COOS BAY — For the second straight season, the Marshfield Pirates were pushed to the brink at home in the Class 4A football quarterfinals, only to come up with the necessary plays to advance to the semifinals.
Marshfield's Corey Stover celebrates a touchdown reception against Mazama on Friday.
A year ago, Marshfield had to engineer a comeback facing a double-digit halftime deficit to roar back with a 24-21 win. This season, Marshfield overcame a sluggish first half with two well-thrown touchdown passes by Grant Woolsey, the winner coming on a skinny post to Jacob Carpenter that had to be in one spot, and the Pirates held on for a 28-23 win and will play top-ranked Banks next week in the semifinals.
“We didn’t play our best game,” Marshfield coach John Lemmons said. “We made too many mistakes. (But) they got it done. They just never gave up. When it was crunch time, the kids stepped up and made plays.”
The best team Marshfield has played since North Bend, Mazama gave Marshfield all it wanted and more.
As the only team from Oregon to beat Mazama all year, Marshfield again had to make some adjustments on the fly defensively to handle the unexpectedly pass-happy Vikings.
Mazama quarterback Nate Beck was 6-of-14 passing for 193 yards and two touchdowns, including an 88-yard go route to Cole Brosterhous, who caught Beck’s other touchdown pass.
“We haven’t needed to throw,” Mazama coach Vic Lease said, explaining that Mazama does what it needs to to win games and usually the running attack is sufficient. “Our QB can throw the ball. We’ve got some good receivers.”
The long touchdown gave the Vikings a 16-15 lead in the third quarter, but the Pirates battled back with Woolsey's two touchdowns passes. The quarterback also made a few nice plays on defense.
Marshfield inserted Woolsey at one cornerback opposite Chase Howerton after the long touchdown for Noah Niblett, who struggled in pass coverage on Friday night.
After the game, with the Pirates huddled in the west end zone, Woolsey put his arm around the sophomore defensive back and had some words of wisdom for the understandably disappointed youngster.
“I just told the kid, ‘Nobody’s gonna have their greatest game every game,’” Woolsey said. “'You’d be LeBron (James) if that happened. But it’s not gonna happen. So you just gotta keep your head up.'”
Marshfield's pass defense improved as the game went on.
Beck was 4-of-6 with 76 yards and a touchdown in the first half, with Vikings receivers running open on corners or posts or go routes for much of the time. With the exception of two second-half completions, the 88-yard touchdown and another for 39 yards to set up Mazama’s final touchdown, the Vikings' passing game slowed in the last two quarters.
Some of that had to do with Marshfield’s pass rush bearing down on Beck. Cory Stover had two sacks, the second of which forced a fumble with 1:21 to go that Josiah Niblett eventually fell on after it squirted around, all but ending the football game.
With Beck having less time to pass, the lives of Marshfield's defensive backs was markedly improved.
“All night we were going at the quarterback and just doing our job that we practiced all week,” Stover said.
But the offense still had to score.
After getting the ball first, Marshfield marched right down the field on the backs of Josiah Niblett, Sirus Robie and Devin Benson, going 67 yards in six plays, capped by a 6-yard Robie touchdown on Marshfield’s favorite inside trap play for a 7-0 lead with just more than two minutes gone in the opening period.
But neither offense scored for the remainder of the quarter, with Marshfield's second possession ending in an interception by Mazama's Tristan Lee.
Marshfield’s defense, though, forced a turnover on downs, managing to play the pass well enough while totally stifling the run.
Punts were then exchanged until Mazama got the ball back with 3:17 left in the second quarter and scored in nine plays, using a 38-yard pass on second and 14 to flip the field, then scoring on a 10-yard slant to Brosterhous with 11 seconds left. Kaiden Wood ran in the two-point conversion and Mazama went into half leading 8-7.
“They’ve got a lot of weapons,” Lease said of the Pirates. “We tried to match them weapon for weapon. They got one more touchdown.”
Marshfield forced a punt and, forgetting about its struggling passing game, rode Sirus Robie for most of the short 30-yard drive, capped by an 11-yard trap score, then the senior added the two-point conversion and Marshfield led 15-7.
But it was short-lived.
After Arturo Ledesma kicked one of his three touchbacks, Mazama faced a third-and-18 from its own 12-yard line after a holding penalty put them way behind the sticks.
But Brosterhous beat Noah Niblett and was off to the races, scoring the longest touchdown of the night, then Leighton Alexander ran in the two-pointer and Mazama grabbed back the lead at 16-15 with 6:44 remaining in the third period.
Marshfield got the better of traded punts when Ledesma pinned the Vikings at their own 8 and Marshfield got a quick stop. A short Mazama punt put the Pirates at the Vikings 35.
Stover ran a go route up the Mazama sideline and Woolsey hit him perfectly and Stover was easily into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown. The two-point conversion failed when Woolsey again looked for Stover, but got flushed from the pocket and had to throw it away.
Until then, Woolsey hadn't thrown the ball particularly well, but he stayed confident.
“You gotta have that little swagger to your game where you think that no matter what I’m completing the pass or I’m getting 5 yards on this play,” Woolsey said. “And if you don’t have that mindset, you’re gonna struggle.”
After a couple good opportunities for interceptions in the first half, Howerton finally got one on the ensuing Vikings drive, closing quickly on a reverse double pass from Lee that hung up, giving the senior time to get underneath the intended receiver Beck. Howerton sprinted up the sideline for a 44-yard return, setting up Marshfield’s final touchdown.
With the Pirates facing a second-and-14, Carpenter jabbed outside and got a good inside release. Woolsey saw him in time and fired a rocket to the only place Carpenter could catch it, and he beat Zach Gibson to the ball, each rolling over each other in the end zone. It was good for a 14-yard score, a 12-point lead and all the points the Pirates needed.
“First off, I give it all to Wools. That was a great ball,” Carpenter said. “That’s kinda my instinct. He knows if he’s ever in trouble to just throw it up and I’ll go get it.
“At first I didn’t even know it was a touchdown. I just thought it was a first down, and I see everyone celebrating and I looked and it was a touchdown, so I was really excited.”
Mazama got a 13-yard touchdown run from Wood on the ensuing drive, then forced Marshfield to punt to get the ball back with one last try at scoring.
It was also the best field position Mazama ever got to start a drive, its own 42. Before that, Mazama started at or inside its 20 yard line six of its nine possessions, while Marshfield started at its own 25 once, started at least at its own 40 all but one of its other possessions and began drives in Mazama territory four times.
“Field position killed us,” Lease said. “They had great field position and we didn’t.”
On Mazama's final possession, Stover and Josiah Niblett combined for a 4-yard sack on first down, then the Pirates forced an incompletion on second down, forcing an obvious passing situation against a team that would rather run it.
Stover came free and hammered Beck, who fumbled, allowing Niblett to fall on it with 1:29 to go. Marshfield ran three plays, zeroed the clock and escaped with a narrow quarterfinal victory.
Now Marshfield gets No. 1 Banks, who beat Marist Catholic 28-14 on Friday.
“I like being the underdog,” Woolsey said. “Because nobody expects you to win. But when you do it, everybody goes crazy. That’s my mindset.”
Lease told his players to keep their heads up after the game and gave Marshfield credit for the win.
"It was a great game, one of the best we've been a part of," he said. "They're a great football team. You can't take anything away from them."