Thurston's Noah Blair has passed for 33 touchdowns this season, giving him 55 in two years as the starter. (Photo by Jon Olson)
Thurston's Noah Blair has passed for 33 touchdowns this season, giving him 55 in two years as the starter. (Photo by Jon Olson)

The first two weeks of the season seems like forever ago for Thurston's football team.

The No. 4 Colts were a team in transition when they opened with losses to No. 1 Wilsonville and No. 5 Summit, trying to forge an identity while relying heavily on young, untested players.

Seven games, and seven wins later, the eighth-seeded Colts (7-2) are walking much taller as they prepare to play ninth-seeded Dallas (6-3) in a 5A first-round game Friday at Willamette High School.

“They've improved a lot,” Thurston coach Justin Starck said of his team, which extended its conference winning streak to 38. “We've made a lot of adjustments, both scheme and personnel, defensively. And we've found a groove offensively.”

The Midwestern League champion Colts played about half-dozen sophomores in the 44-15 loss at Wilsonville. It proved to be an eye-opening experience.

“We just realized they weren't quite ready,” Starck said. “We just didn't know what we had. We were so young, and just trying to evaluate kids. Some kids don't exactly stand out until you put them in a live football situation. They get the job done. We figured out which kids we can rely on.”

The biggest constant has been the play of quarterback Noah Blair. The 6-foot-2, 175-pound junior has completed 74.6 percent of his passes for 2,557 yards and 33 touchdowns with three interceptions. In two seasons as the starter, he has 55 touchdown passes and seven interceptions.

Blair's efficiency is off the charts.

“To throw as much as he does with that type of percentage is just unheard of,” Starck said. “We try to give him high-percentage passes. We screen quite a bit, and he throws it down the field, too. He's got a great corps of receivers.”

Blair's top target is senior Walker Bonar (6-0, 175). After missing the first two games due to a broken collarbone suffered in the Les Schwab Bowl, Bonar has caught 49 passes for 908 yards and 14 touchdowns. He has scored in all seven of his games.

“Having Walker Bonar out there has made a huge difference,” Starck said. “He's a phenomenal possession guy. He goes and gets footballs, the contested catch. He's got super-strong hands, and he's got a mean stiff-arm, which helps his run after the catch. He's deceptively fast. He's very deceptive coming in and out of his breaks.”

The offensive line has solidified. Sophomore Jordan Barr has excelled at center when pressed into duty early in the season due to a shoulder injury to junior Peighton Rofinot. When Rofinot returned a few weeks ago, he switched to guard and Barr stayed at center.

The defense, after allowing 90 points in the first two games, has given up 12.6 points per game during the seven-game winning streak. Junior linebacker Holton Halstead, junior safety Tristen Collins and senior defensive end Luke Newell are thriving in new roles.

Two sophomores other than Barr have been steady contributors in receiver Matt Newell and inside linebacker Cruz Gray.

The Colts will play Dallas for the third time in four seasons. They beat the Dragons 42-0 in the COVID-shortened season in early 2021 and 27-14 in last year's quarterfinals.

Dallas finished tied for third in the tough Mid-Willamette Conference, losing to No. 2 Silverton, No. 6 West Albany and South Albany. The Dragons gain 76 percent of their yards on the ground, led by senior Zayvian Webster (997 yards, 13 touchdowns) and senior quarterback Isaiah Mosley (748 yards, eight touchdowns).

“They stick to what they do, and they do it well,” Starck said. “Just a bunch of scrappy kids out there. They're not enormous, but they're just a bunch of solid kids that play very aggressive football.”

The game was moved to Willamette because Thurston's field is a “mud bog,” according to Starck.

“We did not feel that was in our best interest to play football in the mud, especially against a team like Dallas,” Starck said.

