Since making the state quarterfinals in 2000, Newberg football has toiled mostly in the shadows.
In the last 18 seasons, Newberg has exactly one playoff win, although it was a doozy, a 2016 stunner when the 30th-seeded Tigers went on the road to beat No. 3 South Medford 26-23 in a 6A first-round game.
But Friday night, the town will be buzzing as Newberg plays its first home playoff game since 2000. And who will be standing on the opposite sideline in a 6A first-round game, hoping to play spoiler? You guessed it, South Medford.
“We have a huge challenge Friday night,” Newberg coach Kevin Hastin said.
The game against 20th-seeded South Medford (6-3) represents an opportunity for the 13th-seeded Tigers (7-2) to continue their rise. When Hastin took over as coach in 2017, they finished 2-7. Last year, they improved to 5-5, losing to Clackamas 48-0 in a first-round playoff game.
This year, loaded with returning players and bolstered by a sophomore class that went undefeated as freshmen, Newberg believed it was ready to make some noise.
“I felt like we were a playoff team and we were going to compete for a league title,” Hastin said. “Just looking at what we had coming back, I was expecting to win seven-plus games. Our seniors’ goal was to win two playoff games. So that’s still in front of us.”
Newberg, runner-up to Sherwood in the Pacific Conference, already has clinched its first winning season since 2009. The Tigers have won seven games for the first time in 19 years, and can win eight games for the first time since 1960. Newberg won eight games in 1960 and 1942, but never has won nine.
Getting to nine wins is going to be a monumental task, however. If the Tigers can get past South Medford, they are likely to run into fourth-seeded Central Catholic, which plays No. 29 Southridge in the first round.
Newberg is lacking a signature win. The team’s two losses this season were 29-28 in overtime to Portland Interscholastic League champion Grant and 35-14 to Sherwood, a game in which the Tigers trailed 20-14 late in the third quarter.
“We know we can compete at that level,” Hastin said. “We’ve just got to play at our best when we’re playing these top-level teams. We’ve got a lot of great kids that are starting to work hard and build some confidence.”
Newberg is winning with a young team, starting only four seniors on each side of the ball.
The team is loaded with young talent in the backfield as sophomore quarterback Levi Durrell, sophomore fullback Price Pothier (986 rushing yards, 18 touchdowns), sophomore wingback Sonny Apilando and freshman wingback Hudson Davis complement senior running back Justin Holtan (836 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns).
“We’ve got some youth back there, but they’re playing really well,” Hastin said. “The future looks bright. We have bigger games in front of us. I like the direction we’re going in.”
The defense has recorded four shutouts and is holding teams to 12.8 points per game, ranked No. 1 in 6A. The Tigers have 27 sacks, led by seven from senior lineman Harrison Hess. Senior Jared LaPointe has been outstanding at inside linebacker, and junior linebacker Conner Croskrey and junior lineman Connor O’Bryan have eight and seven tackles for loss, respectively.
Newberg will have its hands full with a South Medford passing attack led by senior quarterback Toren Tuttle, who has thrown for 1,800 yards and 21 touchdowns with nine interceptions and has rushed for six scores. His favorite target is 5-9 senior Austin Boster, who has 44 catches for 816 yards and 13 touchdowns.
The Panthers, 6A runners-up in 2017, fell to Reynolds 35-28 in the first round last year. They enter the game off a 52-21 loss to rival North Medford.
The teams have two common opponents. Newberg defeated McMinnville 21-0 and Canby 40-14. South Medford beat McMinnville 21-7 and Canby 16-13.
A look at other top playoff matchups this week:
No. 25 Jefferson (6-3) at No. 8 Sheldon (5-4): Two teams that have had a reversal of fortunes this season. Jefferson, behind highly recruited junior tailback Damir Collins (2,320 rushing yards, 27 touchdowns), has improved from 2-7 in its first season under coach Don Johnson and is going for its first playoff win in eight years. Sheldon, last year’s 6A runner-up, won five regular-season games, its fewest since 1997.
