One bite at a time for Lions football in 20-7 loss to Pleasant Hill

COTTAGE GROVE, Ore. - The Cottage Grove Lions football team opened the year with a loss last Friday night at Pleasant Hill, 20-7. There were many penalties and no passing attack. It was not always pretty.

Let us talk about the bigger picture. There were lots of reasons for hope from what was seen.

Steve Turner, the Lions new football coach, has won big in Oregon high school football, winning a 5A State championship at Mountain View in 2011 and again with Cascade at the 4A level in 2015.

Turner began his head coaching career at Rainier High School in 1985. At 68 years old, Turner has been around the block and knows how to win.

At his last coaching job, Turner helped build back North Medford for three years. They went from 3-7 his first year and improved to 8-3 the next. Fortunately for the Lions, he decided to move to Cottage Grove in 2021 and took the Lions job earlier this year.

It has been a few rough years for the Cottage Grove football program since the 2019 departure of former coach Gary Roberts, who led the team to a 4A state championship in 2017.

Former and current players have worked hard. Former coaches have also poured their souls into the program and invested in student athletes. Anybody who has done it knows how hard it is. But something went sideways somewhere along the line with this program.

The Lions have lost 27 of their last 29 games.

They will not get back to the top of the 4A overnight, but Turner is just the coach to help lead this program to get back on track. Turner is known to be old school, but also adaptable, running the wing-T, I-formation, and spread offense during his career.

The Lion offense has a long way to go, but with Turner and his staff leading the charge, there is much reason to believe that if these student athletes keep putting in the work, they will get there.

They showed the determination they are truly capable of on a Friday. Down 20-0 in the fourth quarter, the Billies were driving down field. Lions junior defensive back Terran Stewart delivered a hard hit to a Billies runner on second down.

It looked painful to be the one taking that hit, but the play sure fired up the Lions sideline. It helped propel Cottage Grove to get the ball back and score a touchdown in the fourth quarter. It was a small but telling victory for Cottage Grove after three frustrating quarters of penalties that continuously set the Lions back.

You cannot eat an elephant in one bite. The Lions did not score a touchdown in their first four games last season. They lost to Pleasant Hill in the home opener 26-0 a year ago.

This time around they lost by 13, but one of those touchdowns was on the second half opening kickoff. Cottage Grove was also into Pleasant Hill territory several times when they did not capitalize. The defense was solid. It’s easy to see that the Lions were a much bigger threat to the Billies than the final score indicated.

Cottage Grove hosts the Elmira Falcons Elmira tonight at 7:00 p.m., Elmira won 36-0 last year. The team will hope to take another bite of the elephant, how big of a bite they take is the question.

Cottage Grove struggled to get a strong passing attack going last Friday. Nathin Lemon, who was presumed to be the starting quarterback for the Lions was injured during basketball season and will miss the football season. In his place, Junior Gavin Grogan did what he could with the throws he was given. But the Lions did not allow him more than a few throws.

If Cottage Grove cannot pass the ball earlier on, they will need to rely on the offensive line to create holes for the running game. Grogan can also take off with the ball.

Two Lion players came out of the locker room holding an anchor and a sledgehammer. One Lion coach told me “The sledgehammer is the offensive line. The mentality that they are going to be the hammer and smash people. The anchor is for the defensive line. That we play like an anchor.”

I love it. Football begins and ends with the line of scrimmage. It is this mentality that will take the Lions back to where they want to be. One bite at a time.