BANDON — Rather than fretting a long road trip to meet the only unbeaten team in Class 2A in the opening round of the playoffs, Bandon is heading into Saturday's game at Heppner with confidence.
“We know we can play against anybody in the state. We’ve got the squad. We’ve always been small but scrappy,” said Bandon’s Coby Smith, who is one of three seniors on the roster. “As long as we work hard we can beat anybody and we know that, too. So if we all click together and work hard, we can play with anybody in the state.”
This week, that means a Mustangs team that has the most stifling defense in Class 2A. Heppner has five shutouts and has only given up 66 points all season (20 of those against Gold Beach late in a blowout win against the Panthers).
Though the Tigers are far from unbeaten, Bandon is entering the playoffs on a roll, with four straight wins after a 1-4 start to the season that was marred in part by injuries. The Tigers finished second in the Sunset Conference, setting up their 850-mile round trip this week.
The key ingredient in Bandon’s confidence came from a road win against then top-ranked Toledo on Oct. 18. Entering the contest the Tigers were 2-4 and the playoffs seemed like a far-off dream. But instead the Tigers were able to fight to a 20-17 victory.
“I think that Toledo game really set (our confidence) through the roof,” said senior quarterback Braydon Freitag. “I think it brought us closer because we were down after losing the first three games. We were hanging our heads and that one just boosted our confidence and it shows on the field.
“(Heppner) is nothing. They’re another Toledo and we’re going to do business.”
In the final two games of the season Bandon dished out a pair of dominant performances with a 56-6 senior night win over Reedsport followed by a 59-6 victory on the road at Gold Beach to wrap the regular season.
For the Tigers, getting to this point of the season required getting the team healthy and the necessary players on the field. Freitag, Bandon's four-year quarterback, missed the Tigers' losses to Glide and Brookings-Harbor to open the season and was still getting his feet wet when Bandon lost its third straight to open the season on a trip to Oakland.
“We started rotating some guys through and some guys changed positions and it’s helped a lot,” said head coach Aaron Freitag. “I had some older guys that I was keeping fresh so I could have them on defense. It was like, dude, you’ve got to go, we need you. And it helped, it really did.”
Included in the mix has been the growth of junior Donovan Moore at who Freitag sees as a player that “Loves football. Loves to hit. He’s just a scrappy dude.” Aaron Freitag is also excited to have sophomore Reef Berry back in the lineup after he was out with mononucleosis. Alongside Braydon Freitag under center and Wyatt Dyer absorbing contact at running back, the Tigers have found their rhythm.
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Bandon's defense also has found its rhythm, playing solid the last six games, aside from giving up 48 points in its only league loss to Coquille.
That is vital this week, facing a Heppner team that has scored more than 40 points in six games this season.
When Bandon and Heppner kickoff at 1 p.m. at the Morrow County Fairgrounds, Aaron Freitag just wants to see the team doing what they have been doing.
“I really, really just want to see them come out and play scrappy football. Just smash mouth, go right after them,” he said. “It’s 11 guys on the field vs. you — 11-on-11. They’re all high schoolers. I just want downhill football, hitting gaps, smashing people.”
Bandon finished the regular season with a dominant win over Gold Beach in the regular-season finale, topping the Panthers 59-6.
The game against the winless Panthers enabled Aaron Freitag to get all his players playing time, and also gave a couple of different players a chance to get into the end zone.
Wyatt Dyer had two rushing touchdowns and Shaun White one for the Tigers and Braydon Freitag had a touchdown pass to Smith.
The other scores came by different players. Gage Looney, Harold Hammons and Cooper Lang had offensive scores and Anthony Hennick returned a fumble for a touchdown.
Hammons is a freshman and Looney, Hennick and Lang all are sophomores.
All four teams that beat the Tigers are in the playoffs this weekend as well.
Glide and Oakland face each other on Friday night and Brookings-Harbor is at Amity in the Class 3A playoffs on Saturday while Sunset Conference champion Coquille hosts Santiam.