COQUILLE — A year later, Coquille’s first-round home playoff loss to Lost River still stings.
“It was awful,” said senior lineman Renzai Martin. “It was just crushing. We knew we could play better. We weren’t playing our brand of football.”
The loss was fresh on the minds of the Red Devils as they prepare for this year’s first-round matchup with Santiam. The Wolverines visit Saturday in a game slated for a 2 p.m. kickoff.
Martin said there is a noticeable difference in practice this week as the Red Devils hope to avoid a repeat of last year.
“We are much more pumped up,” he said. “There’s a lot more intensity at practice.”
They are wary of the Wolverines, even though Santiam enters with just a 3-4 overall record.
After all, Santiam was in the state championship the past two falls, losing to Kennedy last year and Monroe in 2017. Each of those seasons, they lost just two games.
“They have lots of good athletes and a lot of experience,” Coquille coach David Thomason said, adding that playing into late November each year helps tremendously the following season.
Because of a schedule quirk, Santiam hasn’t won a game in a month. They had a contest against Chemeketa canceled and then a bye before losing the past two weeks to Sheridan and Colton.
Along the way, the Wolverines suffered an injury to their senior quarterback, turning to a freshman, and switched the offense from option to single-wing.
Thomason said Coquille is preparing for both styles. Both are run-based and with either attack, Santiam will play physical up front.
“They’ll get yards,” Martin said. “We just need to hold them and get them to fourth down.”
Coquille, meanwhile, is without its best overall player after Caiden Yates suffered a knee injury in last week’s season-finale against Toledo. Yates was the Sunset Conference offensive and defensive player of the year both last year and this year.
“He’s a senior captain and a team leader on the field,” said senior Ean Smith, who like Yates plays running back and linebacker. “He’s all over the place. It’s a big loss.
“But I think we’ve got the guys to step in.”
Thomason praised a couple of youngsters for their efforts against Toledo last week, when the Red Devils beat the Boomers to clinch the outright league title.
Freshman Howard Blanton filled in at linebacker, a place he will play again this week, while freshman Tom Riley stepped in on the line when another teammate also had to miss part of the game with injury. Sophomore Brock Willis recovered an onside kick late, while getting crunched by Toledo players, to clinch the win.
“We had two freshmen and a sophomore make huge contributions,” Thomason said. “IF we can get that kind of team effort with everybody bought in, Saturday could be a lot of fun.”
Coquille has thrived all season with a three-headed backfield of Yates, Smith and Gunner Yates, one of the fastest players in the state.
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With the injury to Caiden Yates, the other two likely will get more carries than normal. Senior Tucker Godfrey, who also missed part of the season to injury, will see more time in the backfield as well.
Gunner Yates said he feels a little need to have a big game to help compensate for his brother’s absence.
“He’s all-state on both sides of the ball,” Gunner said. “I have to do a little more — to do it for him.”
Unlike Santiam, Coquille is entering the game on a five-game win streak and coming off the high of the good win at Toledo.
“That was the perfect game for our last regular-season game,” Smith said. “It’s exactly what we needed to get into playoff mode.”
“It felt amazing to win,” added Martin. “It was a battle.
“They were a hurdle that we had to get by.”
Now Coquille is getting ready for a playoff with a lot of similarities to last year, Thomason said.
“We’re facing a team that’s physical, like Lost River,” he said. “We’re facing a team that didn’t win their league like Lost River. We’re playing on a Saturday.”
And the Red Devils are playing a team with a strong pedigree.
“It’s not just that,” Thomason said. “It’s not who they are. It’s what we did last year.
“We got embarrassed at home on Spike Leslie Field. We can’t let that happen.”
Smith said his teammates will be ready.
“I think it’s going to be a good game,” he said. “I think we have a bad taste in our mouth from last year.
“We get a chance to get it going — to get a home win we didn’t get last year.
“Everybody wants to keep playing.”
The winner Saturday will face either Knappa or Culver in the quarterfinals next week. If Coquille wins, the Red Devils will be home again.
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