No. 17 Clackamas (4-4) at No. 16 Mountainside (6-3): It’s been a tumultuous season for Clackamas, which won 36 of 40 games the last three years but has struggled to find its footing under first-year coach Terry Drake, who last week went on season-ending medical leave. Mountainside, which went 3-6 in its first varsity season last year, is making its first playoff appearance.
No. 10 Lebanon (6-3) at No. 7 Parkrose (6-2): It is the biggest game in years for Parkrose, which has never won a playoff game, losing in 1963, 1980, 1982, 2010 and 2014. The Broncos made a strong statement last week by going on the road to beat Wilsonville 28-19. Lebanon, battle-tested from the tough Mid-Willamette Conference, has highly touted linebacker Keith Brown.
No. 11 Dallas (6-3) at No. 6 Ashland (8-1): Dallas, a semifinalist in 2016, has rebounded from back-to-back 2-7 seasons to return to the playoffs. The Dragons, who have lost only to Lebanon, Silverton and West Albany, must slow down Grizzlies senior quarterback Rieger Sayre to have a chance. In last week’s win over South Eugene, he completed 23 of 28 passes for 366 yards and three touchdowns and ran for a 59-yard score
No. 13 Stayton (6-2) at No. 4 North Marion (6-2): A rematch of the season opener Sept. 6, when host North Marion scored the last 20 points to win 37-27 behind Sergio Jimenez, who passed for 381 yards and five touchdowns. Tri-Valley Conference champion North Marion posted its best regular-season record in 26 years, led by first-year coach Calvin Griggs, who came over from 2A Jefferson. Both teams enter with momentum; North Marion has won five in a row, Stayton its last four.
No. 11 North Valley (6-3) at No. 6 Gladstone (6-2): The Knights, who won a total of five games in the last two seasons, have made strides this season, losing only to Hidden Valley, Mazama and Henley. The Gladiators are looking to make a playoff run in the return of coach JJ Jedrykowski, who led them to the state title in 2014.
No. 9 Sutherlin (7-2) at No. 8 Cascade Christian (8-1): Sutherlin hasn’t won a playoff game in 10 years, and it won’t be easy against dynamic Cascade Christian, last year’s state runner-up. Challengers senior quarterback Kiegan Schaan has thrown 24 touchdown passes and run for 14 scores. Sutherlin senior Jake Merrifield has rushed for 1,101 yards and 13 touchdowns.
No. 10 Vale (5-4) at No. 7 Yamhill-Carlton (9-0): Yamhill-Carlton, winless in 4A in 2017, finished the regular season unbeaten for the first time in school history by beating Blanchet Catholic 27-0, its 12th consecutive win. Now the Tigers go for their first playoff win since 2007 against Vale, which is coming off a turnover-plagued 27-8 loss to Burns with the Special District 2 title on the line.
No. 14 Bandon (5-4) at No. 3 Heppner (9-0): Bandon closed the season on a four-game winning streak, including a 20-17 upset at Toledo. The Tigers could be a dangerous first-round foe for perennial power Heppner and coach Greg Grant, who this season became the sixth coach in state history to record 300 wins.
No. 11 Warrenton (6-2) at No. 6 Sheridan (6-2): Warrenton’s defense has been suffocating in the second half of the season, holding its last four opponents to a total of 115 yards. The Warriors will be looking for some payback for last year, when they lost 28-3 at Sheridan in the first round.
No. 11 Dufur (6-3) at No. 6 Perrydale (8-1): When Dufur lost its first two games by a combined 134-22, it was apparent that the Rangers were a longshot to tie a state record with their fifth consecutive state title. The proud Rangers stabilized, though, and will try to win a playoff game for the 10th consecutive year when they meet Perrydale, which has lost only to unbeaten and top-seeded St. Paul.
No. 9 Days Creek (8-1) at No. 8 Pilot Rock/Nixyaawii (6-2): After failing to make the playoffs the last two years, Days Creek is vastly improved in large part due to a big season from 6-4, 235-pound senior quarterback Gerritt Wentland, who has thrown for 19 touchdowns on 94 pass attempts. The Wolves are likely need plenty of offense from Wentland to offset Pilot Rock, which features explosive junior running back Tyasin Burns.