After a brief detour (the 2015 season), the Knappa Loggers reverted last year to their familiar routine of blowout wins and a perfect league season, before falling in a first-round state playoff against St. Paul.
Outcomes of the league games were pretty much expected. The Loggers would like to change their luck against nonleague competition.
Knappa dominated the Northwest League (averaging 54 points per game in going 4-0), but the Loggers were just 1-5 against teams from outside the league.
Part of that was a tough nonleague schedule, and part of it was a weak league. In recent years, the NWL just hasn’t been that good.
Other than Knappa, the last NWL team to advance past the first round of the state playoffs was Portland Christian in 2013, and the Royals are no longer in the league.
Since the 2006 OSAA reclassification, Gaston, Neah-Kah-Nie and Vernonia have not won a state playoff game.
In addition, none of the five teams in the Northwest League had a winning record last year, and the only other state qualifier was Gaston, which lost in the first round to Kennedy, 61-14.
“The league last year wasn’t as good as we hoped it would be,” said Knappa coach Aaron Barendse. This year, “Neah-Kah-Nie will probably be a handful — they’ve got a sophomore group with a lot of size, (junior Tristan) Bennett is a beast, and they have a couple other kids returning.”
Then again, the Pirates only had 20 players on their roster last season.
With 10 all-league starters on offense (and most of them returning) and a perfect league record last year, the Loggers will once again be the prime targets in the NWL.
Knappa will look to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2014, after suffering a first round loss to St. Paul last season.
“The playoff didn’t go as planned,” Barendse said. “We thought we could pull it off, but losing Kaleb (Miller) on that final drive hurt. We were just young varsity experience-wise. I still think we could have been the better team.”
Knappa lost Andrew Goozee to graduation, the Northwest League’s Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year.
Still, “We’ll be all right,” Barendse said. “We’ve got a bunch of kids who are happy to be here, and we’re way ahead of where we were last year at this point.”
Besides, the Loggers have never been short on league MVP candidates.
“When we had Kyle Kelly (league MVP), we were wondering the same thing — who was going to step up,” Barendse said. “Then we had Justin Dragoo (league MVP, followed by Goozee, league MVP). We’ve always had that big power guy for the last six, eight years. We don’t have that one dependent guy this year, but we have a very, very versatile team, probably one of the most versatile teams we’ve had in a while.”
Included in that is more team speed. So in addition to being the biggest team on the field in the NWL, the Loggers are also the fastest.
All-league quarterback Kaleb Miller returns for his senior season, after transferring from Pleasant Hill the year before.
At running back, “we’ll have a couple kids move around,” Barendse said. “Luke Goozee and Braeden Eltagonde will carry the load as far as getting the carries, and we’ll definitely be throwing the ball around. We have a lot of good receivers, with Kanai Phillip, Braeden, Luke and Mason Hoover, who will get some carries as well.”
Also returning is sophomore tight end-receiver Joe Ramvick.
Sophomore Eli Takalo will see action at receiver, strong safety and outside linebacker, in addition to serving as a placekicker and backup quarterback.
Junior receiver Tyler Green will also be a prime target in the passing game.
“We’ve got a lot of skill kids running around,” Barendse said. “We threw the ball a ton last year compared to the year before, and we’ll up that a little this year. With our line being back, we can do a little of both.”
Every single Logger offensive lineman was named all-league last year, but “we’ve moved some kids around, so our line will look a little different,” he said, after some changes on the defensive side of the ball “to make up for the defensive guys we lost.”
And that list includes all three linebackers (once again, all three were all-league) Mitch Geisler, Goozee and Ethan Rubus.
“That’s a big deal — between Rubus, Geisler and Goozee, that was a big chunk of our tackles from last year,” Barendse said.
The names on the offensive and defensive lines include seniors Jacob Ford, Reece Hunt, David Patterson and Cody Stuhr, as well as sophomores Jaxson Goodman and Ryson Patterson.
Quotable: “I’m excited for these boys to get out there and showcase their speed and talent,” Barendse said, “because we have some kids who can play.”
Prediction: With the best quarterback in the league and five returning all-league offensive linemen … should be lots of points and another perfect league season for the Loggers. League champions.
Coach: Aaron Barendse, 6th year
2016: 5-5 (4-0 NWL)
Playoffs: Lost first-round state playoff to St. Paul.
All-League losses: Andrew Goozee (Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year); Timber Engblom, WR; Mitch Geisler, RB/LB; Ethan Rubus, WR/LB.
All-League returners: Jacob Ford, Sr., OL/DL; Jaxson Goodman, So., OL/DL; Mason Hoover, Sr., WR/DB; Reece Hunt, Sr., OL/DL; Kaleb Miller, Sr., QB/DB; David Patterson, Sr., OL; Cody Stuhr, Sr., OL.