Silverton coach Josh Craig likes his team's improved physicality. (Photo by Chase Allgood/OregonLive)
Silverton coach Josh Craig likes his team's improved physicality. (Photo by Chase Allgood/OregonLive)

To hear their coaches tell it, it wouldn’t be too surprising to see No. 3 Silverton and No. 5 Lebanon show up for Friday’s 5A Mid-Willamette Conference football game with lunch pails, hard hats and steel-toed shoes.

“They’re a blue-collar group, and that’s kind of what we believe we are as well,” Lebanon coach Ty Tomlin said. “It’s going to be a fight in a phone booth. It’s going to be a physical game up front, and whoever controls that will definitely have an advantage.”

Host Silverton will be ready to punch the clock.

“I always like playing Lebanon because I respect those guys,” Foxes coach Josh Craig said. “They kind of embody their town, blue-collar and hard-nosed. This year we’ve really improved our physicality, so I really do expect it to be a good game.”

If recent history is any indication, the host Foxes (2-0, 2-0 Mid-Willamette) and Warriors (2-0, 2-0) should be prepared to play a full 48 minutes. Two years ago, Lebanon outlasted Silverton 21-20 on its way to the 5A title. Last year, the Foxes rallied late for a 31-30 win over the Warriors.

“The last two years have just been nail-biters to the very end, and I don’t think it’ll be much different,” Tomlin said. “The one who tends to win this one is sort of in the driver’s seat, to control their own destiny.”

The Mid-Willamette once again is loaded with good teams – there’s also No. 4 West Albany and No. 8 Crescent Valley – and Friday’s game will go a long way toward sorting things out.

Lebanon’s triple-option offense, with a second-year starter at quarterback in Colton Shepard, has averaged 393 rushing yards per game in beating Corvallis 49-25 and Dallas 37-16.

Senior Chaz Daniels (5-10, 175) has rushed for 335 yards behind an all-senior line that includes tackles Zar Grimes and Steven Wilson, guards Corbin Anderson and Lane Blisseck and center Dylan Studer.

“We can run the ball. That’s something we do very well,” Tomlin said. “Chaz has been phenomenal. He doesn’t seem like much, but he really understands how to run the ball.”

Lebanon’s defense has been strong against the run, allowing 67 rushing yards per game, but gave up 328 passing yards to Corvallis. That could be an issue against Silverton, which has a fourth-year starter at quarterback in Levi Nielsen and a breakout receiver in junior Grant Buchheit, who has 13 catches for 338 yards and three touchdowns this season.

The Warriors know all too well about Nielsen, who was the difference in last year’s loss to Silverton. Nielsen directed a 20-play, 81-yard drive in the fourth quarter, scoring the go-ahead touchdown on an eight-yard run with 2:38 left.

“You look at him and he doesn’t really pop at you, but he’s just a competitor,” Tomlin said. “He’s someone we’re going to have to slow down somehow, to keep it close and have an opportunity to win in the fourth quarter.”

Craig said it’s easy to take Nielsen for granted.

“It’s so fortunate to have a guy like that,” Craig said. “You couldn’t ask for a better leader, as well. Maybe sometimes a guy that’s been playing four years would think they know more than the coach, but he remains just as coachable today as he did when he was a freshman.”

A glimpse at other Week 3 games around the state:

No. 3 West Linn (2-0) at No. 7 Sheldon (1-1): The best 6A matchup of the week features two major-college quarterback commits in West Linn senior Ethan Long (Arizona State) and Sheldon senior Michael Johnson Jr. (Penn State). Johnson, who threw for 21 touchdowns and ran for 12 scores last season, missed the first two games while recovering from a shoulder injury but is expected to make his debut Friday. Long has been outstanding in wins over Central Catholic and McNary, throwing for 750 yards and 10 touchdowns, three of those scores going to junior Casey Tawa.

Westview (2-0) at No. 6 Jesuit (1-1): Westview sophomore quarterback JJ Woodin has been on fire early, throwing for 435 yards and seven touchdowns in limited action in blowout wins over David Douglas and Glencoe. But the competition will be upgraded substantially in the Metro League game against the Crusaders, whose league winning streak is at 36. Jesuit also will be looking to bounce back from a 20-14 loss to Lake Oswego, in which the offense struggled as senior veteran quarterback Will Spitznagel completed 8 of 19 passes for 86 yards.

No. 9 South Medford (2-0) at Liberty (2-0): Teams off to promising starts meet in a 6A nonleague game. Despite losing all but three starters from last year’s state runner-up, South Medford has rolled over Centennial and Canby. The Panthers’ defense is allowing 203 yards and 9.5 points per game and has five interceptions, three by senior Matt Phillips. Liberty has a third-year starter at quarterback in senior Bradley Norman, a dual threat who has passed for 247 yards and run for a team-high 185 yards.

No. 5 Gladstone (1-1) at No. 3 Seaside (2-0): A nonleague battle between potential 4A contenders. Seaside is bidding to go 3-0 for the first time in six years behind an outstanding running back in senior Alexander Teubner, who has rushed for 482 yards and 10 touchdowns. It is the third consecutive top-10 matchup for Gladstone, which beat No. 6 Banks 35-28 on a late touchdown before losing to No. 2 Marshfield 20-17 on a field goal with 12 seconds left.

No. 3 Harrisburg (2-0) at No. 5 Cascade Christian (1-1): The last two 3A champions collide in the Special District 2 opener. Reigning 3A champion Cascade Christian had an 11-game winning streak snapped last week with a 20-14 loss to Klamath Union. The Challengers can get back on track against Harrisburg, a team it defeated twice last season, including 46-8 in the quarterfinals, but they need to contain Eagles junior running back Gabe Knox (556 rushing yards).

No. 2 Santiam (2-0) at No. 1 Kennedy (2-0): The stakes are high in the Special District 2 game between the top two teams in the 2A coaches poll. Santiam beat Kennedy 30-16 last year, when the Wolverines were state runners-up, but the Trojans appear to be improved with an emerging star in junior running back Emorej Lynk, who has rushed for seven touchdowns. Santiam won at Heppner 14-8 last week as Trevor Tinney rushed for 130 yards and two scores.

No. 7 North Douglas (2-0) at No. 4 Hosanna Christian (1-0): North Douglas will be looking for payback after losing to Hosanna Christian 50-12 in the first round of the 1A playoffs last year. Senior running back Caleb Parks has been on a tear for North Douglas, rushing for 558 yards and seven touchdowns. Hosanna Christian did not play last week after opening with a 52-22 win over Falls City, as junior Will Maupin had eight catches for 200 yards and four touchdowns.