The Cottage Grove Lions football teams early season struggles continued last Friday night, Sept. 9, when they traveled to take on the Elmira Falcons. With local fires causing issues all over the state, the Air Quality index (AQI) was sitting at a lower number of 60 in Elmira. In order for a game to be canceled under OSAA regulations, the number would be closer to an AQI of 150. The Cottage Grove boys’ soccer game that was scheduled for Saturday was moved to a later date, and the girl’s soccer team canceled an away game. But the air seemed to have little effect on the football game.
Cottage Grove was coming off a 26-0 loss to the Pleasant Hill Billies, where they were unable to take advantage of early opportunities that would have put them ahead. Unfortunately for the Lions, it was the same story again against the Falcons.
Lions senior quarterback Brayden Crump broke off a few long runs in Cottage Grove’s first possession of the game. Despite shooting themselves in the foot with a couple penalties, the Lions were able to get the ball down to the Falcons 16-yard line. However, they turned it over on downs midway through the first quarter. It was a missed opportunity for the Lions to strike early.
After forcing Elmira to punt, the Lions had another chance to get points on the board. Crump hit sophomore running back Clayton Dewitt for a gain of 13 yards on a screen pass to get down to the Falcons 20-yard line.
It then appeared Cottage Grove was going to capture their first touchdown of the game. Crump found senior receiver Ethan Petersen down the middle of the field for a touchdown, but it was called back due to an illegal formation. Crump would then go on to throw an interception, giving the Lions their second missed opportunity in the red zone on the first two possessions of the game.
On the next Elmira drive, the Lions had several chances to get the Falcons off the field. The Lions forced Elmira to a third down three separate times on the drive but were unable to stop the Falcons from scoring when Falcons junior quarterback Quinton Buckland found senior receiver Isaiah Wilson for the game’s first touchdown. The score put the Falcons up 8-0 after a two-point conversion with 8:24 left in the second quarter.
The Lions appeared to have an excellent opportunity to respond to the Falcons touchdown. Cottage Grove senior receiver Karson Willmarth appeared to be heading for a 63-yard touchdown but was caught from behind at the one-yard line. A few plays later, a Lions runner fumbled the ball into the end zone and the Falcons recovered. Buckland then found Falcons junior tailback Dylan Wigham for an 80-yard touchdown pass over the head of a lion defensive back, making the game 14-0 at halftime. It still would have been within the Lions reach if they could find a way to score in the red zone. In all, the Lions missed three opportunities in the red zone to score in the first half.
Another missed opportunity for the Lions came on the Falcons’ first drive of the second half. The Lions were able to force the Falcons to a fourth down. Elmira decided to roll the dice and go for it, and it paid off. Buckland found a receiver for a 57-yard touchdown strike, putting Elmira up 21-0.
The Falcons continued to roll from there, scoring a touchdown from the Lion 5-yard line after a bad snap on a punt attempt by Cottage Grove went over the head of the punter in the end zone.
The score was 28-0.
From there, the Lions struggled to find success offensively. Crump was on the run much of the night as the Lions offensive line struggled against the Falcons pass rush. In the fourth quarter, Buckland found sophomore receiver Keelan Hecker for another Falcon touchdown, making the final score 36-0 following the two-point conversion.
The Lions continue their roadshow this Friday night at Philomath. It will be the Lions’ second game of a three-game road stand. Philomath will also be seeking their first win of the season, having lost to 5A Putnam and a Crook County team that is ranked 13th in the 4A OSAA rankings. Philomath is a young team, with just four seniors listed on their roster.