies exchanged several series of turnovers and three and outs. With 6:15 left in the third quarter, Billies running back Braedon Hazel scored a touchdown, making it 13-0 Pleasant Hill after the missed extra point. The game then spiraled out of control for the Lions when Crump then threw a pick six a few plays later, making it 19-0. 

“As a team we started to play for each other, we started to believe in each other,” said Heacock. “That was huge, because then it starts to spread. We started to believe that we can do it [get the win].”

Though Crump made some nice plays at times with his feet to extend a few drives in the game, penalties, dropped passes and turnovers continued to hurt the Lions throughout the rest of evening. With 3:14 left in the game, the Billies added another touchdown to the scoreboard, making the final score 26-0.

Cottage Grove will seek its first win of the season this Friday, Sept. 9, when they travel to Elmira to play the Falcons. Cottage Grove and Elmira have shared being in the Sky-Em League for many seasons in recent history, but the Falcons moved down to 3A for this season and the Sky-Em is no more. The Lions will not play another home game till Sept. 30, as their next three games will be on the road.