BANDON — For a team that starts a bunch of underclassmen, Bandon brings a lot of experience into this week’s Class 2A playoff game at Neah-Kah-Nie.
The Tigers and Pirates meet Friday night at Rockaway Beach north of Tillamook.
“I think the kids are excited to get going, especially the kids who were here last year,” Bandon coach Aaron Freitag said. “They already tasted it.”
The Tigers also were on the North Coast last year, when they faced Knappa in the opening round. The bulk of Bandon’s roster from that game is back, and most of them will be back again next year.
“We’re the opposite of Neah-Kah-Nie,” Freitag said. “They are seniors and juniors. We are sophomores and freshmen.”
But Bandon’s second-year coach thinks his team matches up well with the Pirates.
He said Neah-Kah-Nie uses a run-heavy offense led by bruising fullback Tristan Bennett. The Tigers will be ready for him.
“They’re running back is pretty big,” senior Cayton Sinay said. “We have to tackle him low and execute on offense.”
As for the tackling Bennett and Neah-Kah-Nie’s other players, Bandon has been fundamentally sound in that area, sophomore linebacker Wyatt Dyer said.
“(The key is) being sure to wrap up,” he said. “Make sure you get the tackle. Don’t go for the highlight hit. A sure tackle is better.”
Bandon focused a bunch in the preseason on open-field tackles, Dyer said.
“We didn’t do that well last year,” he said.
The Tigers also have been opportunistic on defense, with frequent interceptions combined with a smash-mouth approach up front leading to Bandon holding seven of nine opponents to three touchdowns or fewer.
Neah-Kah-Nie has been even better on defense, only giving up more than 14 points twice — in a blowout win over Nestucca and in the Pirates’ only loss, to Class 3A powerhouse Amity.
But Freitag feels good about Bandon’s offense.
“We really started slow with the offense,” he said. “Then we changed some things and really got it going.”
The Tigers have been using more of a run-based attack in recent weeks, averaging about five touchdowns a game in their final four regular-season games with Sinay and Dyer leading the way.
“Cayton is running so hard, how do you not get him the ball?” Freitag said. “We’ve just got to block better.”
That’s something Bandon has done well despite having an offensive line outweighed by every opposing front.
Matthew Yarbor, Bandon’s center who tips the scales a little under 150 pounds, said the Tigers started slow up front and then started communicating better “and something clicked.”
Now that line is opening holes for Sinay and Dyer and protecting quarterback Braydon Freitag.
“People underestimate us as a team and we surprise them with our strength and our skill,” Yarbor said.
Bandon also has been strong late in games, and Monday’s practice session showed why. After lifting weights, the Tigers headed out for conditioning.
“Mondays we run,” Sinay said. “It gets us in shape for the fourth quarter drive.”
If the Tigers are close to the Pirates in the fourth quarter Friday, they like their chances.
“I think we have a good opportunity to win,” Sinay said.
The winner of Friday’s game faces the winner of Saturday’s game between Lost River and Coquille in the quarterfinals next week.