A look at some of the other intriguing first-round games:



No. 9 Lake Oswego (6-3) at No. 8 Jesuit (5-4), 7 p.m.: A classic playoff matchup featuring two of the state's all-time great coaches in Jesuit's Ken Potter and his good friend, Lake Oswego's Steve Coury. Potter needs two more wins to tie Dayton's Dewey Sullivan for the state's all-time lead at 352. Jesuit has won 14 consecutive first-round games; Lake Oswego has won its last six in the opening round.

No. 10 Nelson (7-2) at No. 7 Wells (8-1), 7 p.m.: Nelson, which lost in the first round in its first-ever playoff appearance last year, goes for its first playoff victory against the Guardians, who claimed their first unified Portland Interscholastic League title since 2003. Wells is coming off a wild 74-60 win over Franklin.

No. 11 Tigard (4-5) at No. 6 South Salem (9-0), 7 p.m.: The Saxons have been nearly unstoppable behind senior quarterback Athan Palmateer, the 6A leader in passing yards (2,862) and touchdown passes (29). A game against the Tigers, who started 4-0 before going 0-5 in the tough Three Rivers League, should be revealing.

6A Columbia Cup

No. 26 North Salem (5-4) vs. No. 23 Grant (5-4) at Marshall Campus, 7 p.m.: Two teams that had high hopes but struggled at the end of the regular season get a chance at finding consolation with a playoff run. North Salem capitalized on the opportunity last year by reaching the Columbia Cup final.


No. 10 Caldera (6-3) at 5A No. 7 West Albany (7-2), 7 p.m.: Caldera, a second-year program appearing in the playoffs for the first time, goes up against traditional 5A power West Albany. To have a chance for the road win, the Wolfpack will have to find a way to slow down Bulldogs dual-threat senior quarterback Lukas Hews.


No. 11 Marshfield (5-4) at No. 6 La Salle Prep (8-1), 7 p.m.: The Falcons are one of state's great turnaround stories, going from 0-10 and 2-7 the last two years to winning their first conference title since 2012, also the year of their last playoff win. Marshfield, which beat Mazama 26-20 last week, presents a stern challenge.


No. 10 Santiam Christian (7-3) at No. 7 Vale (8-0), 6 p.m. (MT): A rematch of the season opener, when Vale prevailed 46-6 at Umatilla. No Oregon school has a greater football tradition than Vale, which has won a record 12 state titles. The Vikings, whose last title came in 2014, completed their first unbeaten regular season since 2015, holding opponents to 43 points.

No. 11 Yamhill-Carlton (6-3) at No. 6 Sisters (8-1), 7 p.m.: It's been a magical season for Sisters, where the Outlaws – 1-6 two years ago – made a perfect run through the Mountain Valley Conference. Yamhill-Carlton, which finished behind state powers Banks and Kennedy in Special District 1, has outscored foes 165-47 during a five-game winning streak.


No. 10 Toledo (6-2) at No. 7 Gervais (8-1), 7 p.m.: Gervais' only previous playoff appearances came in the 1950s, losing in the B final in 1951 and falling in the B quarterfinals in 1953. The Cougars, runners-up to Regis in the Tri-River Conference, posted their first winning record since 2000. Toledo was second to Lowell in Special District 2.


No. 12 Harper Charter at No. 5 Eddyville Charter, 3 p.m.: Harper Charter was No. 1 in the OSAAtoday coaches poll after opening the season with wins over two No. 1 teams in Spray/Mtchell/Wheeler and South Wasco County. The Hornets slipped to the No. 12 seed after losses to Joseph and Prairie City/Burnt River and draw a difficult task against Eddyville, which has four shutouts and handed Alsea its first loss two weeks ago.



No. 9 Junction City (7-2) at No. 8 Baker (5-4), 1 p.m.: Baker, which started the season 0-4, gets a home playoff game after winning the Greater Oregon League title last week by rallying from a two-touchdown deficit in the second half to beat Pendleton 42-34. Junction City ends up on the road after losing to Marist Catholic 22-16 with the Special District 3 title on the line last week.